Tag Archives: America

“With Me Now” – and culture shock

With Me Now, Heather Hambel Curley

With Me Now, Heather Hambel Curley

I’ve just finished reading With Me Now, which is Heather Hambel Curley’s first-published novel (though not the first-written – that’s Anything You Ask Of Me, which is due for publication in August). I’ve reviewed it on Amazon and Goodreads, so I shan’t do that here.

My last post on this blog was about a book I’d expected to enjoy but ended up not being particularly thrilled with, because I just couldn’t connect to the main character. With Me Now was almost exactly the other way around – it’s a contemporary romance, and I don’t generally read them. But, because it was Heather’s book, I bought a copy and read it, and enjoyed it much, much more than I had thought. I read it in two sittings – would have been one, except that when I’m in the office, the boss actually expects me to do some work.

The difference is that with With Me Now, I connected to the main character immediately. At first, I wasn’t sure whether I liked her much (anyone who gets arrested for underage drinking less than a month before she can drink legally, knowing what’s going to happen if she gets caught, does not have my instant respect), but I was immediately interested in what happened to her.

For me, it just goes to show that an established author isn’t necessarily more likely to hit the spot than a new author.

The second thing that really hit me about With Me Now is the culture shock. I’m British (English if you want to be specific), and With Me Now is written by an American, about Americans, and set in America. Pretty much the first scene hammered me with the difference between the US and the UK: in the UK, not only is the legal age for buying alcohol 18 (so university hall of residence parties are perfectly legal unless the neighbours complain about the noise) but it’s legal for younger persons to drink alcohol on private premises. The legal drinking age for drinking on private premises (not buying alcohol) in the UK is five. So for Madison (the heroine) to get arrested just for drinking was really weird. I mean, she can vote, get married, have sex, but not drink a shandy? Deeply, deeply weird. But then, I suppose to an American, the idea of it being legal to give alcohol to a five-year-old is also pretty strange.

The other time I got hit with a culture-shock brick was just one throwaway line: Madison finds the way Mike (the love interest) changes gear in his jeep sexy. It’s manual, so he has to work the pedals, and this is obviously pretty unusual. Only, it’s not unusual over here. In America, most cars – or so I have heard – are automatics. Over here, most cars are manual. Automatics aren’t exactly rare, but they’re certainly not the norm. So changing gear doesn’t have the sexy mystique over here that it does for Madison (at least, not unless you have some fairly specialised sexual tastes, and I believe there are websites for that). It also doesn’t work the other way. I’ve never driven an automatic, but my husband has, and two impressions stuck with him:

1) He thought it was like driving a dodgem car at the fair and
2) He kept thinking that someone had stolen one of the pedals…

In a way, those moments of culture shock made With Me Now even better for me. Not only was the book a window into Madison’s and Mike’s world, but it was also a window into Heather’s – a world where it can be legal for a person to have sex but not to have a glass of wine; where pressing the clutch is sexy – and where ghosts exist.

Although maybe not that last…

Barack Obama, Lena Dunham, and That Video

Have you see this video? http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=o6G3nwhPuR4&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Do6G3nwhPuR4

It’s the newest tactic in the US presidency campaign. Generally, I have to admit, I have not been following this, other than to hope desperately that Obama wins, by any means necessary. The thought of Mitt Romney in the White House is terrifying.

Unworthily, I find myself hoping that if Romney wins, that the war he will undoubtedly start will be in a location that is not upwind of the UK; I know we had fallout when Chernobyl exploded, but this will undoubtedly be worse. If someone’s country is going to be covered in radioactive dust I don’t want it to to be mine. No, I’m not proud of that thought.

Note: Please, Mr Putin, if you are reading this blog, remember that you, at least, are a mentally-competent adult. It’s your responsibility to remain calm and think of the future of your country (i.e., that it should have one) and that of the rest of the world (ditto) even under extreme provocation.

Anyway, back to the video. In it, Lena Dunham extols the virtues of voting, saying that a girl’s first time should be with someone special; someone who cares about her as a woman; who cares that she gets health insurance and birth control, etc. She says, not to vote is not cool – who wants to have to admit that they haven’t done it yet? Voting is the watershed between being a girl and being a woman.

