Monday, December 31, 2012

The Heart of Christmas

The title: The Heart of Christmas
The author: Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick, Courtney Milan
Publication: Harlequin, 2009
Got it from: JL, Xmas 2010

Happy New Year, everyone! It feels like forever since I last reviewed a book (although my blog is saying it's only been a month and a half).  This book is the answer to clue #3 from my year-end entry, the "Three ladies of Christmas."  I have read all of these authors before - Nicola Cornick less so, although I have a couple of her books on my TBR pile and will hopefully make my way to them this year.  

Overall I found this book to be a little too plagued with jaded rogues and saintly heroines to give it a high rating as a whole.  With some exceptions.

Mary Balogh's story is "A Handful of Gold."  It's a warm-and-fuzzy tale of a woman who becomes a dancer (back then, basically a prostitute) to pay for her sick sister's medical care.  Enter the rakish earl, who wants to pay for her company over Christmas.  In the end she wins him over by being sweet, innocent, and bringing Christmas cheer to all.  And she can deliver babies.  I felt a bit meh about this story. I'd probably give it a C.

Nicola Cornick's story is "The Season for Suitors."  The blurb for this one sounded promising, with a young lady asking for advice from a rake about how to avoid rakes.  However, I don't think the person writing the blurb actually read the story since this wasn't really about this and plus the heroine's last name on the back was incorrect.  I was very disappointed that nothing ever came of that plot, which would have been amusing.  The story seemed disjointed and I couldn't muster up much feeling for either the hero or the heroine. I kept checking to see how many more pages were left as I was reading.  I'd give it a C-.

It's hard to believe that Courtney Milan was basically unknown when her story, "This Wicked Gift," was published.  It's a prequel of sorts to Proof by Seduction (Gareth Carhart makes a cameo appearance!)  It's by far my favourite of the three stories, and I actually rushed to read it first.  My goodnesss can the woman write.  I'm not usually much for descriptions, but one line in particular just transported me: "A wild wind whipped down the street, carrying with it the last few tired leaves from some faraway square and the earthy scent of winter mold."  It gave me shivers.  There is something so real about Milan's characters and settings, something lovely even in the ugliness of 19th century London.  The story itself was intriguing, about a young woman who has to "repay" a man who helps settle her brother's debt.  It sounds like a sordid premise, but the author managed to turn my expectations upside down and inside out.  Even though the heroine was almost too kind and understanding to be believed, I really ended up caring about her.  I'm giving this story a B+.

See you in 2013!

Monday, December 17, 2012

2012 Round-Up

The last six months or so have not been great for reading.  So much of my reading energy has been taken up with trying to run and read for two book clubs.  I've also been letting go of my old reading habit of forcing myself to finish a book I don't like.  This year I probably started about five or six books that I eventually sent to the scrap heap without finishing, for one reason or another.

Although this year has been discouraging in terms of the number and quality of the books I've been reading, I'm optimistic about 2013.  My goal as always is to continue to find quality books that I love and blog about them here.  I hope soon to be back on track and I should have some new posts in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, here's my 2012 reading in a nutshell:

Even though I started out skeptical of Shannon Hale's Austenland series, I really got into it the further I went along.  I love the idea of a Jane Austen themed park and it makes me wish it were real.  I hope that there will be more books in the series and that the movie will eventually be released.

I can't stop thinking about The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin.  Maybe because it's so different from the other non-fiction books that I read.  It was such a wonderful adventure story.  I think it's my favourite non-fiction of the year, even more so than Introvert by Susan Cain.

Sweet Talking Man by Bettina Krahn was my favourite romance of the year.  Sherry Thomas is a better writer and I'm looking forward to reading more of her stories, but I just found this one really appealed to me.  It was funny and interesting and I loved the setting of Gilded Age New York. 

My obsession of the year - SHERLOCK!

In the spirit of Sherlock, I will leave you with twelve clues as to what you'll see on this blog in the coming months.  Check back next year to see which books matched the clues!

1. One First Lady
2. Two sets of magicians
3. Three ladies of Christmas
4. An intrepid woman reporter
5. The real lives of Downton Abbey
6. Pirates!
7. The secret history of a major city
8. A classic children's book I've never read
9. A very "viral" book
10. Lost books
11. A dear enemy
12. A prairie tale

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wish You Were Eyre

The title: Wish You Were Eyre
The author: Heather Vogel Frederick
Publication: Simon & Schuster, 2012
Got it from: Kobo Books

I promised myself I wouldn't get sad because this was the last book in the Mother-Daughter Book Club series, but when I finished it I went around all morning with a long face.  It does make me sad that this is the end for the adventures of the moms and daughters in this club.

Here are some of the things that happened in this book: a snooty French girl shows up (Sophie Fairfax) and stays with the Wongs.  Megan dislikes her, but is consoled by a trip with her grandmother to Paris.  Sophie flirts with Emma's boyfriend Stewart, causing a rift in their relationship.  Mrs. Wong decides to run for mayor.  Jess is unfairly accused of cheating.  Cassidy is torn between two guys she likes and finally loves one of the books the club is reading.  Becca gets to visit Minnesota with her grandmother and meets a guy who is just like Mr. Rochester.  The Wyoming pen pals come to Concord for a visit.  Oh yes, and the club reads Jane Eyre.

This last book in the series took some time to get into, as the first third is a lot of re-telling of things that happened in the previous books.  Once the action starts, however, I started to get into the world again.  There isn't as much focus in this book on Emma or Cassidy, and I was left feeling that the end of Cassidy's story was too short.  Megan is really the star of this installment, and her visit to Paris makes up the bulk of the middle of the book.  I really enjoyed Becca's visit to Minnesota and the heart of Betsy-Tacy books (which the girls read in the previous book).  Once again, if you haven't read the rest of the series, your head would be spinning with all the characters, especially when the other book club shows up.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this isn't the definite definite end to  the series and that the author will give us a little more at some point.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Study in Scarlet

The title: A Study in Scarlet
The author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Publication: 1887
Got it from: MC

I am deeply in love with the BBC series of Sherlock, and while I read The Hound of the Baskervilles last year, until now I have not read any of the other Sherlock Holmes stories.  I decided to start at the beginning and work my way through the Sherlock canon.  

I tend to be wary of Victorian literature as it can be quite wordy, so I was surprised at how utterly readable this novella was.  I don't think anybody reading it today would find it difficult or foreign.  Much has been said elsewhere about how modern and ahead-of-his-time Conan Doyle's creation was, so I'll skip that and just say it was a cracking good story.

