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moonlightreader

Moonlight Reader

Lawyer, mother, avid reader. Bingo host extraordinaire! Partner in crime to Obsidian Black Plague! My bookish weaknesses include classics, fantasy, YA, and agreeing to read more books than is even remotely possible.

A Beautifully Messy Mass of Contradictions

Trade Wind - M.M. Kaye

I have been sick for a couple of days, and I really should've been sleeping last night, instead of finishing this book. But, instead, I was finishing this book.

 

I am not even sure where to begin with the writing process here. This book is a mass of contradictions: problematic, beautiful, shocking, deplorable, and incredibly compelling. The characters, even more so, with no one character being all good or all bad, even while they are doing things that are horrifying.

 

This book is about the slave trade in a very real way - and all of the characters (both European and native) are involved in it in some capacity or another, and their opinion of it seems to be informed by and based upon the level to which they personally benefit from it. And the main character, Hero, is a young woman who is deeply opposed to slavery, but who also, as a result of her arrogance and naivete, interferes in the government of Zanzibar and causes the death of dozens of natives. Her interference likely kills as many Zanzibar natives as the slave trade did, in the year that she was there. Does her "pure" heart excuse her from responsibility? What about the fact that her "pure" heart is esentially acting out of ignorance and arrogance, seeking to supplant her judgment (when she has been in Zanzibar for all of about ten days) for the judgment of the native government?

 

"He said meditatively: ‘Leaving aside the larger issues, why, specifically, do you abominate slave traders? Because they make money out of it?’
 
‘No.’ Hero’s voice was ice. ‘I told you once before and I am quite certain that you have not forgotten it. But if you really wish to hear me repeat it I shall be happy to oblige you. I abominate them because they are personally responsible for the death and agony and degradation of thousands of people. Of innocent human beings who have done them no harm and with whom they have no quarrel. Because they callously condemn to appalling suffering and misery—–’ ‘
 
Yes, that’s what I thought. I just wanted to make sure I hadn’t got it wrong. Then perhaps, Miss Hollis, you can tell me how it is that, while holding such views, you have recently been doing your damnedest to make yourself personally responsible for the death or mutilation of several hundred human beings who cannot have done you any harm, and with whom – as far as I know – you can hardly have quarrelled? And furthermore, why you should have thought fit to assist in the extension of a trade you profess to abhor? I will absolve you from the charge of doing either of these things for the sake of personal profit; though that at least would have been a more understandable motive than a mere love of meddling. But I confess I find it interesting.’
 
To Hero's credit, I suppose, she is horrified to learn that she has been used by those who are far more cunning than she was to advance their own interests. But I feel like I am going horribly off track here - again. Let me try to get myself back to the point.
 
I can't figure out M.M. Kaye, and maybe that is because she, herself, was a mass of contradictions. She, at times, exhibits remarkable insight into the colonial arrogance, with quotes like these:
 
Yet saving only yourself, I have never yet met a white man who did not consider that I and my people would derive great benefit by changing our ways and imitating theirs, or who did not try and impress upon me the immense superiority of all white laws and customs. It is very strange.’ (a statement by the Sultan Majid to Rory Frost).
 
Or this:
 
Why, I ask you, should we of the East forsake the laws and customs of our forefathers at the bidding of ignorant and contentious foreigners whose own governments and priests cannot agree among themselves? Tell me that?’
 
‘Because,’ said Rory unkindly, ‘you are not going to be given the option. Not in the long run. You can’t argue with a gunboat if all you have is a canoe and a throwing spear – no aspersions on your fleet, you understand, I was speaking metaphorically. There is a certain tiresome and time-honoured argument that has been in use since the dawn of history and can be best summed up by that elegant sentence: “If you don’t, I’ll kick your
teeth in.”
 
That, my friend, is what you are up against!’ The Sultan wagged his head and said sadly: ‘There are times when I fear you may be right.’
 
