Book Review – Little Children by Tom Perrotta

I get frustrated with books like Little Children (St. Martin’s Griffin,2004). Any book that tries to make a comment on the lives of a group of people is bound to get some things right and some things wrong. Little Children is about a neighbourhood of young families. Parents in their late twenties and early thirties whose lives have not turned out the way they expected.

Sarah, daring and feminist in her early twenties, has settled down with her much older husband to be a stay-at-home mom. She’s annoyed by the other moms at the playground and doesn’t seem to feel much affection for her toddler, Lucy. Sarah’s husband, Richard, is quickly developing a more vivid life on-line than with his own family.

Todd, law school graduate who can’t seem to pass the bar, is a stay-at-home dad and enjoys it much more than he ever thought possible. This doesn’t fit well with his wife’s plans though. Kathy is a documentary filmmaker who loves her job but always thought her husband would be the bread-winning lawyer.

Add to that a thirty-something cop, recently retired after the accidental shooting of a teenager, an uptight picture-perfect playground mom who’s already putting pressure on her four-year-old to get into Harvard, and a convicted sex offender who just moved into the neighbourhood. It’s an interesting cast of characters and Perrotta does well at giving each depth and clear motivation by developing their individual histories.

My problem lies in the fact that, although I’m not a parent, I do fall into the same age category as most of the characters. Most of my friends are in this age group too and many of them do have children. While Little Children isn’t unrealistic – I’m sure there are many unhappy couples with young children whose lives have not turned out the way they expected – the novel also doesn’t offer any counterpoint. There are no happy marriages to compare to. There are no engaged parents to say, “Here’s how it could turn out, even though it isn’t turning out that way for our main characters.” When Sarah’s neighbour is introduced, a smart, older lady who loves spending time with Lucy, it seems like she could be a glimpse of a better future, a different possibility. Instead, she quickly devolves into a stereotype, another woman who only seems to complain about her husband.

The book has a certain 90s feminism to it, which might also be a part of my problem. While I’m a fan of both feminism and the 90s, I do find a lot of books writing about women in this generation (the one directly previous to my own) to be hard to sympathize with. So often it seems that the theme of these stories is a woman who settled into suburban life, thinking she could have it both ways and acting out immaturely when she discovers she can’t. Perhaps my generation has watched and learned just how unlikely having it both ways is, because I don’t find that same expectation among my peers. Perhaps my generation is getting used to being over-educated and underemployed in general. Or maybe, this perspective rings a little false because the author is male? Can a man write convincingly of a woman’s internal struggle? Can he know what that conflict between feminism and motherhood/wifehood is really like? I’m not sure of the answer.

That said, I liked the ambiguity of Perrotta’s ending. It isn’t exactly happy but it isn’t sad either and, to me, that makes it the most realistic. It’s slightly contrived, in terms of having several of the main characters show up in the same unlikely spot at the same unlikely time, but it works and it offers a decent closure while still having the open-endedness of real life.

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El Bachelore – Episode 4

Herein begins the travelling, a round-the-world visit of “the most perfect places to fall in love.”

“I’m excited to start dating somewhere else.” – Juan Pablo

Does he realise that the Ladies are coming too? You’re dating the same 13 women, just in a different place. Don’t get too excited, dude.

Chris Harrison tells the Ladies that they will be travelling to Seoul, South Korea and they all get pretty excited. Sharleen, in particular, seems super excited and I wonder if she’s been to Korea before. She seems well-travelled.

“Korea? I don’t even have a kimono!” – Clare

And, with that sentence, Clare becomes my least favourite contestant. How do you get to be 32-years-old and utter that sentence?

“I’m here to find my wife.” – Juan Pablo, as we watch him wander the streets of Seoul.

I had to laugh when he took a photo with his phone and the Apple logo was blurred out. Pretty sure we all still know what kind of phone he has.

Group Date #1: Chelsie, Cassandra, Elise, Danielle, Kat, and Nikki

“We could be making popcorn.” – Cassandra

The date card says only POP and so Cassandra guesses what they might do on their date. She thinks the seven of them will sit around making and, possibly eating, popcorn.

But they’re not making popcorn. Instead they’re going to dance with K-Pop group, 21.

“21 is as big as the Spice Girls.” – Juan Pablo

That’s a pretty dated reference there, Juan Pablo.

“I’m not gonna pout and throw a giant fit like I kind of want to do.” – Nikki

Nikki makes it extremely clear that she doesn’t like dancing and she doesn’t like the date and she doesn’t like the other girls and she definitely seems to be pouting. She also hates sharing. What do you want to bet that Nikki’s an only child?

“It’s my childhood dream to be a back-up dancer.” – Chelsie

And this makes me sad because most children dream about being the star, being the one in the spotlight. But even in her dreams, Chelsie is only in the background. That said, she’s also SUPER excited about everything and it’s kind of cute. Like taking a puppy to the park.

“We have a huge show tonight and we want to invite you guys.” – one of the 21 singers

Really? You want to invite these guys? Someone’s paying you, right?

“I hope that we’re performing for the South Korean School for the Blind.” – Nikki

Nikki really hates this date.

“Everyone’s watching me.” – Kat

Kat, on the other hand, loves this date. They’re probably not watching you though. They’re probably watching the super famous band they paid to see.

For the evening portion of the date the group heads to Korea Furniture Museum. The perfect place to fall in love.

“There’s things I think about people that they wouldn’t necessarily want to hear.” – Nikki to the other girls

Nikki, that’s what your mother was referring to when she told you not to say anything at all. It’s okay to just stop talking.

“The cattiness is starting and it’s mostly Nikki.” – Cassandra.

It’s problematic when the 21-year-old is the most mature in the group.

“I’m not necessarily a feelings person.” – Kat to Juan Pablo

This is something a robot would say. Kat then proceeds to tell Juan Pablo about her father’s alcoholism and her mother’s divorce. He doesn’t really respond much or try to do anything to make her feel better. Uh oh, Kat’s in trouble. Your dancing won’t save you now!