The first part of the novella deals with Watson and Holmes' meeting and is hilarious in the way it portrayes Watson's bafflement over his new roommate.  (A list Watson makes of Sherlock's knowledge of various subjects is a highlight).  The majority of the middle portion of the book involves the back story of the murder case Holmes and Watson are trying to solve, and involves a nail-biting tale of fanatic Mormons, a love affair, a daring escape and a plot for revenge.  I can see why the Victorians went crazy over this.  Whether or not you actually believe Holmes could possibly know what he knows from the clues he's given, he certainly makes you want to pay more attention to the world around you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


The title: Passion
The author: Louise Bagshawe
Publication:  Headline Publishing, 2009
Got it from:  The library

After reading so many heavy books for book club, I wanted something light and easy and page-turning.  This book appealed to me because its premise is based on Jane Austen's novel Persuasion.  When Melissa and Will were young, they were in love and wanted to get married.  But Melissa's father, an ambitious Oxford professor, convinced Melissa to break it off.  Heartbroken, Will goes into the army and gets recruited by MI6.  Almost twenty years later, Melissa is an academic with a rather dull life, and Will is a billionaire banker living in Manhatten.  When she becomes the target of a ruthless assassin, Will has to come back into her life to protect her.

I liked this novel quite a bit, and enjoyed it more than the average chick lit fare I've read.  I zipped through the 500 pages of this novel, wanting to see how Melissa and Will were going to escape some pretty harrowing situations.  Although I thought Will's meteoric rise to billionairedom was pretty far-fetched, I could see how the author needed to include it to make their escape from internationally trained killers believable.  I liked that Melissa isn't drop-dead gorgeous and that Will falls in love with her again because of her passion and determination.  The reason for Melissa being targeted (it has to do with her father's research) is kept somewhat vague, but that's obviously not the focus of the story.  This was definitely a fun diversion for a fall evening.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Tiger's Wife

The title: The Tiger's Wife
The author: Tea Obreht
Publication:  Random House, 2011
Got it from:  The library

Whoa.  I can't believe it's been a month since I last posted a book review.  For some reason, I have been really struggling to finish a book recently.  It may be because I've been running two book clubs and the books we've been reading have been super huge.  I don't normally write about my book club books, but I'll make an exception this time.

Describing the plot of The Tiger's Wife is rather difficult.  It starts out in the present-day Balkans, with a young doctor traveling to rural communities to distribute medical care to children.  Her grandfather has just died, and in flashbacks she tells the story of her life growing up with him and the tales he told her about his childhood in a remote mountain village.  The stories he tells have a tinge of fantasy to them, and the two main ones involve a "deathless man" who the grandfather encounters throughout his life, and the tiger's wife.

What I like about this book is that the fantasy element has been left ambiguous.  Certainly the peasants in her grandfather's village growing up were superstitious and believed in folk tales.  What I took from it was that real events occurred (such as a tiger escaping from a zoo and running into the mountains) which later grew to mythic proportions.  There's a lot of push and pull between the folk beliefs of the villagers and the more rational, modern beliefs of the narrator and her grandfather (who was also a doctor).  One of the grandfather's most prized possessions was his copy of The Jungle Book, which he carried with him everywhere, and allowed him to identify the tiger when it showed up in his village (as opposed to everyone else thinking it was a demon, not having seen one before).  The grandfather's stories seem to say that legends make life more interesting, but ignorance has its consequences, as when people turn to folk rather than modern medicine or make a scapegoat out of an innocent bystander (the tiger's wife).

I'm not much of a description person so I struggled with some of the detail of the book, but overall I liked the dream-like, strange atmosphere of the book.  It's almost like reading a modern-day Grimm's fairy tale where you have to prepare for the unexpected.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


The title: Entwined
The author: Heather Dixon
Publication:  Greenwillow Books, 2011
Got it from:  The library

This YA story is based on one of my favourite childhood fairy tales, The Twelve Dancing Princesses.  It takes the theme of the story about twelve princesses who disappear into a magic realm under the castle each night to dance, and adds new twists.  

I have been putting off writing a review of this book, I think because I had mixed feelings about it.  Some parts were clever, like the part about the enchanted sugar teeth and the young men who attempt to solve the riddle (thankfully in this version they are not executed by the king if they fail).  But the book took me such a long, long time to get into.  And I'm not sure if they payoff was worth it.  I felt like there was a lot of unnecessary exposition (Princess A did this, Princess B said that, etc.) that the book could have been cut in half and still retained its essence.  I never really got a feel for the characters of the princesses, especially the eldest daughter Azalea, who is the heroine of the story.  Ultimately I finished this book feeling unsatisfied.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Anne of Green Gables

The title: Anne of Green Gables
The author: L.M. Montgomery
Publication:  LC Page & Company, 1908 (100th anniversary edition: Penguin, 2008)
Got it from:Cavendish, PEI, August 2012

It certainly hadn't been my intention to re-read Anne of Green Gables this year, as it wasn't on my "to-read" list and besides, I read it so many times in childhood.  But I just came back from a holiday on the Island, and we went to the musical and Green Gables, and then I caved in and bought the 100th anniversary edition as I've been meaning to, and there I was reading it again, along with my husband who is also reading it.

I love it, of course.  I don't think I ever will stop loving it.  I first saw the Anne musical when I was seven and read the book then, and I've read it (and its sequels) at several different times during my life.  Each time I read it, I do so from an altered perspective.  The last time I think I read it cover-to-cover was for a children's literature class ten years ago.  

This time when I read it, I laughed a whole lot more.  As a child reading it, I identified so much with Anne and would cringe in sympanthy every time she got into a "scrape."  Now I see the humour much more in the situations and can laugh without feeling the old wince of pity.  The parts I loved the most this time around were Anne's interactions with the people of Avonlea, particularly with her schoolfriends in their various rivalries and friendships.  You can almost hear the townsfolk singing "she's nothing like the rest of us" right out of Beauty and the Beast.  And of course, one can't help feeling wistful for all the nature in the book, especially when one is enduring a hot, dry summer in a particularly ugly part of the country. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Ancient Guide to Modern Life

The title: The Ancient Guide to Modern Life
The author: Natalie Haynes
Publication:  Profile Books, 2012
Got it from: DC, Xmas 2011

I loved this book from comedian Natalie Haynes about the correlations between ancient times and today.  I've been interested in the classical world ever since my university classics courses, but haven't read much about it since.  I usually read things about the 19th century, so this was a nice change of pace.  The book is divided into chapters dealing with aspects of ancient Greek and Roman society (law, politics, entertainment, etc.) and shows the similarities and differences between then and now, with some observations on how we can learn from our predecessors.  For instance, there is a bit about how much more involved the people of ancient Greece were in politics and maintaining their democracy, and how we as a society can learn from their example.  I liked the comparison of ancient entertainment to ours - how we still love stories of dysfunctional families, for example, only instead of Medea we watch The Sopranos.  I highly recommend this funny, thought-provoking title.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Beguiling the Beauty