‘I wish I only feared it instead of being sure of it,’ said Rory with regret. ‘This is only the morning of the White Man’s Day, Majid. The sun hasn’t reached its zenith yet, and it won’t sink until every Western nation in turn has done its best to foist its own particular Message onto the older civilizations of the East. And by that time, the lesson will have been learned too well and there will be nowhere left in all the world where a man can escape from Progress and do what he damn’ well pleases – or find room to breathe in!’ (a conversation between Rory Frost and the Sultan, Majid)
 
Or this:
 
Somehow Hero did not think so, and for the first time it occurred to her that there were aspects of Western cities and Western civilization that might appear as ugly, crude and appalling to Eastern eyes as Zanzibar and some of its customs had appeared to her. (Hero's ruminations on Seyidda Salme, who has fallen in love with a young German man and fled to Europe to marry him).
 
And then, at other times, she seems sympathetic to the worst excesses of colonialism. Kaye herself was born in India, the daughter of a British officer in the Indian Army who was raised, first in India, and then in a British boarding school. She returned to India after completing school, and married a British army officer there, and ended up moving 27 times in 19 years, all over the world. 
 
I haven't even gotten to the characters yet, or the so-called romance, and this review is already incredibly long. But I do need to say a few things about them before I close this meandering collection of thoughts. It is rare in a book to see so much complexity in characters. Each of the main characters, in his or her own way, demonstrated remarkable growth throughout the course of events in this book. Hero, herself, is the most obvious of these - she grows from a young woman with all of the answers to a young woman with none of the answers, while assisting in a failed rebellion, being abducted and raped, and then, finally nursing abandoned or orphaned children through a cholera epidemic with no thought to her own health. Rory, as well, exhibits enormous growth of character, from a young man who cares only for revenge and money, to something more.
 
But, I have to talk about the relationship between Hero and Rory. Since I closed the book, I've thought about their reconciliation and their ultimate decision to be together, and it is really difficult for me to process, and here I will get a bit spoilery, so be warned.
 
Rory abducted and raped Hero in retaliation for Hero's fiance, Clay, raping a young slave, Zorah, who had borne him a child. And while the rape itself is not described graphically, there is no question but that this was a rape, not a so-called "forced seduction," as was fairly common in books of this vintage. There is a second night, as well, where the question of rape is somewhat less clear, but, nonetheless, I am going to assert that was a rape as well, as it is pretty clear that Hero did not consent on either occasion.
 
So, wow. Rape was a fairly common trope in books of this sort that were published in the 1970's, so if that is a deal breaker for you, dear reader, by all means skip this book. And, the idea that a woman would fall in love with, and agree to marry, the man who has abducted and raped her, even if he does feel really ashamed of it and even if she might've been developing warm feelings about him before he abducted and raped her, that is really a bridge too far for me, personally. But, on the other hand, the rape is really central to the narrative arc of this story, so while it is a deal breaker for me as far as Rory's character goes - no matter what, I can't root for the rapist - I am not sure that Kaye could've written this book without it.
 
This book raises so many questions for me, not the least of relates to writing fiction about abhorrent aspects of our shared historical past. What is the *right* way, if there is a right way, to handle that? Reading about characters who act or speak in concert prevailing attitudes that served to oppress women, native populations, black people or whoever the minority might have been is incredibly uncomfortable, and it can be perceived as defending those attitudes and practices themselves. But, at the same time, it is important to be historically accurate, and those attitudes and practices did prevail, and it does not help confront those attitudes to pretend that they didn't. As well, I do believe that it is important for authors to not shy away from tackling tough historical subjects. I would not say that this book glorifies the slave trade. But many of its characters do not condemn it. 
 
To sum up, this book is super, super problematic with elements of colonialism, comment on the slave trade, white savior narratives, and rape. And in spite of all of that, it is also complicated, well-written and absolutely riveting.

Reading progress update: I've read 178 out of 553 pages.

Trade Wind - M.M. Kaye

‘Blackguards? What sort of blackguards?’ enquired Hero, intrigued. ‘Adventurers. Black sheep. Runagates. Varmints like “Roaring Rory”.’ ‘Who is he? – a pirate? He certainly should be with a name like that!"

 

I am reading this on my kindle, and I suspect it will end up qualifying for the "rogue" square.

 

Like many books of this vintage, there are colonial aspects to it that have not worn well. I like Hero, though she definitely exemplifies the "white savior" narrative. On the other hand, her ostensible "love interest" at this point, Clayton, is just a douche.