“Nikki’s the most negative person in the house.” – Elise

She then proceeds to become the girl who tells Juan Pablo to watch out for other girls and that never ends well, plus it’s sort of negative on its own.

“I’m a great diaper changer.” – Nikki to Juan Pablo

He asked you how you felt about his daughter. Who is four. So your diaper changing skills are irrelevant.

“There’s no way I would ever have Nikki around my child.” – Elise

That’s also pretty negative. What if your child went to the hospital and Nikki was the nurse? Dilemma!

Elise’s opinion matters little and Juan Pablo gives Nikki the group date rose.

“I think everyone hates me right now but I’ve been myself and I like it.” – Nikki

One-on-One date: Sharleen

“I’ve liked Sharleen since day one…she’s my favourite one right now.” – Juan Pablo

Uh oh, the only way they’re showing us Juan Pablo say that right now is because he doesn’t end up with Sharleen. That’s too bad, I like her.

“I’d be lying if I said I’m in love.” – Sharleen

This. This right here is why she’s my favourite.

“I feel like I’m in a mice.” – Juan Pablo

“In a what? Oh, a maze.” – Sharleen

Far be it from me to make fun of someone not speaking English perfectly but that’s a funny mispronunciation.

They wander through a Korean market and eat Korean food before sitting down in a tea house together.

Sharleen tells Juan Pablo that she has a Masters in music performance and I wonder again what she’s doing on this show. She also explains to him what the word “bland” means.

“He’s really surpassed my expectations…he is more fun than expected.” – Sharleen

They discuss the difficulties of living abroad, in a country where you don’t speak the language and this time, when Juan Pablo says they have a lot in common, I find myself kind of agreeing.

“You miss the United States?” – Juan Pablo re: Sharleen living in ermany

I feel compelled to point out that Sharleen is Canadian so she probably doesn’t miss the U.S. too much in Germany.

Juan Pablo then asks (more than once) how many kids Sharleen wants and she kind of evades the question but it’s fairly clear that she’s not currently interested in having children and she isn’t sure she wants to be a stepmother. Seems like a major red flag for a single father but Sharleen gets a rose.

Group Date #2: Renee, Lauren, Andi, Kelly (where’s Molly?), Clare, Alli (who I forgot was still here)

“I was hoping to avoid anything singing or dancing related.” – Andi

You are most definitely on the wrong show, my dear. Also, was there really a chance that they would be in Asia and not do karaoke?

“Nobody’s freaking out right now!” – Lauren

Discussing the group date. It’s pretty sad that this is an exciting observation.

Juan Pablo and the Ladies visit a place called “Dr. Fish Zone.” I love Asia so much. They stick their feet in these baths where fish nibble off their dead skin. The fish love Renee’s feet the most. Also, it appeared that there was a cafeteria behind them, with people sitting and eating. I would not love eating a meal while loud Americans had their feet nibbled by fish.

“Clare is a little territorial.” – Andi

If Nikki was the villain of the first group date, Clare is the villain of this date.

“This is the epitome of my fears.” – Clare

When they all eat octopus. Just to be clear – Clare’s worst fear, the epitome of all her fears, is eating octopus. And not raw octopus, octopus that looks like it’s been battered and cooked. Basically, Clare’s worst fear is calamari. That isn’t even an exotic food! I can get calamari where I live and I live in the boonies!

How could Clare possibly be in a relationship with someone from another culture? What happens the first time Juan Pablo takes her to Venezuala and they have to eat something that isn’t a burger?

“Clare is the most dramatic person I’ve ever seen!” – Kelly

Wise words, Kelly, wise words. Also, Andi and Kelly re-enact Juan Pablo and Clare eating the octopus and it’s pretty fun. Mainly because Andi does not nail Juan Pablo’s accent.

The evening portion of the group date and Juan Pablo puts on a hideous grandpa sweater.

“The hardest part of this whole thing is being away from Ben. But it’s getting easier.” – Renee

Uh, so you’re starting to miss your son less and less? You realise, now that you’re away from him that you don’t actually like him that much? Is there any way this statement is a positive thing?

“I’m going to try not to kiss anybody tonight.” – Juan Pablo

Here, halfway through the episode, he draws this random line, saying that he wants to be a good example for his daughter. This would be more convincing if he’d said that at the beginning of the show, or even of this episode. Do you think he’s regretting the girls he’s kissed so far?

Inevitably, Lauren asks to kiss him and he says no. Because he has a daughter. Which is actually a pretty hurtful response to someone who knows that you’ve kissed other women.

“I’m not here to kiss everybody.” – Juan Pablo

I don’t agree with it, but as the Bachelor, that’s exactly why you’re here.

Inevitably, Lauren cries and I sympathise because that was kind of a jerk move and he could have said something nice like that he wanted to get to know her better first but instead he gave some random excuse. (Also, what is Lauren’s accent?)

To make matters worse, Juan Pablo then proceeds to have some time alone with Clare and HE KISSES HER! Ugh, what a jerk! Plus, he kisses her shortly after she confesses that the octopus was gross and it made her throw up in her mouth.

“Do I have chocolate breath?” – Clare

She asks, as they kiss. Which only serves to remind everyone that she probably has octopus/vomit breath.

Okay, let’s hurry this along. Cocktail Party/Rose ceremony, Nikki and Clare don’t like each other, they’re both competitive, blah, blah, blah.

“You guys are amazing. I love you.” – Juan Pablo

Said right before the rose ceremony begins. That’s a weird thing to say, right? He loves them?

In the end, Elise and Lauren are sent home.

“I’m bummed.” – Elise

She’s surprisingly calm, considering she seemed to believe that her deceased mother intended for her to marry Juan Pablo.

Next week: We get to watch the Ladies be ignorant and catty in Vietnam!

Book Review – Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I loved this book. I loved the premise, I loved the characters, I loved the setting. Truly excellent.

Ursula Todd is born on 11 February 1910. She dies immediately, unable to take her first breath due to the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.

