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Further Thoughts On The First Book Of Calamity Leek

Book cover

I wanted to follow up my review of The First Book Of Calamity Leek with the thoughts I had that dealt with spoiler content. I can’t say I’m covering everything, indeed, I know I’m not covering everything, but maybe that’s a good thing; I don’t want to bore you all with an essay! I should also add that these are my own views: if anyone reaches this page through a search, don’t take them as verbatim. As always, I’m rambling on, repeating myself, jumping back and forth between subjects as I’m wont to do.

There’s an element of religion in the book. Emily is almost a deity and descriptions of the statues make it sound as though they might be of the Virgin Mary Obviously no one was going to have made statues of Emily herself, most especially as Mother wants the place to be secret, and the number of statues there are intimate that, at best, they are of various people. If Mother was a religious person, statues of religious figures makes more sense.

Another, possibly more pertinent, argument for the statues being of the Virgin Mary is the way Mother’s story and approach to her daughter suggest a saint-like belief. Emily the pure, untouched daughter, vassal of higher power. If the statue is of Mary (and I say this even knowing there were other statues, too) then might Emily have been Mary, Mother casting herself in the role of Saint Anne? Highly unlikely, I know, but I think the comparison is interesting. Mary wasn’t abused but a person in Mother’s state could feasibly view what happened to her as beyond her control, in a bad way.

The writing is odd. It’s particularly childish. Its meaning can surely be found in Calamity’s non-education, the non-education she believes is an excellent one, that has led to not only a narrow mind but a complete lack of knowledge. The word choice, the generally poorly-constructed sentences that defy description, given as an idea as to what was most important to Mother and Aunty: speaking ability was not it. It’s interesting; if we believe Calamity’s report it seems the other girls speak better. It’s possible they’ve broader minds – their relative strength compared to Calamity’s absolute trust in her captors is where the differences lie.

Although Lichtarowicz does not specify exactly for what and why the children are stolen, we are left with a pretty good idea. Trafficking; though whether Mother’s plan truly was to hurt men or if that was a ruse is not known. Certainly the content of the book suggests Emily was harmed and Mother wants to hurt men as revenge, but these young girls have no knowledge and obviously, being young, their strength.

Where Emily is concerned, our lack of knowledge is regrettable because we don’t know to what degree there was an issue. The way Mother seems to be, there is a fair chance she has thought too deeply about a situation that may not warrant it. Whilst Emily could have been trafficked, abused, Mother’s behaviour suggests Emily may well have simply decided, for example, to have sex against her Mother’s wishes. Who is to say Mother didn’t kill her daughter? She is happy to kill other children.

Of course it’s incredibly uncomfortable to ponder over such an idea as the possibility of Emily’s lesser issue. We can at least say we’re dealing with the mother. And the thing is that Lichtarowicz doesn’t tell us because it an important thing to comment on, but at the same time she could be telling us, just not openly. That’s this book – everything is vague and the vagueness is surely deliberate. I know I read a real reasoning for the vagueness even if I still think it’s confusing and bizarre. This is awful; let’s move on.

It’s interesting to look at the way Lichtarowicz makes you question emotional and mental stability alongside cruelty. The adults certainly know they’re doing wrong – Mother runs away, Aunty shows remorse and real care for the children – but have Mother’s choices been due primarily to money, to please others beyond the garden? Or are her choices more to do with a true wish for revenge? How much are the choices down to issues in their pasts, down to emotional scars? Aunty hated the way she was seen when acting and took it too far. Depending on who exactly Mother wants to punish, she’s potentially wanting to punish many for the crimes of a few.

Interesting when compared to the way Mother suddenly changes once the garden is under threat. This is where we see some truth and the fact the girls are a mass group to Mother.

The way Lichtarowicz deals with the sexual ‘content’ remains something to think about. Certainly these girls are being groomed but the talk of weapons is a odds with that. It’s a case of placing the information about Japan alongside all this talk of weapons and making of it what you will.

The dedication to purity, if placed beside the idea (fact?) that Mother was looking for a replacement for Emily, makes a lot of sense. If Emily was harmed, abused in some way, then Mother wanting all the girls to be beautiful and pure shows the emotional strife of the woman. Even if Aunty had most of the control, Mother was the one stealing them.

The desire for youth, beauty, that runs through the book has many implications. Traditional roles, morals. They can surely also be the emotional affects of these older women. There’s almost a geisha-like quality to it. And Mother wants to keep her children young.

The affect of the confinement (for lac of a better word) on Calamity is shown throughout and in the way she relates to those outside. What’s interesting is the way the author doesn’t say that Calamity will ever be okay with the reality. It may not be sunshine and roses; she has seen much, witnessed horrors and was genuinely happy, never knowing any different. Stockholm syndrome is evident.

If we trust the story of Mother – wife of a Lord? – then what of Aunty? Where did she live, what was her connection to Mother? Is there a connection to Emily? Aunty seems to be somewhat under Mother’s thumb, too, exploited, used.

How do you solve a problem like Maria? – Aunty certainly didn’t know. But we do. Maria never was mad. She was likely ill due to lack of sunlight but her madness was a ruse and it served her well. It let her explore possibilities and kept her away from Mother and Aunty suspecting her.

Thus ends my rambling. Plenty questions; few answers, but thoughts enough for a fair discussion.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

Shannon Stacey – Taken With You

Book Cover

Thrown together with you.

Publisher: Carina Press (Harlequin)
Pages: 193
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-306-47223-4
First Published: 4th March 2014
Date Reviewed: 15th April 2015
Rating: 3.5/5

Taken With You is the eighth book in the Kowalski series; it focuses, however, on a family friend, Hailey and the new game warden.