 

"He did not let this worry him unduly, for there was, after all plenty of time. And with a girl of Hero’s temperament he knew that he would get there a deal faster by moving slowly. Once they were safely married, things would be very different."

 

 

A Slow Read of Emma

Emma (Annotated Edition) - David M. Shapard, Jane Austen

I usually read fast. More difficult books do take me longer, but as a general rule, I can read pretty much anything in six to seven days. When I embarked on a reread of Emma, I decided, initially, to listen to the audiobook and read along with my annotated copy. I was going to do a chapter a night.

 

I did that for a while, and then I got sidetracked with the reading of the annotated copy because I was working on some hand stitching while I listened. I kept to my original plan, however, of reading around a chapter a night - generally no more than 30 minutes. With Christmas putting a spoke in the wheels a bit, it took me just shy of two months to listen to this book. The audiobook was 16 hours 38 minutes long, and narrated by Juliet Stevenson, who has done a lot of classics. I thought she did a thoroughly serviceable job with the narration.

 

I've read Emma before. Listening to the book was - as it often is - an entirely different experience, and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. The slow read, as well, changed completely my perspective on several of the characters, most notably, Jane Fairfax. I've always been ambivalent about Jane, and with this slow read I've really come around. I wish we'd gotten more Jane. She is the true heroine of this book, I think, although it is told from the perspective of Emma.

I also, even, came around to the Frank Churchill/Jane Fairfax pairing. She is too good for him, but I'm convinced at this point that he knows it and that his knowing it will make him a better man. He's not quite so shallow as I believed. Only getting Frank Churchill from the flawed and superficial perspective of Emma, I wasn't ever really able to understand how the engagement to Jane Fairfax came about. I filed him in my mind under Willoughby and Wickham, which isn't a fair assessment. He is weak, but not inconstant. He's no Darcy, Knightley or Wentworth, but he's not a terrible man, either. Callow youth with potential is pretty much where I found myself with respect to his character at the end. 

Mrs. Elton remains screamingly hilarious, and the narrator did a terrific job with her character. She is an example of the negatives that exist in an immobile society where rank is established by birth and/or marriage, and not merit, delicacy of mind, or behavior, and she overestimates her positive qualities so consistently that she reaches the level of Lady Catherine in terms of caricatured self-satisfaction (with even less reason, since she's married to "Mr. E" and is not titled). Her constant blathering about "Maplegrove" is worthy of dramatic eyerolls - very similar to Mr. Collins with his "Rosings Park" nonsense. 

 

Emma's character flaws became much more apparent to me through the slow process of listening to the book, but they also became more forgivable, and her growth in insight was natural and commendable.  

I love this book - not quite so much as Pride and Prejudice, but it is second in my affection. I think I could read Jane Austen for the rest of my life and it would never grow tired.

 

Anyway, this was such a successful process that I decided to choose another classic to "slow read." I've been meaning to read Bleak House forever, so that is the one I've picked, to begin February 1. That audiobook is looong - between 34 & 38 hours - so I expect it will take me at least two months. If anyone is interested in a listen-along, let me know.

 

If anyone has any experience with any of the versions available on audible, let me know if you liked/disliked. The narrators available are: Simon Vance, Hugh Dickson, Peter Batchelor, Peter Killavey, Maurice Turner, and a version with two narrators (one male/one female) Sean Barrett and Theresa Gallagher. I had sort of hoped that there would be a narration by Gillian Anderson, since she played Lady Dedlock in the BBC adaptation, but no such luck. My plan is to sample all of them, and then choose the one that is the most promising.

Gone Girl In Fifty Shades of Grey (and not in a good way)

The Girl Before: A Novel - JP Delaney

I've actually grown to dislike this book more in the few days since I finished it.

 

Overhyped and underwhelmed.

 

Honestly, I should've known better. I mean, first of all, it had the word "Girl" in the title, which was a clue that it would be bandwaggoning the tail end of a trend. And then, once I finished reading it, I found Emily May's goodreads review that made the connection between this book and Fifty Shades of Grey.