OK, three guesses regarding what she is comparing voting to?

OK, only one guess.

Republicans are apparently up in arms about the appalling bad taste of equating voting for the first time with losing your virginity. Personally, I think there are two real reasons why the Republicans don’t like this video:

1. The Democrats thought of it first. I mean, watch it. It’s clever. It’s funny. And it’s very, very accurate. And it’s a Democrat video.

2. The video portrays a woman’s body, and her sexuality, as her own possessions, which she can share with the man of her choice, or not, as she decides.

Lena Dunham gets to choose who to vote for, and she votes for a man she respects and admires. The implication is that when it comes to virginity, a woman also has the right to choose with whom she will lose it. She has the right to say no; she has the right to examine her available partner-options and select the one she feels is the best. And not for any trivial reasons, either. Lena is thinking long-term; she wants a man who will treat her as a person to be valued, not as a sex object. Voting, and having sex with someone, is not a decision to be made lightly or for the wrong reasons. Both are rites of passage in a young woman’s life, changing her from a girl (whose parents make decisions on her behalf) to a woman, in command of her own fate, including that of her country.

Why is this bad? Why do the Republicans think treating voting, and sex, as important decisions is somehow wrong? Is it, perhaps, that they think that women should not be free to choose their sexual partners in such a way – a choice between Mr X and Mr Y – and that a woman should give control of her body to her husband, so that her only options are to agree to what he demands of her, or have nothing at all?

Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

Thieftaker, by D.B. Jackson

Thieftaker, by D.B. Jackson

Thieftaker is the first book in a series by D.B. Jackson, introducing eighteenth-century Boston thieftaker Ethan Kaille. In the absence of a police force, if a citizen wants a thief, or stolen goods, found, then they must employ a thieftaker. Kaille, however, does not rely merely on traditional legwork – he can do magic.

Unlike many magic-is-real urban fantasy settings, this alternate 1767 Boston does not seem to have magic-users and magical beings all over the place. Magic-users – conjurers – are not common, and they risk being arrested and convicted of witchcraft by the church. Kaille understandably keeps quiet about his gift, although it’s clear that quite a few people know about it all the same. Obviously the church isn’t too zealous in hunting conjurers down, or he’d be dead.

The current case revolves around the seemingly senseless death-by-magic of a rich young woman who was, for reasons unknown, out in the street during one of the riots due to the Stamp Act. It’s clear that she was killed by a powerful conjurer, but who might this be, and why was she killed? And were other possibly-mysterious deaths related? And, again, why?

In the course of pursuing this case, Kaille gets repeatedly beaten up, kidnapped, threatened, etc. Although conjurers have the ability to heal themselves, the man must have a constitution of iron and the courage of a lion to make it to the end of the book without deciding to retire from thieftaking and take up some nice, safe, boring occupation like alligator dentistry.

The author is a historian, and he has consulted other historians in the writing of the book. The setting felt real; however, it is neither overloaded with unnecessary detail (meant to impress on the reader that the author Knows His Stuff) nor so lacking in detail that it felt bland. I was worried that the book might not make sense to someone who didn’t know the period, but I needn’t have worried. Although knowing what the Stamp Act actually was would have helped, just accepting that it was important to the characters was enough since it was only background, and not part of the plot.

On the down side, some of the dialogue was a little modern (I’m pretty sure people didn’t say ‘hi’ in the eighteenth century), but I’m against the use of deliberately ‘archaic’ speech patterns in novels – I think it causes more interference with the reader’s enjoyment of the book than it increases authenticity. I prefer to read dialogue I can just absorb rather than something I have to decode.

Although the book had a slow start for me, and I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like Kaille enough to devote my evening to his problems, in the end he grew on me. I read the book pretty much in one sitting, and did not find myself stopping reading to do something aimless. I even carried on reading through dinner, which is one of my yardsticks of is-this-a-good-book (you can keep any comments on my table manners to yourself, thank you). So I will definitely be looking out for the second one in the series.

If you like urban fantasy, with fairly low-key magic in a historically realistic setting, then you’ll probably enjoy this book.