Ursula Todd is born on 11 February 1910.She grows up to be a suburban housewife in England, to be friends with Eva Braun in 1930s Germany, to aid in rescues during Air Raids in 1940s London.

Over and over again, Ursula lives and dies and lives.

How might your life be different? What tiny choice or reaction might have made a huge change? What if you’d been just a few minutes later for that train? What if you hadn’t kissed that boy?

Ursula lives her life over and over again, vague premonitions causing her to take a different route, make a different choice. Sometimes she seems to have memories, to know people, she couldn’t possibly.

We watch as her choices alter where she goes, who she befriends, and her very personality. I found myself reading eagerly, rooting for Ursula to get a better ending, hoping for her death that she might begin again. This book was the best Choose Your Own Adventure I’ve ever read.

Ursula’s choices often change the lives of those around her. A young girl lives or dies based on a fluke of timing. Her brother’s future is altered. And some things stay the same in every life. Some marriages always occur, some deaths are unavoidable.

There are so many question raised in a story like this. Thankfully, Atkinson is a skilled writer who brings many of these questions to mind without voicing any. How much is Ursula aware of her unique circumstances? How much does she control? What would you change if you could? What do you have a responsibility to change?

There are no inevitabilities in Ursula’s life. There is not great romance waiting for her. There are happier and there are sadder versions of her life but the novel makes it clear that there is no perfect story line.

Partially, we can’t expect one when Ursula’s life is also shaped by world events and two world wars. In every version of her life, World War II looms large in Ursula’s adulthood. Her perspective shifts, her experiences of the war are hugely varied, but it seems unavoidable.

Scenes of Ursula’s life in London during World War II are vivid and well-written. Atkinson evokes all the grit and dirt and horror of a city at war, with small glimpses of a life still worth fighting for.

The characters who populate this novel are terrific. Ursula’s parents, Hugh and Sylvie, her siblings, her ditzy aunt. Sylvie looms large in Ursula’s childhood and at the beginning of the novel we get to delve into her mind and her past. She is a sympathetic, but not entirely likeable, figure and we watch the distance between mother and daughter grow and, sometimes, lessen, as Ursula re-lives her life. As Ursula grows, her father seems to as well, becoming a more and more important and tender figure every time she is reborn. Her brothers and sister each add something to the tale and to influence who Ursula is (with the possible exception of youngest brother Jimmy, who mostly feels tacked-on). Her brother Teddy’s fate turns out to be closely linked to Ursula’s own and this turns into a powerful motivation as she begins to become more aware of her unique circumstances. Characters and loveable and unlikeable and real all at once, a feat for any author to pull off.

Ursula’s relationship with each person – from her flighty aunt to the butcher’s boy – varies from timeline to timeline and it was delightful to witness a familiar character appear in a new version of Ursula’s life. Sometimes they shed a new light on an unanswered question in a previous version of her life but ultimately, Atkinson leaves us with many unanswered questions. I believe this was the best decision the author could have made. How could a story like Ursula’s ever really have an end?

El Bachelore – Episode 3

Molly the dog is still hanging around the mansion. Probably the only thing I like about this season so far. Will she go travelling with them? Can she stay even if Kelly gets kicked off? Will there be a dog every season now?

Nikki kicks us off by telling the camera, “I want to see who he is. As a person.” Thanks for that clarification, Nikki. Otherwise we surely would have thought you wanted to see who Juan Pablo is as a salamander.

Chris Harrison shows up to explain…basically the concept of the show. Why is he explaining this in the third episode? Where were you last episode, Chris?

One-on-One Date: Cassandra

  • There’s mention made that Cassandra gets this date because she’s a mom and Juan Pablo doesn’t want to take more of her time away from her son if there’s no connection between them. And while that’s a nice sentiment, what about Renee, who is also a single mom and does not get a one-on-one date this episode?
  • We get to see Juan Pablo and his daughter and his parents having a picnic in the park and his daughter refuses to eat chicken. Kudos to them for showing a real kid moment.
  • Cassandra hasn’t had a first date since she was 18. We know this because she tells us. Multiple times.
  • Cassandra is 21 and has a 2-year-old and her last first date was when she was 18 so we can kind of assume that her last date was with her son’s father. And now she’s on a reality TV dating show. That seems healthy.
  • Cassandra and Juan Pablo go for a drive and then it turns out that the car is actually a water car and he drives it right from the beach into the ocean, which is actually really cool.
  • The water car is called a Panther, which sounds cool but is a dumb name because Panthers are not known for their abilities on land and sea. Salamander would have made more sense.
  • I noticed that they didn’t have seat belts while they were driving into the water. On the one hand, you probably shouldn’t wear a seat belt when on a boat but they were just driving on the road and the fact that this car goes in water was a surprise to Cassandra so she should have been wearing a seat belt. I thought Juan Pablo wanted to be a good example for his daughter.
  • On a barely-related-note: I’ve taken the local bus a few times now and they have seat belts! Which is weird because buses never have seat belts. Then again, the bus here is really more like a van that drives around and picks people up and then takes them into town because this is a small community.
  • “There were so many things going on in my head,” says Cassandra but her expression really contradicts that statement.
  • Cassandra draws our attention again to the fact that she hasn’t had a date in 3 years which reminds me that she is over a decade younger than Juan Pablo.
  • Cassandra and Juan Pablo have dinner and share pictures of their kids and kiss and she gets a rose. They are not going to get married.