 

Here is a list of all of the things I hated about this book:

 

1. Edward. His character was completely unconvincing. I haven't read FSoG and I have no plans to do so. However, that book has permeated the pop culture to the level that even I was able to draw the parallels between his character and Christian Grey. "I don't do traditional relationships," he purred, smoothly. "I'm coming over, and I'm going to take you to bed," he told her (completely out of the blue, by the way). If a man said that to me, I'd meet him at the door with a sledgehammer and a restraining order. Not that Jane would have a sledgehammer, since it's probably a violation of the preposterous rules that she agreed to before moving into the house to have a sledgehammer.


2. BDSM. Never have I been so unconvinced of spanking in a book. Never.


3. BDSM. When Emma called him "daddy" it literally came out of nowhere. The ultimate sexual non sequitur. Where in the hell did that come from?


4. Emma. Shut your fucking face you lying liar who lies. Honestly, she was one of the most unlikeable female characters in any book ever. She lied about everything. Everything that made her sympathetic turned out to be entirely false. There were three sociopaths in this book, and she was one of them. Are we supposed to like her? I'm unclear on this point.


5. Jane. She is basically the equivalent of that dumb blonde in a horror movie who hides behind the wall of whirling knives instead of running the fuck away while she can.


6. It's treatment of trauma was totally surface and entirely based on the author's idea of what some one who has experienced trauma might do.


7. The house itself was entirely creepy and no one would ever live there. People who are alive, and who are not wax statues, do things that create clutter and mess. Even the tidiest house will have, at a minimum, a family photo displayed. Living in that house would be like living in a mausoleum. No one would voluntarily live in a mausoleum before they had actually become a corpse.


8. The twist. I figured it out. Go away.


9. The dual narrations in opposing chapters. Tired. Trite. Been done.


10. The ending. Nice gimmick.

 

So, yeah, there really wasn't anything I liked about this book. I should've known better, really, than to buy it. But can this trend of unrealistic characters and their behaviors in "realistic" fiction be over now, please.

Updates

The Girl Before: A Novel - JP Delaney

53%

 

“Were Emma and you lovers?”

“Does it make a difference?”

“No,” I say. Of course I mean yes.

“We had a brief affair,” he says at last. “It was over long before she died.”

“Was it…” I don’t know how to ask this. “Was it like this?”

He comes very close to me, holding my head in both hands, fixing me with his gaze. “Listen to me, Jane. Emma was a fascinating person,” he says gently. “But she’s in the past now. What’s happening right now, with us—this is perfect. We don’t need to talk about her again.”

 

RUUUUUUUUN! 

 

44%:

 

I am struggling with this book. I initially liked it a lot, but it has grown tedious, and Edward is a freaking psychopath and I can't believe that Emma/Jane are so stupid that they can't figure it out. I want to shake them and yell at them to run.

 

You know that commercial, where the four teenagers are fleeing from a psychopath, and one of them suggests hiding behind the chainsaws? Yeah, that's this book.

 

This is me

Reading Obsidian Blue's status updates for Holly by Jude Deveraux:

 

 

Damn, that book sounds ridiculous!

Reading Habits

Well, since Booklikes is finally cooperating for me, I thought I'd chime in on @spookyshouseofbooks survey.

 

Do you have a certain place in your home for reading?

 

Not really. I read all over the place - family room, living room, kitchen, bedroom. Wherever is comfortable!

 

Bookmark or random piece of paper?

 

I mostly read ebooks or listen to audiobooks these days. However, when I read a print edition, I use a random piece of paper - often a sticky note - as a bookmark.

 

Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop read after a chapter / certain number of pages?

 

I usually try to get to a logical stopping place, although not necessarily a chapter break.

 

Do you eat or drink while you read?

 

Um, yes. My favorite reading snacks are sunflower seeds or dill pickles (not at the same time). I also drink tea or coffee while reading. Or wine. Or beer. I also read while I eat meals, if I am on my own. 

 

Multitasking: music or TV while reading?

 

I can't really do much other than read when I read. The exception to this is that I enjoy listening to audiobooks while sewing, embroidering or cross-stitching. In fact, I finished this while I was listening to Murder on the Orient Express:

 

 

(It's an Ikea pillow cover embroidered for my daughter). I'll be listening to Murder at the Vicarage next, and will be working on a matching Pegasus pillow:

 

 

One book at a time or several at once 

 

I typically have three or four books on the go: fiction, non-fiction, and at least one audiobook, if not more than one.

