Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Caught Between Tidy Science... and the Messy Reality of Falling in Love

A really good book has its work cut out for it. It needs to draw you in, making it seem as if you’re a part of the action. It should make you think, drawing parallels and conclusions of your own. And no matter what genre, it must make you feel something; you need to have a personal stake in the outcome, for it to matter.

Fortunately, there are books aplenty that can do those things. What’s a whole lot harder to find is the book that somehow manages to bring pure, unadulterated joy with every page... a non-stop transfusion of feel-good, happy vibes from the written word straight to your brain. (Seriously... what was the last book you can say that about??)

Until a couple weeks ago [and yes, it’s been that long since I finished it... grrr, there goes life, getting in the way again], coming up with something that made me that insanely giddy would’ve been impossible. But then, I came across Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, and everything changed.

Professor Don Tillman is, without question, a nerd. A top geneticist at a major Australian university, he’s a nice-enough-looking chap, and likable, but with all the little oddities and eccentricities one generally expects from such genius. (He also has an undiagnosed case of Asperger’s.) Socially inept? You could say that. (He once argued the science behind tasting ice cream so forcefully that a date walked out on him.) Orderly and precise? Doesn’t begin to cover Don’s habits. (Seriously, he cooks and eats the same meals every week--the identical meal each Tuesday, then the same something-else each Wednesday, and so on, which allows him to use the same shopping list every week.) Fussy? Well, every item in his pantry and fridge has its prescribed place... as does every shirt, sock, and other necessary item in his bedroom and bathroom. Literal? Um, yeah; sarcasm and (most) jokes tend to fly right over his head. Scientific? Absolutely. (His defense of the technical rain parka he wears to a fancy restaurant which requires men to wear suit jackets as “an intelligent and valid choice of attire” is beyond hilarious.) All of Don’s decisions are made with the same level of measured thought behind them, so he can be assured of always making the right choice. 

Or so he’s always thought... 

After a few less-than-successful attempts at dating (and honestly, it’s not like there’s been a string of eligible women or anything, since the professor would be hard-pressed to recognize a reference to Casanova, let alone take pages from the famed lover’s playbook), Don--acknowledging that he’s a little lonely (and isn’t getting any younger)--comes up with what he’s convinced is a brilliant plan: create a comprehensive survey (dubbed the “Wife Project”) which he’ll pass out to potential mates, then tally the results to find his ideal partner. (An achievable goal? Well, he thinks so. In truth, there might be one woman in a million--no, make that a billion--who would meet his stringent [and uproariously-funny] qualifications, but he doesn't understand that.)

As for the attributes of Ms. Right, well, no drinkers, smokers, vegans, non-exercisers, fashionable women, or makeup-wearers, and no one who isn’t serious about her job, or isn’t a neatnik, need apply--and that’s just for starters. (At least he’s trying to establish a very small pool... very, VERY small.) 

When fate (via his best friend, a fellow professor) tosses Rosie Jarman in his path, Don immediately discounts her as a candidate; she embodies every single thing he doesn’t want in a partner, and then some. She does possess a certain something, though... a problem which only an expert such as he can help with: identifying her biological father (whom her dying mother alluded to but never named) from a large pool of “possibles”. Thus is born the “Father Project” (naturally).

Much to Don’s surprise (and a bit to his dismay), he finds himself completely immersed in the Father Project (to the detriment of the Wife Project), and actually having fun whenever Rosie’s around--something he can’t, in all honesty, remember experiencing before. A bartender who drinks whenever she wants, smokes, favors edgy clothes and makeup, and prefers thinking outside the box, Rosie’s also outrageously funny, surprisingly (to him) smart, and incredibly interesting... a whirling dervish of fun and mayhem, whom he gradually comes to realize (long after we do, of course) he doesn’t want to lose. 

But, how to put aside nearly every single thing he always thought he valued in a life partner--forcing him to throw the entire Wife Project out the window--and setting out to win the heart of his polar opposite? It’s the “Rosie Project”, of course... the most important project he’ll ever undertake.

I love a great rom-com (romantic-comedy movie, if you’ve somehow missed that cutesy abbreviation until now), but haven’t actually found many... the ones that make me hope dream, swoon, and melt (without causing me to roll my eyes at an overabundance of convenient plot tricks and cliches). Well, The Rosie Project is a frickin’ awesome rom-com... in book form.

I dare you not to fall just a little bit for Don (or not to want to be him, if you’re a straight guy), because despite his oddness and quirkiness, he's impossible not to like and identify with in his earnest (if unusual) pursuit of love and happiness. You’re bound to root for Rosie, too; after all, Don falls for her, against all odds. 