Group Date: Kelly, Renee, Andy, Christy, Lucy, Nikki, Sharleen, Lauren, Danielle, Alli

  • The Ladies meet Juan Pablo at the soccer field where the LA Galaxy play.
  • Did you know that Juan Pablo used to be a professional soccer player?
  • Andi (or maybe Alli – I have trouble telling those 2 apart) says this is where David Beckham played and she has successfully named the only player from the LA Galaxy team that I could have named.
  • Juan Pablo runs them through drills. Being run through soccer drills by a professional soccer player does not sound like fun at all to me.
  • Then they’re divided into teams: Blue and Red
  • The Ladies discuss whether or not this will be painful. Yes, it will be. Both to play and watch. I never thought of soccer as a painful sport until I played with some teenage boys in the Czech Republic and came home with the imprint of a soccer ball on my thigh. The rest of the world is way more hardcore about soccer.
  • We learn that Alli is the only one with soccer experience and that Nikki is super-competitive and most of them aren’t good at soccer.
  • “I don’t really know how to play but I definitely blocked the ball with various body parts. Including my face.” – Sharleen, who seems to take more hits than anybody else.
  • One of the team wins but they all get to stay for the rest of the date, which is a refreshing change from past seasons where the Bus of Tears would pick them up to take the losers home.
  • They also have the cocktail party at the stadium which makes me wonder if the Ladies had to change in the locker rooms.
  • Juan Pablo kisses both Sharleen and Andi but Nikki gets the rose.
  • When I say Juan Pablo kisses Sharleen, I mean he kisses her and she sits extraordinarily still.
  • “It both surprises and bothers me that I care.” – Sharleen re: not getting the rose. Andi also spirals into insecurity.

One-on-One Date: Chelsie

  • Before the one-on-one is announced, there’s a lot of build-up about Elise wanting it and repeatedly saying that Chelsie seems like a little girl to her.
  • “She literally seems like a baby.” – Elise re: Chelsie. And Elise continues the grand tradition of contestants on this show who do not know what the word literally means.
  • Also, Elise, nothing makes you look mature like trash-talking another person!
  • We also learn that Elise is on the show because after her mom died she found a letter that her mom had written saying that Elise should be on The Bachelor. Or something like that? That’s sort of sweet but I can’t help wondering why her mom didn’t have higher aspirations for her daughter.
  • Anyway, Chelsie gets the date and they eat Venezualan food which she says she enjoys and hopefully does but, seriously, could she say anything else? Are you really going to tell Juan Pablo if you don’t like his Venezualan food? Peter once told me he didn’t like cabbage rolls and it made me unhappy. (Don’t worry folks, it turned out he didn’t like them as a child but enjoys them now. It’s okay.)
  • Then Chelsie and Juan Pablo go to jump off a bridge.
  • Chelsie is freaked out and doesn’t want to do it and this scene goes on for a long time of Juan Pablo telling her she doesn’t have to do it but she kind of does because it’s gonna be on TV.
  • “We’re gonna live. Right?” – Chelsie, who thinks someone might die on The Bachelor.
  • Throughout this scene, the bungy jump instructor is standing right behind them and looks like he wants to push them off the bridge. Wouldn’t that be the most dramatic episode ever?
  • Finally Chelsie says that she can trust Juan Pablo and so she jumps. That’s great and all but really, she should be worrying about whether or not she can trust the guy who hooked up the ropes.
  • Every season this whole jumping off things/rappelling down buildings/trusting the other person in a relationship metaphor gets more and more tired. That’s not how real life works!
  • “That is the epitome of building a relationship,” says Chelsie and now I really hope she doesn’t get a rose.
  • They have dinner at Pasadena City Hall and, gotta be honest, it’s much prettier than if they were having dinner at Vancouver City Hall. (But I really hope they do that in the next season of The Canadian Bachelor!)
  • Chelsie gets a rose (boo!) and then some singer I’ve never heard of sings.

Rose Ceremony/Pool Party:

  • Juan Pablo shows up early in the morning at the mansion to make a Venezualan breakfast.
  • Kelly is the first one downstairs (because she has to walk Molly and that completely makes sense) and she barely acknowledges Juan Pablo. She actually covers her face and goes back upstairs. Because her grandmother apparently told her not to entertain gentlemen callers without her “face” on. Seriously? That’s pretty lame.
  • Renee comes down and is sort of bothered that she hasn’t brushed her teeth but otherwise unfazed and she is my new favourite.
  • “Clare looked really good in pajamas,” says Juan Pablo. Except he pronounced it “pee-yamas”, which is kind of awesome.
  • “Does that mean I have to put clothes on?” says Lucy, when she is told that Juan Pablo is in the house.
  • Juan Pablo (or an off-screen producer) decides that instead of having a cocktail party, they will just have a pool party that day.
  • “This is a great day of being the bachelor.” – Juan Pablo.
  • They play chicken in the pool and Molly is nowhere to be seen even though we know that she likes to swim in the pool too and she’s the best.
  • “Kat is trying too hard,” says Kelly, who doesn’t seem to be trying at all.
  • “Peoples definition of fun is different.” – Sharleen. This is actually a fairly accurate statement. Especially since Juan Pablo keeps saying how he wants someone fun and easy going.
  • Sharleen and Juan Pablo have a moment together and she cries and I notice that she is one of those girls who looks beautiful after she cries.
  • Clare is also upset because she is suffering from the First Date curse where she has a great first date with the Bachelor and then he goes on to date other women. She locks herself in the bathroom and Renee goes in to comfort her and comforting crying women in bathrooms is kind of Renee’s thing, it seems.
  • “It’s not a jealousy thing at all. I just wish it was me.” – Clare. Seriously, they should just place some dictionaries around the mansion and maybe these ladies could learn the definitions of some words.
  • Molly makes an appearance at the Rose Ceremony!
  • Lucy and Christy do not get roses.
  • Yeah, being the “free spirit” is only interesting for about one and a half episodes.
  • Did we ever hear Christy say anything? Ever?
  • I also know nothing about Danielle and Lauren and Alli (aside from the fact that she plays soccer) but I guess he can’t kick off too many ladies each week.

Book Review – Looking for Alaska by John Green

As a former teenage girl, I think what I appreciate most about John Green’s writing is his characters. Looking for Alaska (Dutton Juvenile, 2005) was Green’s first novel. While not as breathtakingly awesome as his more recent The Fault in Our Stars, it’s definitely still a solid young adult read.