The title: Beguiling the Beauty
The author: Sherry Thomas
Publication:  Berkley, 2012
Got it from: La library

Sherry Thomas is a relatively new author on the scene, but she's been steamrolling her way to the romance hall of fame, being compared to rising superstar Courtney Milan.  When I read the description for this book, I was intrigued to try it out.  Christian, the Duke of Lexington, has been haunted for ten years by the memory of a beautiful woman he once saw.  He has since become a scientist, interested in paleontology and evolutionary theory (it is 1898, so Darwin's theories weren't anywhere near universally accepted).  One fortuitous night, the widow Venetia Easterbrook attends one of his lectures and gets to hear Christian railing against the dangers of a beauty he believes has driven her two husbands to an early grave.  Venetia quickly realizes he is talking about her, and is infuriated - Christian has gotten his "information" from her vicious (now dead) husband.  What she doesn't realize is that she's been haunting Christian's dream for years and he's bitter about being so susceptible to her charms.  Venetia hatches a scheme to get back at Christian by disguising herself as a German countess, seducing him and breaking his heart.

I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book at first.  For the first three chapters, a lot of characters were dropped in my lap and I was like, "Wha?  -wha? -wha?"  But then Christian and Venetia got on the transatlantic ship back to England, and things picked up.  The author of course was introducing the other characters to set up the romances for the whole trilogy.  And darn her, she intrigued me to want to read the other two.  Venetia's brother and his estranged wife who is in love with him (does he return her love?) and her sister, who is in love with a married man but pined after by her childhood friend.  Normally those sorts of romances don't interest me but somehow she made me want to read them.  But back to this story - I think Sherry Thomas has some serious writing skills, and I liked the way she kept the suspense going right up until  the bitter end, with no long-winded happily-ever-after (I guess we get to see that in the sequels).  I liked that I didn't find Venetia annoying even though she's one of those beauties who have men falling all over themselves, and I like that both characters are obsessed with fossils.  A most enjoyable read.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Suddenly You

The title: Suddenly You
The author: Lisa Kleypas
Publication: Avon, 2001
Got it from: Book Depot

Set in early Victorian London, this book features Amanda Briars, a celebrated novelist who is depressed about her upcoming 30th birthday and the fact she is still a virgin.  Desperate to experience the kind of lives the heroines in her novels have, Amanda visits the notorious Gemma Bradshaw and asks for a man to be sent to her on her birthday.  However, the wrong man shows up - Jack Devlin, London's most notorious publisher, who has bought the rights to Amanda's first book.  Deciding not to disappoint Amanda on her birthday, Jack gives her a night to remember.  Later, Amanda is mortified to discover his true identity, but she is determined not to let him get the best of her, despite their explosive attraction to one another.

I initially read this book because of my own upcoming 30th birthday and the fact that this book is on All About Romance's Top 100 Romances list (#30, naturally).  I loved the first 2/3 of this book.  Amanda and Jack definitely had a cat-and-mouse relationship, which is my all-time favourite, trying to one-up each other even when they can't keep their hands off each other.  I found myself laughing out loud at several scenes, which is always a good sign.  This is my first Kleypas novel, and I can see why she has so many fans.  The plot moved a good pace and the character and the dialogue were all believable, not once slipping into the ridiculous or far-fetched.  My only quibble is with the last third of the book. Time sped up and months jumped ahead, which is something I really disliked.  I much prefer to have my novels take place over a short span of time.  Also, as Jack and Amanda realized their love for one another, I felt that some of the "spark" between them dissipated, to be replaced with mushiness.  Which I suppose is how these things go, but I rather wished to see more of their banter.  I also felt disappointed that we didn't learn much about the plot of Amanda's novel, which seemed like it was built up to be a big deal at the beginning.  Overall though, a most enjoyable story.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Seeing a Large Cat

 The title: Seeing a Large Cat
The authors: Elizabeth Peters
Publication: Warner, 1997
Got it from: Chapters Vancouver, 2001 

Reading this book, I couldn't help thinking, "this is where I came in"  When I was a teenager and started reading these books, I jumped into the later books in the series, then went and re-read the back titles year by year.  This book, which is actually the ninth in the series, is the one just before where I jumped in (The Ape That Guards the Balance).  So now I feel that I'm (somewhat) caught up.

Being an Elizabeth Peters book, it is of course funny, well-written and exciting, but I couldn't help feeling that it was a little unmemorable.  The plot of this one involves the Emersons exploring a so-called "lost" tomb in the Valley of the Kings.  The three kids - Ramses, Nefret and David - are teenagers and starting to have adventures of their own, and we even get some narrative from Ramses' perspective.  There were many elements of the plot that feel familiar from other books - seemingly unrelated people and events turning out to be related, the Emersons having to prove to gullible people that there is nothing supernatural going on, people trying to get romantically involved with Ramses and/or Nefret.  And of course a gun-wielding villain in a tomb at the end. Which is to say that I loved it, of course, but as an Amelia Peabody book it wasn't one of my favourites.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Midnight in Austenland

The title: Midnight in Austenland
The authors: Shannon Hale
Publication: Bloomsbury, 2012
Got it from: The library

So I did something I almost never do - diverged from my reading list to read the sequel to a book I've just read.  Midnight in Austenland follows a different character in the same place.   Charlotte Kinder is a divorced thirtysomething woman with two kids and a cheating ex-husband.  A successful Internet entrepreneur, she treats herself to a holiday in Austenland to indulge her love of Jane Austen.  But because she states on her questionnaire that she also loves Agatha Christie novels, she and the other actors in Austenland get involved trying to solve a murder mystery.  The problem is that Charlotte thinks the mystery may spill from make-believe into the real world...

