Monday, March 23, 2015

Duke of Midnight

The title: Duke of Midnight
The author: Elizabeth Hoyt
Publication: Hachette, 2013
Got it from:  Amazon

There are very few authors I would consider automatically reading everything they wrote, but Elizabeth Hoyt is becoming one of them.

After reading the wonderful, unusual Thief of Shadows (#4 in the Maiden Lane trilogy) and the pirate- lovin’ that was Scandalous Desires(#3), I jumped ahead to #6, Duke of Midnight.  And I may just have to go read the rest of them.  They’re that good.

There are two familiar legends/mythologies that run throughout this book.  One is made explicit in story; the other will be instantly recognizable to modern audiences.  The former concerns the heroine, Artemis Greaves, who is a lady’s companion to her rich, silly cousin Penelope.  Based on her name, it’s fairly easy to guess that the legend of the huntress Artemis plays a part, especially given the forest green motif on the cover.  And yes, she does know archery.  The other concerns the hero, Maximus Batten, the Duke of Wakefield.  I’ll give you a few hints as to which story the author is referencing:

-the hero became the Duke after his parents’ tragic murder when he was a child 
-which he witnessed in a dark alley
-after they left a theatre
-and after which he swore revenge on their killer
-and went to train to become a fighter
-and thereafter disguised his identity to stalk the streets at night
-where he returns each morning to train in his underground lair under the watchful eye of his sardonic butler


Doesn’t ring a bell?

Maximus is just one of three men who has become the Ghost of St. Giles (one of the others being Winter Makepeace from Thief of Shadows).  Maximus is less concerned with fighting crime than he is finding his parents’ killer, although he does have a mission to rid St. Giles of gin.  He will occasionally intervene to stop a wrongdoing, as he does in the opening scene where he rescues Artemis and Penelope from ruffians. 

Artemis has her own problems, being a poor relation nobody seems to care about, with a brother locked up in Bedlam after the supposed murder of three friends.  (He gets to be the hero in the next book).  The Duke is supposed to be courting her cousin Penelope, but he ends up being more intrigued by the braver, more intelligent Artemis.  When Artemis inevitably discovers Maximus’s secret identity, she blackmails him into helping her brother escape.

I definitely enjoyed this book, as I do with almost all “masked crimefighter” plots.  However, I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t read Thief of Shadows first. I know I said the same thing when I reviewed Scandalous Desires, but I just absolutely loved Isabel and Winter as characters and the role-reversal with her as the experienced rogue and him as the shy virgin.  It was hard not to compare the two sets of lovers, and Maximus and Artemis suffered in comparison.  They seemed almost too perfect and slightly remote. 

Nevertheless, Duke of Midnight was extremely well-written. The action was exciting, the tension enjoyable and the sex suitably steamy.  Not to mention that I’m still loving the 18th century setting, a little more wild than the staid Victorian era.  Even the excerpt at the back of the book from the first in the series piqued my interest, despite my initial disinterest in the plot.   Hoyt is just wonderful at writing great characters with snappy dialogue and an evocative setting.  Her voice as a writer is unique and interesting, making her a standout for me in the rest of the ho-hum romance aisle.

Little House in the Big Woods

The title: Little House in the Big Woods
The author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Publication: HarperTrophy, 1932
Got it from: Hannelore's, 2015

For some time now, after having read Wendy McClure’s The Wilder Life, I have been meaning to re-read the Little House series.  This winter I happened to spy the boxed set in the window of a local used book store, and managed to score the mint-condition set for a great price.  Naturally I am starting with the first one.  

I was quite young when I read this series over twenty years ago.  I never liked Little House quite as much as other classics.  Maybe it was because books like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women seemed closer to my own East Coast childhood.  The prairies were foreign to me, as was the backbreaking labour depicted in Wilder’s books.

Re-reading Little House in the Big Woods in my thirties, I am surprised how much I remembered and how much my initial impressions of the book still hold.  The scenes I loved the most, like the sugar snow and the dance at Grandpa’s, were still my favourites.  I used to get easily bored by the descriptions of how chores were done but now I read them with a historian’s interest.  On the other hand, I never noticed how much hunting there was when I was a child.  As an adult animal lover, I cringed even as I understood how it was needed for survival.  

When I was young, I also read Laura’s narrative as a literal account of her life.  After reading McClure’s book, I now know that it is more a distillation of several years and events to arrive at something like the essence of Laura’s life.  And that’s okay.  It is a window into a lost world post-Civil War when the white folks were starting to settle the west.  

I suspect that few Americans now live so self-sufficiently, and for children the Little House books must seem like a foreign country.  I am sure many are bewildered by how hard-working Laura and her sisters are, and how strictly they are raised.  There are learning moments in the way Laura enjoys the simple pleasures (an orange at Christmas!), revels in the natural world and learns not to be wasteful.  There’s a comforting simplicity to all of the Little House books which makes them enduring classics.

3 corn husk dolls out of 4.