Looking for Alaska begins with our main character and narrator, Miles Halter, and his move to boarding school in Alabama. Miles leaves behind a somewhat friendless high school existence in Florida to search for his own “great perhaps” and some adventure. Within hours of his arrival at Culver Creek Preparatory, he’s made fast friends with his roommate – know as The Colonel – and been given a nickname of his own. Pudge. (It’s ironic.) The speed at which Pudge makes friends at Culver Creek throws into question his difficulty with friendships in Florida.

Through The Colonel, Pudge also befriends Takumi and, most importantly, Alaska Young. Alaska is beautiful, impetuous, vulnerable, and a little off the rails. Seeing her through Pudge’s eyes, we are continually reminded of how beautiful Alaska is. But she isn’t that simple. And while she’s fun and daring and introduces Pudge to a world of things he’s never experienced, she turns on a dime and is constantly unpredictable. It’s alternatively endearing and frustrating, which is pretty much how Pudge feels.

This is one of the great things about John Green’s writing. Alaska has a lot of depth, she’s multi-faceted, to the point that there are many questions left unanswered about here. That’s a good thing. That’s what real people are like.

In fact, one of my major problems with the novel was that Green relies on the prop of each characters having a “thing”. Pudge memorizes famous people’s last words. The Colonel memorizes capital cities. Takumi raps. This isn’t how real people work and when these “things’ are brought up, it reduces them to caricatures. Green is a better writer than that.

At the same time, Alaska is a classic girl-in-a-novel, in that many of her quirks are seen as endearing when, in reality, they’d make her too difficult to have any sort of relationship with. She’s unstable as can be. And yet, she doesn’t seem to deal with insecurities the way that the male characters do. Alaska has big questions but never worries about the little things like her shoes and whether her arms are fat. While we’re supposed to see her as vulnerable, she actually comes across as impossible to crack open or get close to. Perhaps this is due to Pudge’s narration and perspective. Insecure himself, he can’t possibly imagine Alaska doubting herself.

In fact, toward the end of the novel, Pudge is called on almost exactly that. He has an idealized version of Alaska and that isn’t who she really is. We never get to learn who she really is and maybe that’s deliberate because neither does Pudge.

The novel is split into two sections – “Before” and “After”. What splits those two areas came as a complete surprise and changes the novel completely from what I expected. Kudos to John Green from not shying away from real things. He creates characters with real thoughts, real desires, and real fears, and they’re a pleasure to spend time with.

El Bachelore – Episode 2

The episode opens with a shot of Molly the Dog swimming in the pool. Probably the highlight of the episode. Though that would also make me not want to swim in the pool anymore.

One-on-One Date with Clare

  • Clare allows herself to be blindfolded and gets into a car with a man she’s only met once. Women everywhere: This is a mistake! Don’t do this!
  • “Meeting a guy like this makes me feel hopeful.” – Clare, who seems to have forgotten about the dozen or so other women he is simultaneously dating.
  • Juan Pablo remembers that Clare was funny and clever on the first night. So apparently he doesn’t remember that she was the one who stuffed a pillow under her dress and pretended she was pregnant.
  • They arrive at a man-made “winter wonderland” in the middle of LA and go sledding and it was confusing to me because I couldn’t figure out how cold it would be.
  • I think there’s a good chance for Clare to be the next Bachelorette. She has definitely drunk the Bachelor Kool-Aid and seems to go on and on about how magical this is, how much of a connection she and Juan Pablo have, what a journey she’s on….
  • Juan Pablo says nice things about Clare but without much enthusiasm.
  • Snow machines working overtime.
  • Someone I’ve never heard of sings to them.
  • Clare gets a rose and the first kiss of the season.

One-on-One Date with Kat

  • Juan Pablo whisks Kat away in a private jet to the thrilling location of…Salt Lake City!
  • While still on the plane, he puts on a hideous track suit that lights up. So, they’re going to a rave?
  • Is Salt Lake City known for its raves?
  • They show up at something called the Electric Run – a 5km run/dance/rave. There’s a lot of neon and glowsticks.
  • “He’s someone I would truly chase after in the streets.” – Kat re: El Bachelore, which is a weird thing to think about actually doing.
  • Does Kat remind anyone else of Dee from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?
  • Juan Pablo says he’s looking for someone who’s spontaneous and fun, which is all well and good but I don’t see that as sustainable in a long-term relationship. Especially when you have a kid. Sometimes you want someone who comes home from work on time and remembers to pick up milk.
  • Kat gets a rose but no time where she is actually alone with Juan Pablo.

Group Date

  • The date card tells the ladies to “Say Cheese”.
  • “I assume it’s a photo shoot but maybe it’s eating cheese. I’m good at both.” – Kelly. Is she ditzy or funny? Hard to tell but I loved this line.
  • Chelsi seems like she is about 12 years old.
  • The date is a photoshoot with rescue dogs as a fundraiser.
  • Lucy makes it clear that she doesn’t like dogs.
  • She does, however, like taking off her top.
  • The ladies are assigned costumes. Lucy is a fire hydrant. Kelly is a hairless dog.
  • Elise and Andi are both assigned a nude photo shoot. Elise, smartly, switches with Lucy.
  • “I was happy to take off my top, as always.” – Lucy
  • Andi is uncomfortable. Fair enough. I would be too. Why though, can she not simply say, “No, I don’t want to do this.” What kind of date makes you this uncomfortable? Why do you feel like you can’t say you don’t like something while you’re on a date with this man?
  • Frontrunners on the date so far: Cassandra, Renee, and Nikki.
  • Andi, nervous and vulnerable, is far more likeable than the Andi in a fake courtroom scene in the first episode.
  • Kelly’s hair is huge! Just want to mention that.
  • Cassandra pulls Juan Pablo aside to tell him that she has an almost two year old son. Here I was wondering why on earth a 21-year-old would be on this show.
  • Juan Pablo and Renee have a good repoire, though they only seem to talk about their kids.
  • In the night’s drama, Victoria gets drunk and belligerent.
  • “I’m just fun, sober.” – a clearly drunken Victoria to Nikki, after Nikki tells her to “tone it down”.
  • “I don’t feel like I’ve been in a situation like this before.” – Nikki, who seems unsure whether she’s ever dated a guy who’s also dating 20 other women.
  • Victoria switches from rambling, obnoxious, but happy drunk, to locking herself in the bathroom and crying.
  • Renee, in what I thought was the nicest moment of the episode, shimmies under the door to comfort her.
  • Victoria bursts out of the bathroom, insisting that she wants to go home.
  • “You can’t go home without shoes.” – producer to Victoria. The producers insist that, for her safety, they won’t let Victoria just leave the way she is and so she locks herself back in the bathroom.
  • Juan Pablo goes in to talk to her and I feel for the guy because, really, what is he supposed to say to this girl who barely knows who is clearly having some sort of breakdown.
  • Kelly gets a rose for being “the best sport” and Victoria spends the night at a hotel.
  • The next day, Juan Pablo goes to see Victoria.
  • “I guess I should apologize.” – Victoria. Not actually an apology there, Victoria.
  • Juan Pablo accepts her “apology” and then tells her good-bye. I would have been pretty unimpressed if he hadn’t sent her home. Whatever’s going on with Victoria, she is clearly not someone who he should bring into a 4-year-old’s life.
  • “She’s not a fun situation.” – Andi, describing Victoria.

