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.