I really enjoyed this sequel and read it in just a few days.  I liked Charlotte as a heroine more than Jane from the original novel, since she has a more can-do attitude and spends less time feeling sorry for herself, even when she had more to deal with in her home life.  I also liked that we're mislead as to who the hero of the novel really is - let's just say it will probably be less of a surprise to those of you familiar with Northanger Abbey, the Austen novel this book is based on.  We also get to meet with some of the characters from the first novel - Mrs. Wattlesbrook, Col. Andrews and Miss Charming, and learn more of their back stories.  Overall I have to say I liked this novel more because there was more action involved in solving the mystery.  If I have to be nitpicky, I did smack my forehead a number of times when the characters did some very silly things  (without giving too much away, if you suspect there's a murderer in a cottage, you wait for the police, not go rushing in yourself!)  I certainly hope we'll get to have more adventures in Austenland. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Non-fiction bites

Right now I'm in the middle of an unputdownable book (it's an Amelia Peabody!), but while I'm waiting to write that review, I thought I'd post about some of the non-fiction I've been reading over the past six months or so.  Here's my confession: I often bring home tons of non-fiction from the library, but I rarely have time to read them cover-to-cover unless it's already on my to-read list.  Nonetheless, I thought it would be fun to share some of the titles I've read.  All of them were published within the last year:

Tutankhamen by Joyce Fyldesley

Obviously I am crazy about all things Egypt and this book is an excellent introduction to the rock-star like pharaoh who was a minor king in his own time but has achieved huge cultural significance today.  The author touches on both what is known about Tutankhamen's actual life (no, he wasn't murdered) and his discovery by Howard Carter in the 1920's.  Wisely, she urges readers to avoid any book about the pharaoh that uses the words: "the truth" or "the real story."

 The Siesta and the Midnight Sun: How Our Bodies Experience Time by Jessica Gamble

An interesting long at our circadian rhythms, both in terms of the shorter daily cycles and longer seasonal ones.  The author looks at a number of studies about what happens when usual daylight clues are removed and how in such cases human beings resort to a much longer sleep/wake cycle.  She also looks at how cultures adapt when there is an absence of light, such as the Arctic in winter.

If Walls Could Talk by Lucy Worsley

Similar to At Home by Bill Bryson, but somehow not as compelling.  Based on a miniseries in Britain, Lucy Worsley charts the history of our lives as seen through our home.  Covers much of the same ground as Bryson's book but is still full of interesting facts: for instance closets were once considered retreat spaces for reflection and prayer.  Definitely of interest to history junkies, particularly of the Tudor and Victorian age.

The World of Downtown Abbey by Julian Fellowes

A no-brainer for Downton Abbey fans, lots of great facts from the daughter of Julian Fellowes.  Gorgeous pictures of life on set, too.

50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True by Guy P. Harrison

I adored this book.  I devoured (almost) every single one of the 50 entries in just a couple of days.  I would put this on the list of books that everybody MUST read at some point in their lives.  Basically, the author cuts through all the nonsense and superstition in the world to explain in plain, non-condescending language, why things just aren't true.  Beliefs such as ghosts, UFO's, homeopathy, bad medicine, and religion all get exposed.  Although you may laugh at some of the beliefs (such as that witches are real), the author is quick to point out how harmful these beliefs can be, as in parts of Africa where the murder of innocent children on charges of witchcraft are ongoing.  Quite simply, this is an outstanding book on the necessity of thinking critically.  There is no ranting and raving here, the author is almost gentle in his approach, and his arguments are all the better for it.

Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day

Fans of funny travel writing a la Bill Bryson will probably enjoy this tale of a man who tours Europe using a 1963 guidebook (Europe on $5 a day) that  he found at a flea market.  The advice the book gives is of course hilariously out-of-date and Europe has changed considerably since then.  Or has it?  This book explores Europe then and now, as well as providing a guide to what you can get nowadays for $5.  (Not much, as it turns out).

The Statues that Walked by Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo

I've saved the most mysterious for last.  The name of Easter Island represents a secretly thrilling world of wonder for me, a far-flung island so remote its closest inhabited neighbour island is over 2,000 km away.  Nevertheless, I was surprised to learn that it actually has a good tourist industry, thanks to daily flights from Chile.  It seems that not even this remote island is safe from the ravages of the modern world - sigh.  Still, the history of the island is full of enough surprises and puzzles to keep even  the most jaded explorer happy.  Here's a fact I learned: the islanders were obsessed with hats, and when the Europeans came wearing theirs, the native women would sexy-dance to distract them and then grab the hats and run.  For some reason I feel this is the thing I'm going to remember the most about this book.

Monday, May 28, 2012


The title: Austenland
The authors: Shannon Hale
Publication: Bloomsbury, 2007
Got it from: Book Depot, 2009
This was going to be a different review.  On Sunday morning, when I was halfway through the book, I made a draft that was going to be another scathing critique of chick lit.  It was going to talk about how I couldn't understand these chick lit heroines, how boring they are, how they expect their Mr. Darcys yet do nothing to earn them.  But then something happened.  I started getting into it.  And now, having finished it, I am astonished to report that I actually enjoyed it.

After the fun of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, I was longing to read another British chick-lit book that would be light and fun and silly. Jane is a single thirtysomething woman dissatisfied with her love life.  She is given a chance to live out her Jane Austen fantasies when she is willed a holiday to "Austenland" by a dead relative.  People (read: women) go to Austenland to be heroines in Jane Austen's novels, while actors are hired to fill out the male roles.  Jane is expected to live completely Regency-style for three weeks.

My big problem with the book at first was the main character.  Here is a tidbit remaining from my original harsher review:

I despised the main character.  First of all, she is ashamed and embarrassed about her Jane Austen obsession, so much so that she hides her Austen movies in a plant.  But why?  Why would any woman be ashamed of it?  I don't understand.  If grown women can go around proudly admitting they read and enjoyed Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, why on earth would they be ashamed of enjoying an author who is considered one of the canon, the literary greats, history's finest?  Admitting you like Austen is like saying: I have brains and class.  Jane, don't you know all the cool women are doing it?

Then, as I said, things changed.  I'm still not sure I "get" some of Jane's actions.  But she did, in the end, prove to actually have a passion outside of her self-obsession, which was painting.  I wish the author had developed that aspect of her personality more, but I'm glad it was there.  I think the turning point for me was when Jane began to realize she may have genuine feelings for the actor hired to play the Mr. Darcy-like character.  She starts to question what is real and make-believe.  I loved the constant game of trying to figure out who is real, and who is false.  There is a great scene in the book when they all put on a play, and Jane and Mr. Nobley (the love interest) talk about whether actors can start to have real feelings outside of their plays, which naturally carries a double meaning inside the story we're reading. 

Oh, and I can't wait for the movie.  JJ Feild as Mr. Nobley?  Yes, please.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

The title: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
The authors: Lauren Willig
Publication: Penguin, 2005
Got it from: Library booksale, 2008

Happy Victoria Day, everyone! I've spent all weekend in the garden, so no surprises that I have flowers on the brain.  Naturally I also read The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.   It's based on the idea that the Scarlet Pimpernel was real, and that he later spawned a ring of British spies with flowers for their names.  The story follows Amy Balcourt, a young half-French girl who escaped from the terror and grew up wanting to avenge her father's death by joining the League of the Purple Gentian, a sort of spin-off spy of the Pimpernel's.  On her way to France Amy meets Richard Selwick, the Gentian's real-life alter ego who is pretending to be a dull archaeologist working for Napoleon.  Naturally, there is bickering and romance.  Overarching the whole story is the 21st century scholar, Eloise, who's studying the Pink Carnation and butts heads with the Gentian's descendant Colin Selwick.  (Of course there won't be any romance there.  Of course not).