The Rosie Project is laugh-out-loud funny, going from being as effervescent as a glass of bubbly to being as deep and rich as a thick slice of pecan pie... and I haven’t felt this much continuous joy while reading a book in... well, maybe ever. :)   

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: Jubilant Mousies to Infinity 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Be Careful what You Wish for... Because It Just May Come True

Grad student Nora Fischer wishes desperately that her life could be different. She’s hit a major roadblock in her studies, with nothing new or fresh to pursue in her thesis work (something which her adviser seems a bit too willing to point out to her), and inspiration isn’t exactly forthcoming. Even worse, her long-time professor boyfriend--whom she’d sort of been expecting to get a ring from--has just dropped a bomb on her: he’s engaged to someone he met (and obviously, was seeing on the sly) recently, and “hopes she [Nora] understands”.

Sometimes wishes do come true, though... as Nora is about to find out, in Emily Croy Barker’s magically-delicious debut, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

The last thing Nora wants to do is pretend happiness during a girlfriend’s weekend wedding festivities, but she puts on a brave face and dutifully shows up at the mountain lodge where events are scheduled to take place. Sadly, the first night turns out as horribly as she’d feared--especially since her (newly-engaged) ex is also in attendance. So, waking up the next morning with the mother of all hangovers, Nora decides to take a hike (literally); she straps on some walking shoes and sets out to clear her head and get away from everyone.

Not even that goes her way, though, and after a little fall on the trail she becomes disoriented. Nothing looks quite right, but she figures if she follows the trail she’s found, at least it will take her somewhere.

Where it leads her is to an old graveyard, which--as fate would have it--is also be a portal into a parallel world (not that she realizes that for quite some time, however).
Continuing along the path, blissfully unaware of what’s just happened, Nora suddenly finds herself on the manicured grounds of a country estate bordering the woods. There, she runs into an elegant and gracious woman, Illissa, who welcomes her and offers hospitality. 

Clearly thrilled to have a visitor, Illissa listens avidly to Nora as she (most uncharacteristically) pours her heart out to the other woman’s sympathetic ears. Illissa persuades Nora to stay the night; she has a huge house with plenty of room, and it just so happens she’s having a party that evening--surely the antidote for a broken heart. Nora, seeing no particular reason to hurry back (to attend a wedding she doesn’t feel like going to, anyway), agrees.

Illissa’s party turns out to be much, much better than the one Nora had gone to the previous night. Instead of being Ordinary Nora, she’s somehow transformed from a drab, depressed student into the life of the party... a beautiful, popular, and happy woman. She’s so happy, in fact, that she agrees to stay on a bit longer, and what follows is a whirlwind of fabulous parties and adoration (even a devastatingly-handsome and attentive new boyfriend) so satisfyingly perfect that in no time, she’s lost track of how long she’s been there or exactly what she’s supposed to be doing in her “real” life.

Until one day, that is, when cracks start to appear in the glamorous veneer of Nora’s fairy-tale life, revealing deception, ugliness, and some very evil intentions... and Nora finally begins questioning what she’s gotten herself into--and wondering how she can extricate herself from it. She’s a smart woman, without doubt, but nothing she knows or has learned in school could’ve prepared her for any of this; what’s needed is magic, real magic, to escape her suddenly-scary predicament.

As luck would have it, though, she actually met just such a practitioner one day (when she temporarily got separated from her merry little party at the edge of Illissa’s property). Unfortunately, the magician Aruendiel is a morose and prickly sort, who seems to think very little of Nora--and even less of her choice of “friends”. Getting herself rescued from the clutches of Illissa and her crowd is only the first of Nora’s obstacles; persuading a grumpy old magician to teach her enough magic to enable her to get back home where she belongs will be considerably harder to accomplish, in a place (and time) where everything is foreign and none-too-friendly.

Will magic even be enough... when she finds herself fighting a growing attraction, as well?

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic is many things. It’s the ultimate fish-out-of-water story, plucking a perfectly-reasonable, modern woman and setting her down in the middle of a fairy tale (think no indoor plumbing and go from there for the downsides) already in full swing. It’s an intelligent look at how a normal adult would fare in that situation. (Does she always think/act smartly? No, but neither would you or I; we get to see her making some very poor choices and feeling sorry for herself before coming to grips with her new reality.) It’s also a grand and sprawling adventure... a mix of classic swords-and-sorcery with an epic, Harry Potter-esque journey, a smidgeon of Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and more than a touch of (the overall feel of) Deborah Harkness‘ A Discovery of Witches. In short, it’s a fabulously-well-written tale that takes its time (but without ever taking too long, as far as I’m concerned) getting where it wants to go. 

What it isn’t--at least, not yet--is a sweeping romance (despite a frequent and delightfully-clever use of Pride and Prejudice); this story is a slow-burn on the love-connection front, which I appreciate--much better to let Nora get her head on straight and decide for herself what she really wants, than to let things just happen to her. 

And that leads me to the final thing The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic isn’t: it isn’t a complete, stand-alone story; in the ending Barker makes it clear there’s more to come (so if that really bothers you, you may want to keep this on your TBR list until the sequel comes out). If you can handle the thought of a series, though, and you like your fantasy served up with a healthy dose of realism, this one’s a real gem and I loved every page. :)

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: Merrily-Magical Mousies