Cocktail Party and Rose Ceremony

  • Amy fishes for compliments while pretending to be a news reporter with Juan Pablo. It’s as awkward as it sounds.
  • Turns out Cassandra is this season’s parents who questions her decision to leave her child to come on this show. Which probably is something you should question.
  • Again, Renee takes the role of comforter. I like Renee.
  • “I see you and Renee differently than anyone else,” Juan Pablo tells Cassandra and he promises he would send her home if he knew it wasn’t going to work out.
  • Alli, Andi, Amy, and Lauren all look the same to me.
  • Chris Harrison comes in to tell them about roses and it sounds like he stumbles over the word rose. You should know that one, Chris!
  • Roses go to: Cassandra, Nikki, Andi, Elise, Sharleen, Renee, Danielle (who we never saw this episode and whose name I’d forgotten), Lucy, Alli (who Juan Pablo calls Alison?), Chelsi, Lauren, and Christy (also unseen this episode).
  • Amy and Chantel go home. Amy does have a good news reporter fake smile.

 

Book Review – Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

This is the third novel by Michael Chabon that I’ve read. (Read my reviews of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.) Obviously, I enjoy his writing. Telegraph Avenue (HarperCollins, 2012) has Chabon’s usual blend of colourful imagery and quirky characters bumbling about in a finely-realized setting.

Telegraph Avenue revolves around Brokeland Records, owned by best friends Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe. Their record store is located on (surprise) Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, California and in a few short months, down the street from them, a chain store called Dogpile Records (think Virgin Music) will open up. As Archy and Nat deal with the fall-out of this new business and its effect on their own lives, we learn about them, their histories, their wives (who also work together), and their children.

Chabon does settings well – whether real, like Telegraph Avenue‘s Oakland and Kavalier and Clay‘s 1940s New York, or fictional, like the Israeli state of Alaska in Yiddish Policemen – Chabon writes settings that are essential. This novel had to be set in Oakland, California. The author captures the streets, the stores, the smells, the culture, that bring a place alive. Perhaps, most crucially, are the racial tensions that simmer throughout the novel and on Telegraph Avenue. Archy is black, the son of a former blaxpoitation film star. Nat is white. This tension is even more evident between their wives, Gwen and Aviva, who work together as midwifes. Chabon doesn’t go in for stereotypes, as is made clear when describing these four friends. Nat is the high school drop-out. Gwen comes from the wealthiest and most well-educated background and is the one least satisfied with her current condition.

When the novel dipped close to the issues of race relations and African-Americans, I wondered about a white man writing a black character. Does it make it better that Chabon is Jewish? Ultimately, I believe that writing fiction is about delving into someone who is not the author. Male writers write female characters all the time, some better than others. Whether Chabon accurately captured the experience of a middle-aged African-American man, I’m not qualified to say, but I can state that I enjoyed reading about that experience.

This wasn’t my favourite of Chabon’s novels though. If I could sum up my issue with Telegraph Avenue it would be “style over substance”. There is too much of one and not enough of the other. Chabon writes description that, while colourful, becomes so long-winded as to actually distract from the real action. Often, after a long, rambling description of something mundane like how a character holds a baby, I still felt like I’d been told nothing. Frequently, the language used felt like a trying-too-hard attempt to be hip. The novels reads as though Chabon threw in all these details to show how quirky and unique and fascinating his characters are but it ends up feeling false.

Even with those description, it took me pages to figure out the main characters and I never felt like they were that different from each other. Maybe that was the point.

Where I was most impressed with Chabon’s rambling style was a particular chapter made up of a single, very long sentence. Tied together by the flight of an escaped parrot, this chapter/sentence takes us through the neighbourhood and from character to character. It’s impressively crafted and a wonderful example of what Chabon is capable of and why I’ll keep reading him.

El Bachelore – Episode 1

Well, here we go, the latest journey for love with Juan Pablo.

Like I said previously, I didn’t know much about this guy except that he seemed to be chosen as the bachelor solely on the basis of his looks and his accent. Here’s what I learned about Juan Pablo:

  • He’s Venezualan.
  • But he was born in the U.S. But he grew up in Venezuala. But he lives in Miami now. And you thought my Asian heritage was confusing!
  • He’s never been married. (I’m pretty sure.)
  • He’s a former pro soccer player.
  • He is currently a consultant for sports (and entertainment? I wasn’t paying attention.) No idea what this means but he has a job so that’s cool
  • He has a four year old daughter named Camila, who was born on Valentine’s Day.
  • He’s really good at drawing hearts. Seriously, it showed him drawing hearts multiple times and they were great. I’m terrible at drawing hearts so I notice these things.
  • Has there ever before been a bachelor who never got a one-on-one date as a contestant?
  • I had heard that Juan Pablo was difficult to understand (English is obviously his second language) but didn’t find that to be true at all.
  • Overall verdict: Pleasantly surprised, thus far. He’s not as smarmy as I expected.

