February 20th, 2014

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Recent Reads: The School for Manners

My reading lately has not been going so well. I’m bouncing off a lot of well-reviewed books hard, and I’m retreating to fun and easy reads.

I’ve said before that I enjoy reading MC Beaton’s books because they take me about 70 minutes and therefore allow me to feel like I’m reading a lot, even if in wordcount I’m not really. I’d been reading Agatha Raisin and Hamish McBeth, but I picked up one of her Regencies lately and it was great fun, so I’ve recently blown through the whole School for Manners series.

It’s quite delightful, if not actually worth reviewing each book individually. The series is about spinster twins who have breeding but not money and who hit upon the idea of taking in Difficult Girls (ie, ones who have not gone off to be obediently married at a suitable age) and reforming them. Hijinks ensue, and with each book the twins’ personal lives grow a little more complicated even as they manage to make good matches for all the young things.

The characterisations are good; all six of the girls in the books are distinctly different people (the heroes are perhaps a bit more interchangeable, but still are pretty individualized), and the twins themselves are a riot of incompatibilities. One is gruff and not conventionally attractive, which is Beaton’s default female lead, but she’s also soft-hearted and has much more sense of humour and charm than, say, Agatha Raisin does. The other twin is silly and pretty, but with a core of steel, and overall they’re both delightful characters.

There are some romance convention things in the books that persist in making me twitch: the hero’s seizing of the heroine for a deep probing kiss Because He Can’t Help Himself, or to Teach Her A Lesson (That Goes Awry Because He Finds He Means It), that sort of thing (although I note that there is no Shaking Of The Heroine in these books, which I was really on guard against and was relieved and surprised to not encounter), but overall, those kinds of conventions are better-handled (ie, less likely to make me scream) in these books than in most.

These were written in the early 90s. I need to get a handful of modern comedy-of-manners (as opposed to smouldering sexy) Regencies to see if/how those conventions have changed, because while I can go for the Inevitable Kiss That Neither Party Can Resist, the whole machismo/dominant/controlling thing still squicks me and I kind of want to see if/how people have worked around it.

Anyway, super charming books, lots of fun to read, highly recommended even if you don’t typically read romance. Which I don’t. :)

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

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Picoreview: American Hustle

Picoreview: American Hustle: better than I expected, even given all its glowing reviews.

Much of that is because I was expecting to hate all the characters but instead found myself enjoying them all to a fair degree. Brad Cooper plays an FBI agent who’s not as smart as he thinks he is; an almost unrecognizeable Christian Bale plays a con artist who *is* as smart–at least about cons—as he thinks he is. I was basically expecting everybody to be about as sympathetic as the characters in August: Osage County, but they had a fair amount of humanity going for them and that drew me in farther than I expected, by a considerable margin.

However.

Jennifer Lawrence, in a much-lauded role, plays Bale’s wife, which…she’s very good as. Very good. But in this, as with Silver Linings Playbook, I felt she was too young for the part. SLP at least makes a nod to her youth and its problematic aspect within the context of the film; American Hustle doesn’t, and her age and glamour next to Bale’s age and total lack of glamour…did not convince me. Which is *really* too bad, because it was a great part and she nailed it, but she can’t do (or they chose not to do) anything about the fact that she’s 23.

I had exactly the same problem with Amy Adams and Elisabethh Rohm, in fact. They’re both old enough for the parts they played, and Rohm, as Jeremy Renner’s wife, was within the bounds of possibility (although she’s roughly 9000 times more elegant and up-kept than Renner’s character), but despite the helpful voiceover telling us why Adams’ character was attracted to Bales’s, I didn’t buy it. I *completely* bought Lawrence and Adams’ power over *Bale*, but the other way around? Not so much.

The ironic thing here is that nearly all of Bale’s usual twitchery was not on display, and in fact his alternatingly Super Intense/Puppy Dog Gaze was totally muffled by the awful glasses he wore, and these are things that as a movie-goer I really want to *see* from Bale. I want him to play roles that go beyond what he normally does (I really want him to do a romcom, just to see if he can), and he did here, and…it didn’t work for me.

I *did* buy him as the smart-enough-to-know-when-he’s-not, talented con man (Adams is the brains of the operation, even if Bale isn’t dumb), but his supposed charisma, apparently particularly for women but definitely in general, was sufficiently overwhelmed by gross physicality that I just … wasn’t able to believe the women being drawn to him in the way that they were (a problem particularly compounded by Lawrence’s youth), and that made me spend way too much of the movie kind of going “really? *really*?”

So: better than I expected on many levels, which probably makes the disappointing elements that much more disappointing. Still, it was worth seeing.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)