Have I mentioned how much I love the whole superhero-in-disguise thing, where the woman is in love with the superhero but has a feud going with his true self?   Love, love, love it.  Way back when I was child, this was the premise of my favourite show of the time, Lois and Clark: The Adventures of Superman.  Also in Batman Forever, which everybody thinks is a crappy Batman but I disagree because it's all about how Chase Meridian falls for Batman but is all meh about Bruce Wayne (at least at first).  And of course, the origin of the whole trope, the Scarlet Pimpernel, as best embodied in the Anthony Andrews/Jane Seymour movie, which you absolutely must see.  I even love stories of highwaymen that invoke this trope, even though they're technically more bad guys than superheroes.

Which is to say that my love of superheroes/superspies kind of taints my reading of this story to err on the side of giddy joy.  The middle, where the action picks up, is particularly excellent.  Oh, it's silly good fun of course.  (And how jealous am I that the author was only twenty-six when she wrote this?  VERY JEALOUS.)  I figured out who the Pink Carnation was about twenty pages in, and there's not a ton of surprises.  But I just can't get tired of the "damnit I am a superhero and I can't fall in love with this annoying woman but I am so attracted to her" plot.  It's not gonna happen.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Mysterious Howling

The title: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling
The authors: Maryrose Wood
Publication: HarperCollins, 2010
Got it from: Gift to someone MC, loaned back to me

This book is what would happen if Lemony Snicket wrote Jane Eyre.  Miss Penelope Lumley, fifteen years old and a graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, goes to live as governess at Ashton Place.  The only problem is that her three charges were literally raised by wolves, and only found weeks earlier by Lord Ashton on a hunting expedition.  They are given the names Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia Incorrigble.  Like My Fair Lady, Miss Lumley must not only instruct her pupils on the basics of literarure, math and science, but also on correct behaviour in Victorian society.  

Miss Lumley herself is the least interesting character in the story, behaving rather oddly for a fifteen-year-old governess in the way she immediately begins ordering the other servants around.  But the three children themselves are absolutely adorable, especially the way they add "awoo" to the end of every word ("Lumley" becomes "Lumawoo," a squirrel they make friends with is "Nutsawoo," the "wreck of the Hesperus" because "Wreck of the Hespawoo.")  This is a very silly story with lots of silly details, such as two guests' last names being Maytag and Hoover.  And there are lots of unanswered questions: who are the Incorrigbles?  Is there really somebody trapped in the wall?  Is there some relation between Miss Lumley and the children?  What does the coachman know that he's not saying?  No doubt the rest of the series will provide some answers.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sweet Talking Man

The title: Sweet Talking Man
The authors: Bettina Krahn
Publication: Bantam, 2000
Got it from: Library booksale, 2009

New York, 1892: the story opens with two seventeen-year-old lovers at a clandestine meeting, upset at the girl's aunt for "not understanding" their puppy love.

Priscilla: "She's so old and lonely and miserable - she must be thirty years old."

Oh, to be seventeen again.

"She" refers to Beatrice von Furstenberg (not to be confused with Diane von Furstenberg), the widow of a wealthy businessman who has taken the reigns of her dead husband's company.  She's also a suffragist, which is why this book is made of awesome.

Prissy and Jeffrey, the two gag-worthy lovebirds, know that Aunt Beatrice won't approve of their love, so they hatch a plot whereby they will hire some men to kidnap Beatrice so Jeffrey can save her and she will be ever so grateful and approving of him.  To do this, Jeffrey asks his black-sheep cousin, attorney Connor Barrow, an Irishman who has connections to the Irish mob and is running for congress, where he can find two lowlifes.

This cannot possibly go wrong in any way, amiright?

As the two dimwitted Irish thugs, Dipper and Shorty (I love Dipper and Shorty!) proceed with the plan, they realize something has gone awry - namely, Jeffrey has been forced to stay home by his mother and can't come to Beatrice's rescue.  So they hide her in the one place nobody will look for her - a brothel.  Naturally, baby Jeffrey doesn't have a clue where to find her and has to ask cousin Connor to get her out.  Wearing nothing but a corset and brandishing the only thing she can find - a whip - Beatrice encounters Connor for the first time.  She is rightly furious, and when she discovers Connor's hand in the whole thing she blackmails him into publicly supporting women's suffrage.  You go, girl.

Ordinarily, I find the businesswoman angle doesn't work in romance novels.  Usually things work out just peachy for the heroine, and she rides through the story on a cloud of rainbows and sunshine.  Not so here.  This book exposes the realities of being a 19th century woman in business, and it sucks.  Beatrice's hold on her company is tenuous, and there is a harrowing scene where the board members vote whether to keep her on as president.  There is also some great stuff here about the prejudice and derision faced by suffragists, and their struggle to gain even the most basic of rights for women.  One of the major plot points is the difficulty faced by women in obtaining a bank account without a man's consent, something the heroine tries to change over the course of the story.

I really, really enjoyed this book.  A few years ago I reviewed one of the author's other novels, The Book of Seven Delights, and I thought it was fun but really silly.  Sweet Talking Man had so much more depth to it.  I liked the love story, but what I really loved was the character of Beatrice.  I love how she takes charge in a man's world, I love how she stands up for injustice toward women, I love how she doesn't stop passionately advocating for the things she believes in even after she falls in love.  One hundred and twenty years later, there are still women who could learn a lot from her about not relying on a man for everything.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Shadow of the Titanic

 The title: Shadow of the Titanic: The Incredible Stories of Those Who Survived
The authors: Andrew Wilson
Publication: Atria, 2011
Got it from: The library

I'm in the middle of reading this book about the Titanic survivors, and it's all a bit surreal to know that tonight is the 100th anniversary of the sinking.  100 years!  How crazy is that? 

I have been fascinated by the Titanic since I was a little girl.  My mom's family is from Halifax and she heard stories about it from her mom, and introduced me to books and movies about it at a young age (thanks mom!).  I also lived in Halifax and got to see the sites related to the disaster, so for me it definitely feels more "real" than legend.  I continued to read about it for many years but then "the" movie came out and I just couldn't stomach all the so-called interest as everybody jumped on the Titanic bandwagon.  It suddenly didn't seem special to me anymore, like it was a celebrity I loved who'd sold out for fame.  Thankfully the hype died down a few years later and I was back on the bandwagon again, reading up on it every chance I got.