 

Reading at home or everywhere?

 

Everywhere. If I can't read, I listen.

 

Reading out loud or silently in your head?

 

My read-aloud days are over, since my youngest is 16. Until I have grandkids, at least. 

 

Do you read ahead or even skip pages?

 

I refuse to answer that question on the basis that it might incriminate me.

 

Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?

 

Trade paperback I keep like new. MMPB inevitably end up with broken spines.

 

Do you write in your books?

 

Not usually. Sometimes I use sticky notes. I highlight on my ereader.

Romance bingo: I'm In Like Flynn

 

OK, I'm in! I'll start perusing my shelves and see what I can come up with for these categories. I am unlikely to blackout (I will never, ever, ever read a book that fits into the secret billionaire category) but I'm sure I can bingo at least once or twice!

Task the Twelfth: The Wassail Bowl

 

My version of The Wassail Bowl is delivered over 12 nights, between December 13th and December 24th. For the last three years, I've been giving my husband "The Twelve Beers of Christmas," one 22 oz bottle of a new-to-us local craft brew, wrapped and open on successive nights!

 

 

The full 12, wrapped and ready to drink!

Co-blogging with Obsidian Blue

I came back to BL (well, I tried to, anyway) to let everyone know my exciting news! As many of you know, Obsidian Blue is one of my favorite booklikers, readers (and the greatest bingo co-host in all the land) & all around human beings, so I thought she might want to join my blog!

 

We are now blogging at Bookish Pursuits! Our first joint post - a Top Ten Tuesday post - is scheduled for tomorrow morning! We're still figuring out how things are going to work, but I'm really excited about having someone else on the blog with me! Follow us over there!

 

As for this blog, I am still taking a wait & see approach to BL as I'm not sure how things are going to unfold. I may continue to cross-post here, but it is likely that my primary content repository will be Bookish Pursuits for the foreseeable future!

It is with regret

That I have come to the conclusion - along with many others - that I can't take the issues with BL anymore on an ongoing basis. I may pop in from time to time, but I can't deal with the slow - when it happens at all - loading and the difficulties in posting. 

 

I apologize for not being a particularly great host for the 12 Tasks of Christmas, but at this point, even thinking about attempting to open Booklikes feels like a crapshoot.

 

So, I'm back to my blog, which you can find here:

 

It Was A Dark and Stormy Night

 

Since I'm not going to be posting over here much, I may be (again) changing the title of the blog to something more basically bookish, but the URL won't change.

 

I am also on Goodreads - link to profile - so friend me over there if you want to keep in touch, on Twitter as @moonlight_reads, and Instagram as @reading_while_stitching. I am not especially active on either Twitter or Instagram, but if you're interested in my quilting/stitching adventures, Instagram is the place to find those pictures, along with my inconsistent bookstagramming.

 

Finally, don't forget about the private GR group - many of you are already there, but this link will get you in, if you haven't already joined us: BL Expats on Goodreads. If it doesn't work drop a comment here, or on my blog, or friend me on GR & send me a message.

 

If you are following any of my other blogs, I am going to be deleting them all after the first of the year, since dividing my focus just never really works. I may still cross post over here, but most of the content will live on my personal blog since I am not convinced that BL is going to be around for the long haul.

 

Anyway, this has been an amazing community, and I'm sad to see it collapse under the weight of site dysfunction, but it's difficult to invest in a space where it is unknown if the space is going to continue to exist next year, next week, or, even, tomorrow.

It is a winter wonderland at my house! We don't get a lot of snow here in Oregon, so when we do, it is a celebration!

Task the Seventh: The Christmas

 

- Read a book set during the Christmas holiday season.

- Grab your camera (or your phone) and set up a Christmas bookstagram-style scene with favorite holiday reads, objects or decorations. Possibly also a cat. Post it for everyone to enjoy!

 

One of my daughter's favorite Christmas stories when she was small was Santa's Snow Cat - a lovely picture book about a little white cat who goes with Santa on his Christmas Eve revels. In honor of her, I caught her little cat, Roo, sleeping yesterday, and took a picture of him with the book!