Once we’ve learned all these things, Former Bachelor Sean shows up. Sure, these guys have probably never met in their lives but let’s go with it.

Sean refers to the “journey” (and not the band) and Juan Pablo is definitely unimpressed. He prefers to call it his “aventura” (did you notice he speaks Spanish?) Then Sean asks him about kissing. It felt awkward.

Jumping way, way ahead, here are some of my impressions of our 27 ladies. Apparently there’s 27 this season instead of 25 because soooo many women want to date Juan Pablo. My guess is that the casting directors got lazy.

The Ladies:

Chelsie:

  • Thinks hiding among sunflowers is whimsical.
  • Practices her Spanish but even I know her accent is terrible and I’m Canadian.
  • She’s the “science educator” which apparently means she teaches for a science museum.
  • So…she’s a tour guide?
  • Her safety goggles are woefully inadequate and clearly chosen to make her look cute.
  • My prediction: Lasts 2 or 3 more episodes.

Renee:

  • Outdoorsy (or at least portrayed as such)
  • Single mom
  • My prediction: top 5. Ultimately, I think Juan Pablo wants more of his own kids but not necessarily to be a stepfather.

Andi:

  • Lawyer
  • Enacts an extremely fake looking court scene.
  • Thinks she’s really pretty (she is) and thinks people are shocked that she’s a lawyer because she’s so pretty (they’re not).
  • Then she tells Juan Pablo that she doesn’t like to read so I’m not a fan.
  • My prediction: She’ll be “the jealous one” but will make it to the top 4.

Amy:

  • “The quirky one”. Whether this is really her or a show personality, who knows.
  • Gives Juan Pablo a massage. In a driveway. While he’s wearing a suit. He describes it as
  • No rose.

Nikki:

  • Pediatric Nurse. Feels the need to explain the word “pediatric” to Juan Pablo as “baby nurse”. Ladies, he’s not dumb, he just speaks two languages.
  • Very cutesy but seems nice.
  • My prediction: Final 4

Lauren:

  • “The damaged one.”
  • Shows us her wedding dress from her broken engagement. Which she’s totally over. Even though it only ended a few months ago.
  • Sounds like Miley Cyrus when she talks
  • No rose.
  • Also, what the heck kind of job is “mineral coordinator”?

Valerie:

  • Would have been “the mean one” but we barely saw her.
  • No rose

Lacey:

  • Seems sweet, owns/runs some sort of elderly care facility.
  • Does she really dress that way to work?
  • No rose.

Clare:

  • Part-Mexican so she speaks Spanish which gives her a major advantage.
  • Tells us about the passing of her father.
  • Tells us her father made a DVD for her future husband. She has never seen it. No one has ever seen it. And now I am so, so afraid that she will give it to Juan Pablo and this stupid show will air her father’s gift to her on TV. Please Clare, be smarter than that!
  • My prediction: Top 5

Amy L:

  • Aggressive hugger.
  • My prediction: Goes on 2-3 dates before getting eliminated and is not terribly upset by it.

Cassandra:

  • Resembles Brody’s wife on Homeland. Right? (I’ve only seen the first season so please don’t talk to me about Homeland.)
  • Awkward. Awkward silence.
  • Kept because she’s very pretty and she looks like Inara from Firefly.
  • My prediction: Eliminated shortly before Hometown Dates

Christy:

  • Blonde.
  • That’s all I got.
  • My prediction: Eliminated next week.

Christine:

  • I thought Juan Pablo liked her but then she didn’t get a rose so I don’t understand men at all, I guess.
  • No rose.

Kat:

  • She smells good. Apparently.
  • Assumes that all Latin-American people know how to salsa.
  • My prediction: Eliminated the episode after she has her first one-on-one date.

Chantel:

  • Thinks her name is hard to pronounce.
  • It’s not.
  • Gives Juan Pablo detailed instructions on how to pronounce her name. Again, he’s not a moron, he just speaks multiple languages.
  • My prediction: Eliminated next episode.

Victoria:

  • She’s from Brazil.
  • Your Portuguese won’t help you here.
  • My prediction: Eliminated in episode 3

Lucy:

  • I can’t even…people like this drive me crazy.
  • Shows up barefoot. Because she didn’t want to be “too tall” and she has never heard of flats.
  • Juan Pablo tells her, “You can be tall, you can be small”, which is like a line from an inspirational Dr. Seuss book.
  • Lucy is a “free spirit.” Apparently that’s her job. People like this drive me crazy because they’re flaky and you can’t have a real friendship/relationship/whatever with them and yet they continue to think they’re adorable and endearing.
  • My prediction: Lasts for a few group dates so she can be “quirky” and “whimsical”, maybe a one-on-one, but he won’t pick her because he already has a 4-year-old in his life.

Danielle:

  • Hey! She promised him a present and we never saw that present!
  • Did she get a rose? Which one was Danielle again?

Lauren:

  • Different Lauren, not still-hung-up-on-my-broken-engagement Lauren.
  • Arrives on a piano-bike which I just learned existed.
  • My prediction: Gets the first one-on-one date. I’m just throwing that out there, based on nothing. Someone’s gotta get it, right?

Elise:

  • Smells good. So that’s Kat and Elise who smell good, if you’re keeping track. Which, apparently, I am.
  • Believes in love at first sight. Oh dear, this isn’t going to end well.
  • When she only mentions her dad, Juan Pablo pushes for information about her mom which is uncomfortable because Elise then has to talk about her mother’s death.
  • Tells us that when she looks in Juan Pablo’s eyes she sees something. Her mother looking back. Which is…unusual.
  • My prediction: Top 8

Ashley:

  • Very breathy.
  • Is kind to not-over-her-broken-engagement Lauren and so she seems nice.
  • No rose

Alli:

  • Brings a soccer ball, wears cleats. Fine
  • Tells Juan Pablo, “I’m looking for a teammate.” Terrible, Alli, terrible.
  • My prediction: Lasts, max, 2 more episodes.