Now the centennial anniversary is here and I find my interest piquing again.  Isn't it amazing that Titanic is still within living memory, and that there were survivors in my lifetime?  Isn't it incredible to think of all the change that has taken place since then, and yet it was not so long ago after all?  I love all the little details about the ship, all the human stories and tragedies and tales of survivors.  I find this book a bit disappointing - although I am learning about the big-name survivors, I was hoping to hear more about the lesser-known passengers for whom there is very little record.  It's still a good read, and a testament to the fact that the first class passengers were in no way happier than those in the lower classes.  Madeleine Astor was married to the richest man not just on the ship but probably in the world and her life story reads like a walk through crazytown junction.  Trust me, you wouldn't want to be in her pregnant 18-year-old shoes.  Compare her to the lesser-known 26-year-old Marion Wright, who traveled in second class, survived, married her sweetheart and settled down to a contented life on an Oregon farm.  Not all the stories are of tragedy and suicide, although these are detailed here too.  Overall I feel like I'm reading the Hello magazine gossip version of the passengers - most of these people are not people to whom I can relate, not being fabulously wealthy and weirdly eccentric myself.  

Maybe someday someone will write a book about the small tales and lesser-known people on board (maybe they have?).  Until then, I'll just keep mining for details and quietly walking the decks in my imagination.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Grey King

The title: The Grey King
The authors: Susan Cooper
Publication: Simon & Shuster, 1975
Got it from: ?, 1998

I suppose it's rather fitting that I re-read The Grey King over a weekend while I was sick with a cold, as the book (the fourth in The Dark is Rising series) opens with Will Stanton recovering from a bout of hepatitis.  This is by no means my favourite in the series - the first three will always be the dearest to me - but it's still delightful.  This time Will travels to Wales in the autumn to recover from his sickness at an aunt and uncle's, but his real reason for going is to find the magic harp that will wake "the Sleepers" and aid the Light on their quest against the rising forced of the Dark.  Will ends up befriending an albino boy named Bran, who plays a significant part in the quest.  What I love about these novels is that even though they're fantasy, what they really feel like are a love letter to the parts of Britain Susan Cooper is describing: the farmlands of Buckinghamshire, the seacoasts of Cornwall, the mountains of Wales.  Her language is beautiful; it's haunting, and even without the fantasy elements you would have five lovely, evocative novels.  Not only did I feel I was in Northern Wales, I actually felt like I was part of the landscape.  It's a slim novel, almost a novella, but it adds to the building tension of the previous novels.  I look forward to reading the next and last.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Captain Wentworth's Diary

The title: Captain Wentworth's Diary
The authors: Amanda Grange
Publication: Penguin, 2007
Got it from: MC

I feel like I've been reading a lot of Jane Austen-inspired stuff this year, and I don't know why that is.  I didn't plan it, but somehow friends have been loaning me a lot of JA books - not that I particularly mind!

Amanda Grange has written "diaries" for all the heroes of Austen's novels and in this one we get to see the diary of Captain Wentworth, the hero of Persuasion.   And I actually liked it.  I think it works, largely because half of the story is how Wentworth initially meets and proposes to Anne Elliot, which we don't get to see in the original story.  In Persuasion, Wentworth's motivations are a bit mysterious and we don't like him very much at the beginning because we're on Anne's side, but here it's the other way around.  Grange paints him as a rather charming and good-natured man, and we see how easy it is for him to fall in love with intelligent Anne.  We also see why after being at war, he is charmed by the lighthearted, young Miss Musgroves, and why Anne's depth ultimately wins his affections again.  Reading Austen herself is always best, but I liked that this story felt lighter from his perspective - after all, he does have a much easier time of it than Anne after their initial meeting.  In general, I enjoyed that we get to see his perspective, because it's always more fun to know both sides of the story.  Recommended for "a light Regency diversion," take with tea and ginger snaps for full effect.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts...

The title: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
The authors: Susan Cain
Publication: Crown Publishers, 2012
Got it from: The library

I don't know what's more remarkable: a book about introverts on the bestseller lists, or me reading and enjoying a bestseller.  But there you have it: I couldn't put this book down.  I have read other books about being an introvert before, but this one really seems to have struck a chord, not just with me but with everyone.

We are living in an extrovert-centric world.  Classrooms and businesses are designed around groupwork.  Extroverts are the ones who get ahead in business world.  But Cain argues that we need both types of people, introverts and extroverts, to run things.  The Wall Street crash probably wouldn't have happened if happy-go-lucky investors had listened to their cautious colleagues.  In a fascinating section of the book, Cain explains that extroverts get more of a rush out of the thrill of things like gambling, where introverts have more warning signals telling them to slow down.  More balance is definitely needed.  What's interesting is that studies show that when employees are unmotivated, extroverts do better as bosses, but where employees are motivated, introverts outperform extroverts as bosses.  The implication is that introverts are much more likely to listen and implement their employees' suggestions when they make sense, rather than forge ahead with their own ideas as extroverts do.

I can just imagine the countless number of introverts who may not have even realized they were introverts, reading about themselves for the first time and nodding along.  I was particularly fascinated by her description of sensitive people (70% of sensitives are introverts) and which I definitely count myself among the ranks.  Not only are sensitives born that way (studies showed 4-month old sensitive babies are more easily startled), but their skin is literally more sensitive to stimuli, any kind of stimuli.  Sensitive people don't crave excitement the same way, because less stimuli is actually enough for them.

If nothing else, introverts can finally feel validated that they're not freaks.  There's nothing wrong with being introverted, and it's not selfish to take time for yourself.  Not doing so can literally cause you to become sick.  As introverts, we have a lot to contribute to the world.  If only we could make our voices heard.

Monday, March 12, 2012

29: A Novel

The title: 29: A Novel
The authors: Adena Halpern
Publication: Touchstone, 2010
Got it from: The library

29 is the story of Ellie Jerome, a sweet 75-year-old lady who makes a wish on her birthday to be 29 for a day.  Ellie feels like she has a lot of regrets in her life, mainly involving being married to a much older man who cheated on her during their marriage.  She's jealous of the opportunities her twenty-something granddaughter has, and wants a second chance to see what it's like to be young and single.  She makes a wish on her birthday, and the next day she gets to revert back to her 29-year-old self.

The premise of this story sounded fun (and caught my eye because I'm currently 29), but overall I was disappointed.  It wasn't that it was light, because I was actually expecting a light, madcap Freaky Friday book, which would have been great.  But not a lot happens in the story.  It has has very little to say about the real advantages and disadvantages of being 75 vs. 29.  I wasn't expecting something profound, but all Ellie does with her new body is get a haircut, buy a new dress and talk about wanting to get a bikini wax.  You would think with her newfound energy and youth, she'd have done something a little more exciting.  She does have a fling with a guy she met that day, but that only comes at the end and it feels too late to really give the story sparkle.  