The series is nearing its end and it shows. As said, the book does not feature a Kowalski as a main character, so there’s that, but at times it feels forced anyway. Stacey has said herself that there was only so far she could go before she would be writing the story of the plummer who turned up once, and she has chosen to end on Hailey and, in the ninth (last) book, Max.

There are a fair number of issues with Taken With You, enough that it is firmly in the middle of the series as far as ratings go. It’s not the ‘worst’ but it’s not the best.

One of the two major problems is the way the characters are fundamentally incompatible. They are presented this way and many readers may feel that not enough changes during the course of the story to intimate that they’d be happy in the long-term. Matt is outdoorsy and after being burned by a woman who was embarrassed by his profession he wants a wife like him. Hailey is not outdoorsy at all and wants a city man – suit, tie, regular hours. That Matt and Hailey are together at the end seems much more of a Happy For Now than a Happy Ever After (capitalised to reflect current acronyms) even though it’s presented as the latter.

Editing is the second problem. Frequent grammatical and proof-reading errors and a couple of development issues. The sheer number is hard to ignore; it affects the way the book reads.

Hailey wants her suit and tie dream husband to be cultured. She wants to go to fancy restaurants, museums, the cinema, but never do we see her pursuing any of these activities herself. She reads and cleans and meets her friends; if the culture was presented as something she could pursue only on meeting such a man it would make sense, but it isn’t. Matt, on the other hand, does live his ‘hobby’ and date dreams. He is the more developed character overall.

The sudden changes, mental changes, undergone so that this couple can stay together are jarring. Stacey doesn’t have them change who they are (which is good because you wouldn’t want that) but barring a short conversation about compromise and doing what each of them want to do there is no sign they’ll ever share the same interests. This itself is okay if not for the way they discuss it.

The small town, by this point, can seem too much. If this is the first book you read it may be okay, but as number eight there is too much living in each other’s pockets, too many utopian stereotypes and what was friendly gossip and care for those in the community is now busy-bodying. The shopkeeper is knitting a baby blanket for an unrelated baby not yet conceived nor necessarily being planned.

What is good about Taken With You is the sexual chemistry – sexually, at least, Matt and Hailey are very compatible; it’s believable. Stacey writes it well. The characters themselves are good to read, even if Matt, as Hailey rightfully says, turns into a you-know-what-hole for no reason (it’s in part his attitude in that situation that cements the general incompatibility).

As a whole package, Taken With You isn’t bad, but it’s a Kowalski without a Kowalski and sadly it shows.

Related Books

None yet.

Managing Hype And Expectations

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding that the longer I read, and the longer I remain in this world of books, it’s increasingly easier to lower my expectations for books that have been hyped up.

Now I don’t mean this to be cruel – I don’t go into a book with a desire to dislike it – rather that lowering my expectations is a sort of damage control. As much as hype can be fun. It’s easier, if you’ve low expectations, to accept that a book was bad, and it can be rewarding when the book turns out to be excellent. Of course it is more rewaring when you’re hyped and love the book, but more damning, I think, when you’re hyped and the book ends up not working for you. It seems worse than it is, you’re more disappointed than you might have been.

It often takes a concious decision (I won’t say ‘effort’, this topic’s not that serious) to lower your expectations. Reading several reviews, to get different opinions, can help, as can simply remembering other times books have ultimately failed to interest you. Sometimes it requires waiting a little longer to read it. Sometimes it’s impossible, but I’ve found that at least when it’s impossible, with experience it’s easier to acknowledge, to weaken the affect the hype may have on you.

I’m of the opinion that overall, low expectations are for the best.

What do you think?

Site Feature Musings

There’s an element of my site I’ve been thinking about for a while but I’m undecided and thought it’d be best to ask you. After all, you’re the ones who use the site as visitors.

I’ve been wondering whether I should change the related posts section I add to the bottom of reviews. Currently I use it to link to reviews of books by the same author as well as books that share a theme. I like the concept because it allows me to categorise without having a lot of tags; I do like to use tags for genres; but I wonder how many people find the related posts section helpful. Ultimately I’m considering simply linking to other books by the same author. (Another option would be to have both a ‘by the same author’ section and ‘related by theme’ section but that would mean quite a lot of space.)

I like linking by theme, not just due to the issue of tags but because I know it’s nice, when there’s a theme you like, to be able to easily find other books that include it. However, it has become a bit crazy to maintain. Where do I draw the line on which themes to link? Should I link minor themes? What about books that I know aren’t truly related but for this small theme they share?

As you can see, I’ve given this a lot of (too much) thought.

I’ve also been thinking about my ‘random review’. I’m quite partial to it but does anyone use it? I’m very aware it pulls up posts from years ago but then if I were to filter it I’d end up being worried about all posts soon enough.

Do you like related posts sections on sites in general?

Next Stop Procrastination #6

A portrait of Richard III

There have been some excellent articles recently so you’ve six links instead of five. Enjoy.

The links

Maya Rodale discusses how, by focusing on romance cover model Fabio, when we talk about romance we leave out what is important.

Found: the book that helped Henry VIII annul his marriage.

Whilst fully acknowledging that the book wouldn’t suit everyone, I want to point to this interview with Emma Healey in which she mentions Maud’s condition.

Nancy Bilyeau details the first burial of Richard III, showing that it wasn’t as hasty as we may have been told.

Only girls were given leave to attend Shannon Hale’s school visit, and the author has something to say about it.

Unable to stand the noise of people eating? You may be a genius.

What’s piqued your interest recently?


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