Maggie:

  • Strong Southern accent.
  • This was her first time on an airplane! Her second time on an airplane was after she got eliminated the first night!
  • I would bet money (a small amount, maybe a dollar, but still) that Maggie has participated in beauty pageants.
  • Did I mention the strong Southern accent? ‘Cause it’s powerful.
  • No rose.

Kelly:

  • Kelly is a dog-lover. Apparently this is her job.
  • Kelly thinks we won’t believe that she is a dog lover (because most of us are unfamiliar with that particular career) and so she brings her dog along.
  • Her dog is named Molly and is very fluffy with a very small head.
  • My prediction: Kelly will be sent home but Molly might stay.

Alexis:

  • Speaks Spanish? Maybe?
  • Brunette? Maybe?
  • No rose?
  • Who was Alexis?

Kylie:

  • Redhead.
  • Unfamiliar with the rule that I learned from Anne Shirley, which is that redheads should not wear pink.
  • Evidence of the rule that I learned from Anne Shirley, which is that redheads should not wear pink.
  • Maybe doesn’t know this rule because she is clearly not a natural redhead.
  • No rose.

Sharleen:

  • Canadian!
  • Opera singer, living in Germany.
  • Juan Pablo is impressed. Juan Pablo gives her the First Impression Rose.
  • Sharleen seems normal and therefore expresses that she doesn’t feel much of a connection. In an amazing moment it appears like she will reject the first rose of the season but then she takes it and says, “Sure. Why not?”
  • Juan Pablo obviously likes the fact that Sharleen has travelled, which makes sense since he’s used to a different culture than the U.S. and has lived in multiple countries. I could see that being important to him.
  • My prediction: It seems pretty obvious that Sharleen is that normal girl who will choose to leave of her own volition.
  • Bonus: Her dress was the best. (Juan Pablo definitely seemed to think so). Go Canada!

Who’s watching with me? Who are your favourites? Your top picks?

What I Read – 2013

This is the closest I’ll get to any sort of “2013 in Review” type post. What better way to look back at a year than to see what I read in those 365 days?

Several I reviewed here (click the title to read the review), but many I didn’t, so I’ve listed every book I read in 2013, roughly according to how much I enjoyed them.

My favourite reads of 2013:

1. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

2. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

3. Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

4. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

5. Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

6. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

7. The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon

8. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

9. The Man Who was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

10. News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

11. Bossypants by Tina Fey

And the rest:

12. Zoli by Colum McCann

13. Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey

14. This Cake is for the Party by Sarah Selecky

15. Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

16. Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

17. Galore by Michael Crummey  (This one probably wins most beautiful book cover though!)

18. Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster

19. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

20. Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

21. The Keep by Jennifer Egan

22. The Blondes by Emily Schultz

23. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

24. Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner

25. Clear Skies, No Wind, 100% Visibility by Theodora Armstrong

26. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

27. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

28. Reality Boy by A.S. King

29. The Girls Who Saw Everything by Sean Dixon

30. The Roaring Girl by Greg Hollingshead

31. The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

32. *The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald* (This one is added with an asterisk because it was a re-read while travelling in Europe when I ran out of books. Hopefully it goes without saying that The Great Gatsby is brilliant and I love it. This year wasn’t my first re-read. Therefore, I don’t feel like I can rate it against other books that I read for the first time in 2013.)

Conclusions:

  • I read 32 books in 2013. To be honest, this number surprised me. I thought it would be more. 32 seems kind of low to me. I think I can do better in 2014.
  • 84% of the books I read were Fiction. No surprise there.
  • 36% of the books I really enjoyed were Non-Fiction. It did surprise me to look at my top picks list and see how many were Non-Fiction. I didn’t read as much Non-Fiction but it would appear that I enjoyed all of the Non-Fiction I did read. (Perhaps I’m choosier over my Non-Fiction?)
  • 31% of the books I read were written by Canadian authors.
  • I reviewed 37% of the books I read here. I hope to increase that percentage in 2014.
  • Apparently, I find it easier to review books I didn’t like than books I liked a lot.
  • The book that took me the longest to finish was Seven Storey Mountain.
  • The book I finished the fastest was Zoli. (Long train rides in Europe helped!)
  • Colum McCann was my best new (to me) author find of 2013. Let the Great World Spin was an excellent read and I plan to read more of him in 2014. I’m happy to put him in my first place
  • The Secret Daughter in last place seems right to me. While an easy read, I didn’t find the writing, the characters, or the plot compelling and I downright disagreed with much of the novel’s conclusions.

Have you read any of my 2013 reads? What was the best book you read in 2013?

A Coastal Christmas

As mentioned previously, Peter and I went nowhere this holiday. It was the first Christmas in ten years that I haven’t travelled and it was wonderful. Instead, our family came to us and we got to enjoy this amazing bit of the world we call home.

It looked like this:

Our Christmas tree.

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Christmas Eve morning. I had to work but Peter and I got up early to exchange stockings and eat cinnamon knots in front of the roaring (Netflix) fire.

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Christmas Eve snuggles with Bella.

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Christmas morning with Peter’s family.

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Christmas Day swim.

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Christmas dinner.

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Feeding ducks outside our house.

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Fishing off the local pier.

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Dinosaurs storming the castle. (6 is an awesome age!)

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Fairies exist.

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New Year’s Eve.

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Stories by the fire. Well, one story, really. Conservative estimate: I read “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” 143 times this week.

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New Year’s Day, watching a sea plane land in Porpoise Bay.

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A New Year’s Day game of hide-and-seek got pretty intense. And dusty. My big brother wins for cramming himself into a kitchen cupboard.

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