 

 

She is away at college, so I texted it to her to remind her how wonderful it is to come home for Christmas!

Three steps forward, two steps backwards

I am 50 years old.

 

In all my life, I've never felt as demoralized as I have for the last 23 days and change. I look at my kids, and I wonder "what kind of world will I leave for you?" And when I ask that question I mean: what will the world look like? Will it continue to be a place of biological beauty and diversity? Will there be polar bears? Will there be places of wild beauty, open to everyone through the National Park Service? Will the world continue to be a place where, as it has been said, "the arc of history may be long, but it bends towards justice." When I die, will the world be safer for people of color? Will there be less, not more, inequality? Will it be a world where the number of children who die of starvation is getting smaller instead of bigger.

 

For my whole life - my whole goddamned fucking apparently misguided life - I believed that human beings wanted what was good to win. Even with my job, which regularly throws me into contact with the literal dregs of society - child molesters, murderers, child molesters who murder children, I believed in the inherent and reliable sense of progress towards something better. The election of an elitist motherfucker who lives in a golden palace and sits on a golden throne and regularly tosses shit out of his window onto the plebeians and serfs who reside below him in the streets has thrown me, not just for a loop, but into a state of existential crisis.

 

I am trying to rebuild. I don't know how I do this. I know that this sounds melodramatic, but I don't know who I am anymore, and I sure as hell don't understand the country I live in.

 

So, every day, I take three steps forward. I perk up. I retreat into my cocoon, and I think to myself: "I'll be okay. My family, the people I love, I can protect them. There's money enough for my security, and the security of my children. If worse comes to worse, I can pretend it hasn't happened. I can wrap myself in my personal institutional and economic security, and I'll be fine. And fuck those morons who voted for Trump, because he is going to Trump that Bitch. They just didn't know that they're the bitch who is going to get Trumped."

 

And then, I take two steps backwards, and I realize that these people - the ones he is going to harm. The ones that his policies are going to devastate. The ones that Paul Ryan - that lying, sociopathic douchebag who was educated on the taxpayer dime after his father passed away and who now wants to rip that safety net away from everyone whose name isn't "Paul Ryan" - is advocating for, that will cause elderly people to suffer and die, and women to suffer and die, and impoverished people to suffer and die, and children to, you guessed it, suffer and die. These are my people, too, and they don't deserve this and how can I pretend that it isn't going to happen.

 

We are in the last days of Rome, Nero is fiddling while it burns, and the people are consumed with bread and circuses.

 

So, that's why I'm not around. I am still trying to process how I am going to live my life for the next four years as the safety net disintegrates for the people who need it most desperately, and yet I will be fine.

The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season: Task the Eighth

Well, I've completed a few of the tasks, but I've not written up any posts yet! I thought I would start with this one, though, since I just saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them on Friday!

 

I am a huge Harry Potter fan, and was so looking forward to something else set in J.K. Rowling's magical world, and for me, this movie did not disappoint! I loved seeing some of the historical underpinnings of the wizarding world, even if it was the New World, versus the Old World. I thought that Rowling did an excellent job with showing some particularly American distinctions, and she rather nicely looped in references to the Salem Witch Trials.

 

I also really loved the characters. Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander was charmingly awkward, but for me, it was Katherine Waterston as Porpentina (Tina) Goldstein who really stole the show, along with Dan Fogle as Jacob Kowalski. Actually, Jacob - the NoMag - might've been my favorite character of the entire movie.

 

There were several delicious moments, including a visit into Newt's suitcase that was truly magical. All in all, fantastical is really the right word to describe the movie, and I spent a lovely 133 minutes being transported into the world of magical 1920's New York City!

 

Got my new blue chromebook!

It came today, so I am back in business. Also, I've been working on perfecting my tote bag pattern, so I made a second, non-Christmas fabric version, which I love:

 

 

All of the interior seams are finished with no raw edges, I put the binding on the top last, so it gives the top edge a nice finish, and I lengthened the straps so I can carry it over the shoulder as well as by the handles.

 

I've been working on gifts as well, and I managed to finish The Crystal Cave (on my kindle) and The Language of Bees (audiobook).