This on its own wouldn't have been enough to sink the book beyond hope, but the real problem was that the focus was only on Ellie for one half of the book.  Every other chapter described the adventures of Ellie's obnoxious daughter Barbara and doormat best friend Frieda, the kind of old lady who steals sugar from restaurants.  The two women spend the day trying to find Ellie, but their tedious adventures add little to the story.  They are supposed to be characters who experience growth thanks to Ellie's transformation (I think), but they felt like filler because the main story wasn't enough for a whole book.  And maybe that's my problem with the book - once you take out Barbara and Frieda's arguing and all kinds of stuff about fashion (Ellie's a fashion nut and her granddaughter is a designer), you really only have enough material here for a novella.  If I were assigning books letter grades, I'd give this one about a C.  It was okay, but I wouldn't recommend it. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Brendan Voyage

The title: The Brendan Voyage
The authors: Tim Severin
Publication: Arrow Books, 1978
Got it from: Attic Books, London, 2004

I was first came across the story of the Brendan Voyage in O.R. Melling's marvelous The Book of Dreams, in which Tim Severin and his crew appear as fictional characters.  Some years ago I stumbled across The Brendan Voyage in a used book store and thought it would be entertaining, although it has taken me years to get around to reading it.

In some ways it is a great follow-up to Simon Winchester's Atlantic.  This story is part history, part sea tale, part adventure and part mystery.  St. Brendan was a 6th century Irish monk who features in Navigatio sancti Brendani abbatis (the voyage of St. Brendan the abbot).  For many years people thought his fantastical voyages to "promised lands" was the stuff of legend, but recent studies have shown that Brendan may in fact have visited real places, and maybe even North America, by island-hopping in the North Atlantic.  In the 1970's scholar Tim Severin set out to prove that the traditional Irish curraghs could have withstood the arduous journey.

I never would have thought I'd find boat-building fascinating, but I did.  Severin had to use his medieval detective skills and assemble a crack team of experts in traditional boat-building skills in order to make it happen.  Even in the 1970's, this proved difficult, as many of the traditional crafts were dying out.  The boat itself was constructed out of all-medieval materials, using wood for the frame with a leather covering.  The most astonishing thing about the boat was not the material, but the size.  It was barely 36' long, but had to comfortably stow five men and all their supplies. 

Amazingly, Tim and his crew discovered that not only did their medieval boat hold up, in a lot of cases the medieval material fared better than its modern counterpart.  Of course there were a lot of nail-biting moments, including several storms and a rather harrowing encounter with icebergs, but the little boat that could seemed to roll with the waves better than the bigger, modern boats.  Intriguingly, they discovered that many parts of Brendan's tale that people dismissed as myth could have been true - for example, the "island of fire" might be the volcanoes of Iceland and the monstrous beasts could have been whales (who, incidentally, showed little fear of the boat and swam beside it for much of the journey).  Even though Tim answered the question of whether Brendan could have reached North America, scholars are skeptical regarding whether he did.  The question remains an intriguing mystery.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent

The title: The Magicians and Mrs. Quent
The authors: Galen Beckett
Publication: Spectra, 2008
Got it from: Chapters

At a seminar I attended last weekend, given by the infamous Nancy Pearl, one of the rules of thumb she gave was that if a book has the character's name in the title, you better believe it's about character.  Considering this book's title has most of the characters in it, I think it's safe to say that this is absolutely, positively a story in which the main hook is the characters.

I have read this kind of story before - this homage to Jane Austen and the Brontes with magic mixed in, and it's to the author's credit that I enjoyed this novel as much as I did.  I feel that so much could have gone wrong, like using characters from the aforementioned authors' works as a sort of lazy shorthand to our understanding them, but that's not what happens here.  It is also written by a man, and men in general seem to have a poor understanding of Austen's works (see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the numerous classic mashups, for reference).  In fact most male writers don't get female characters at all, but Galen Beckett (aka Mark Anthony - no, not that one) actually does.

But let me back up for a moment.  The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is the first volume in a trilogy (the third is due to be published this year).  And it's big.  Five hundred ginormous pages with teeny-tiny type big.  The story hinges on three main characters with the focus being more or less equal between them, with the exception of the middle part of the book.  Primary of the three protagonists is Ivy Lockwell, the eldest daughter of a magician who has gone mad, for reasons which will be revealed as the book progresses.  Ivy is a bookworm and the level-headed peacemaker who holds her family together, taking care of her father, mother and two younger sisters.  The second character is Dashton Rafferdy, who as his name might suggest is a gadabout.  He comes from an aristocratic family and when the story opens he spends his days in idleness and dissipation.  But there's more to Rafferdy than just the rake, and of the three characters he makes the biggest personal journey, particularly where it concerns his feelings for Ivy and the growing evidence that he is a magician.  The third character is Eldyn Garritt, Rafferdy's friend, who also came from a good family but whose fortunes have fallen low thanks to his abusive, drunken and now dead father.  Eldyn's plot mainly involves his desperate need for money to support both himself and his beloved sister, but there is also darkness and secrecy involved where he is concerned.

I ought to mention that the setting is essentially another world, albeit one that is virtually identical to late Regency/early Victorian Britain.  Readers who are not into sci fi or fantasy will have no trouble keeping up with and enjoying the story.  The main differences are 1) there is magic, although it is not used much in this first volume), 2) the days and nights are of varying length and there's different nearby planets and 3) the place names are different, although it is not hard for the reader to figure out that Invarel = London, Torland = Scotland, etc. 

The first third of the book takes place in Invarel, and it seems like we're in a Jane Austen novel with Mrs. Lockwell trying to marry off her daughters.  However, there is a bleaker undercurrent with rumors of rebellion against the king in the air.  The second part of the book switches to first person point of view in the form of Ivy's letters to her father.  After losing all hope of marrying Rafferdy, Ivy becomes a governess in an eerie manor house on the windswept moors, and the master of the house, the elusive and mysterious Mr. Quent, bears more than a striking resemblance to Mr. Rochester.  In the third and final section, the characters come together again in Invarel and after much buildup events are finally set in motion that will have significance for the country and the characters themselves.

I love how the characters are seemingly caricatures but turn out to be so much more.  Ivy could have been the beautiful, smart Mary Sue who everybody falls in love with, but she doesn't become that at all.  There's one important piece I've forgotten to mention, and that is in this world only men can inherit and use magic.  Part of Ivy's character growth comes from her trying to reconcile herself to this injustice while discovering that there is another way women can wield power, and this involves a discovery about her past that I hope gets fleshed out more in the next two novels.  Likewise, Rafferdy starts out as a bored, spoiled aristocrat but eventually learns to think outside himself and balance his sarcasm with kindness.  There's a particularly wonderful illustrative scene of Rafferdy trying to learn magic despite his initial disdain for it, and he can't help interjecting during a serious moment:

Mr. Bennick gave a sharp smile.  " protect their secrets and to make sure they did not fall into the hands of those who might misuse them, ancient magicians often wrote in a kind of code, referring to symbols that only another who had spent long years studying the arcane would understand.  Unfortunately, the meaning of many of the references Horestes and others used is lost to us now.  It is one of the greatest tasks of a magician, to spend long hours poring through old books, searching for clues to the meaning of these symbols and codes."

"Sounds delightful," Rafferdy said.

Be ye warned: although there is much to treasure about the characters, there is little to no action in this novel, not even in the climax.  The middle section does start to get draggy in parts, but thankfully moves along before it becomes unbearable.  The buildup is very slow, and the whole novel feels like it's just setting the scene for the next two books.  The writing is very similar to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, without the tongue-in-cheek humour of the latter.  It's a serious novel that doesn't take itself too seriously, and I can't get it out of my head even though I finished it days ago.  I'm well and truly torn over my desire to read the whole trilogy and the knowledge that it will be a huge investment of my time when I have literally hundreds of books that need my attention.  However, I have a sneaking suspicion the characters will draw me back sooner or later.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen

The title: The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen
The authors: Syrie James
Publication: Avon, 2007
Got it from: A co-worker

First of all, an administrative update: this website has gone mobile!  And by "gone mobile," I mean that I accidentally stumbled on my settings page, noticed that was an option, and enabled it.  That means you can now view this blog easier on a mobile device.  Wow, I actually made a change to this blog.  It doesn't happen often.

On to my review.

This book is a fictional account of what Jane Austen's real memoirs would have looked up, if she'd written them.  Or rather, what would happen if Jane Austen's memoirs were an account of a great, lost love she'd had that inspired her works.

James does a decent job evoking the era and writing in Jane Austen's voice.  However, I just could not quell my inner critic.  I'm just not sure what the intent of this book is.  If you want to learn about Jane Austen's life, a biography be better because then you're not left wondering what is fiction and what is fact.  If you want a love story, then this isn't it, since large segments of the book do not serve the romance plot at all and you know it isn't going to end well anyway.  Maybe if I didn't know so much about Jane Austen or the Regency era, I might have thought it was charming, but instead I found the same old characters and situations trotted out.  James basically uses exact characters and scenes from Austen's novels, sometimes lifting the sentences verbatim and then claiming it's where Jane Austen got the inspiration from.  It just seems sloppy, as though James can't possibly conceive of original characters or plots and has to recycle ones we already know and love.

I'm not against fictionalized biographies.  Let's face it, writers don't tend to lead exciting lives, and sometimes embellishment is needed to make them more exciting.  But I couldn't help feeling cheated, like I'd paid to watch a new movie and just seen a remake instead.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lord of Scoundrels

 The title: Lord of Scoundrels
The authors: Loretta Chase
Publication: Avon, 1995
Got it from: Kobo, 2010

It's your typical romance novel.  Boy is abandoned by mother.  Boy's titled father is cruel and sends his son to boarding school.  Boy is tormented by bullies and grows up to be a complete wastrel and whoremonger.  Boy meets girl in Paris.  Boy gets shot by girl, then gets blackmailed into marrying her.  Boy's bastard son shows up to make life complicated.  Boy learns to love and finds peace with himself and his past.  Did I mention this book is widely considered to be the best modern romance novel ever written?  The End.

Of course there's much more to this story than this simplistic plot summary, I'm only being silly.  I can tell you this: even though this "beauty and the beast" trope has been done a million times, even though I have a particular loathing for romance heroes who visit whores, and Dain has got to be the biggest whoremonger ever written, I enjoyed this book.  I enjoyed it so much that when I woke up two nights in a row with a terrible cold and couldn't sleep, this book entertained me for hours until my cold medicine kicked in.  Any book that can distract me when I'm exhausted and miserable is worth a few brownie points.

There are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments in the book.  I particularly loved a scene at a ball when Dain asks Jessica to dance, and she shows him her fan with all her dance partners on it and asks him, "do you see Beelzebub written on there?" And he proceeds to break every single fold and says, "now you're dancing with me."  The infamous scene where Jessica shoots him isn't as memorable as everybody says, I actually prefer the scene in The Devil's Delilah when Jack wrestles the gun from Delilah.  One of my other favourite bits is when Jessica drags Dain to Stonehenge on their honeymoon trip en route to his estates in Cornwall.  

I can see why this book has so many fans.  I wouldn't say it was my favourite but it was very amusing.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Ninth Daughter

The title: The Ninth Daughter
The authors: Barbara Hamilton
Publication: Berkley, 2009
Got it from: SC, Xmas 2011

Kicking off 2012 is a mystery that wasn't quite what I'd hoped, but was still an enjoyable read.

The Ninth Daughter features Abigail Adams as a sleuth, investigating the murder of a well-to-do woman in the home of her friend Rebecca, a former housemaid.  Complicating matters is the fact that Rebecca is a secret member of the Sons of Liberty, the revolutionary group who are against the imposition of the English King.  Even worse, her husband John is accused of the murder.

Hamilton wisely sets the action in the middle of pre-revolutionary Boston with a young Abigail rather than the later First Lady Abigail.  The turbulent times makes for an excellent setting for a murder mystery, with divided loyalties and suspicion everywhere.  Real historical characters like Samuel Adams and Paul Revere come to life on the pages, while some of the British soldiers are created as fully realized, nuanced characters who have noble sides despite being the "enemy."  In fact, the realism really stands out in this book.  You can almost smell 18th century Boston and feel like you are walking through its cramped streets and standing in its tiny kitchens.  And it's gritty too - not just the murder(s), which are pretty brutal, but everything from the stench of the poor district to the bitter hardships of women's married lives.

I found the book difficult to get into, with so many characters and so much thrown at you in the beginning, but it is satisfying to see it come together in the end and know the author is making you think.  I was hoping for more evidence of the witty and playful between John and Abigail, which was hinted at in almost the first page:

John - her beloved, self-important, irascible John, the hero of her heart, husband of her bosom, and occasional bane of her existence

What woman doesn't feel this way sometimes about her husband?

I would recommend this book, especially for learning about pre-Revolutionary Boston, but with the caveat that it's not a cozy mystery by any means, nor is it a light read that's easy to pick up and put down.