The Sleeping Partner is easily the darkest of the three Sarah Tolerance novels so far, and I say this keenly aware that neither of the preceding books...moreThe Sleeping Partner is easily the darkest of the three Sarah Tolerance novels so far, and I say this keenly aware that neither of the preceding books were exactly lighthearted romps. And it's probably the most thematically on-point, too: the mystery cuts quite close to the bone, much closer even than we expect from the beginning of the story.
It could have been pat, but instead it was quite interesting. One of the things you learn about Sarah Tolerance is that she has an odd mixture of self-possession and insecurity about her social position. That's been a thread throughout the novels - think about every conversation she has with her aunt about the brothel - but it really came to the forefront here. In part, I think, because bad luck makes her more of a target in this book.
I'm still a big fan of all the side characters, too. It's nice to read about a character with friends. (More Marianne!)(less)
Okay, so I don't love this novel, but I do sort of admire it. I rank it above Sense and Sensibility, but below all the other Austen novels I have read...moreOkay, so I don't love this novel, but I do sort of admire it. I rank it above Sense and Sensibility, but below all the other Austen novels I have read, although I'm not sure that's fair because it's really a very different kind of novel than the others. There are similarities, of course - Mansfield Park and Persuasion could be the same book, with most cosmetic changes - but really MP isn't what we think of when we think of Austen. Or rather, it is the social-satire side of Austen, instead of family drama or comedy of manners/errors.
I will confess to not liking Fanny, but mostly because I don't think she's much of a character. She seems to basically be a pair of eyes for judging the other characters. And it's not that they don't deserve her judgment, because they really, really do. They are idiots. Even Edmund, the object of Fanny's adoration, is kind of an idiot. Perhaps Sir Thomas comes closest to avoiding idiocy, although he screws up enough to make up for that. But anyway, what bothers me about Fanny is that she doesn't seem fully realized or convincing, mostly because she doesn't say anything. She spends the whole novel listening to other people, and then Austen gives us paragraphs and paragraphs about Fanny's feelings. True, her feelings are very much wrapped up in her ideas of propriety, but they never feel like they belong to a real person. (Also true: I kind of hate books about feelings.) Since, I'm pretty sure, we're supposed to take Fanny's side, this is kind of a problem. I've heard people have problems with Fanny Price because she moralizes, but I would have been able to forgive moralizing. Mary Bennet moralizes - but what kills her for me is that she is boring. Fanny isn't boring, but she does seem to lack a sense of humor, and it's hard to value someone who takes everything seriously and is more likely to weep than laugh. It borders on self-pity, actually, and that's not an engaging character trait. (Mostly, it gives me second-hand embarrassment.)
The other characters, however, are drawn splendidly. Even if they are (and justly so!) the targets of Austen's ire, she does a magnificent job with them. Seriously, they belong in a Restoration comedy, that is how good they are. So it kind of makes up for Fanny, even though a lot of the satire is Very, Very, Obvious. (This is maybe another reason MP belongs on stage?)
Also worth noting: there's at least one really dirty joke in here.(less)
On paper, anyway, Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly the kind of book I would be crazy about. Riffing on Austen, fantasy of manners, sister relations...moreOn paper, anyway, Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly the kind of book I would be crazy about. Riffing on Austen, fantasy of manners, sister relationships, light and dry touches of humor, long conversations about art . . . these are all things I love. Unfortunately, although all those elements are present, they don't quite come together to form a cohesive, or even particularly nuanced, whole. The characters lack depth - as can sometimes happen with pastiche, because after all there's the context of the original work for readers to refer back to while they read this new one. But that's not enough, not really, and that kind of book always makes me wish I were reading the original work instead. I think something like The Cookbook Collector is a good example of how to do a lot of the things Shades of Milk and Honey wants to accomplish, but can't. (Minus the magic, unfortunately. The magic is easily the coolest part of this book.) It's particularly unfortunate that every single character in Shades of Milk and Honey is nails-on-a-chalkboard annoying. Even the "level-headed" heroine! She is twenty-eight, she should know better than to do like 85% of what she does.
Maybe the second in the series is better? I don't want to be really mean and be like "it would have to be," but I do wonder if having to dig deeper might not produce a richer, more rewarding novel. Shades of Milk and Honey is kind of flimsy. On the one hand, that makes it easy to read, but on the other it makes it profoundly unsatisfying. Maybe the second book fixes that problem?(less)
1. Um, I TOTALLY LOVED THIS BOOK. It's funny in a very self-aware way, with a beautifully convincing and completely charming love story. Seriously, th...more1. Um, I TOTALLY LOVED THIS BOOK. It's funny in a very self-aware way, with a beautifully convincing and completely charming love story. Seriously, the Anthea/Hugo love story is amazing. I was completely invested in it, cheering them on and cooing over them. The last time that happened (which I guess wasn't too long ago, whatever) was in the movie Veer-Zaara. That's right: this romance is on par with a Sufi-inspired plea for reuniting India and Pakistan. (Although, I can't deny that The Unknown Ajax would probably have been improved by the presence of Amitabh Bachchan and some songs. Maybe someday. Rani Mukherjee can play Aunt Aurelia.)
2. It's actually kind of a mystery+romance+comedy of manners, and I think the mystery aspect works really well. Surprisingly well, maybe, because I've heard from a couple people that Heyer's mysteries kind of suck. But maybe it works here because the mystery is sidelined in favor of character development, aka, falling in love.
3. Part of the humor depends on Heyer skewering the gentry, which is kind of unusual for her (and it doesn't quite work, but it fails in ways that make it more interesting from an analytical/literary criticism standpoint, so I don't mind. Plus, it's so charming. Did I mention how charming it is? It's quite charming.). Most obviously, this happens with Hugo, but the book actually opens with a passage from the perspective of one of the footmen in the Daracott household. It continues slightly less obviously with some more tertiary characters (law enforcement) and the ongoing what-will-happen-to-Richmond plot.
4. I loved Anthea, although I've learned to be wary of heroines described as "spirited" because that is an overused word . . . at least in Regency romances, it is. But she manages to carry that characterization off, and with style. Her interaction with Hugo is joyful, and done with a very light touch.(less)
Well, this was adorable. A++, would gladly read in lieu of John Locke again (sorry, John Locke). I haven't read a romance novel in a while. I forgot h...moreWell, this was adorable. A++, would gladly read in lieu of John Locke again (sorry, John Locke). I haven't read a romance novel in a while. I forgot how fun they could be.
In the author's note, Kinsale says she thinks of this genre as "hedgehog humor" and I think that is an apt description. The pleasure in this book comes from a healthy dose of humor in the "will they or won't they (no, obviously they will, are you crazy)" scenario and lovable characters. The plot is a lot ridiculous, but that's okay - it's supposed to be that way, and both Callie and Trev are fairly down to earth so there's a nice balance here. I appreciated the way running inner monologues were incorporated into the dialogue-less passages. I don't know how to describe it without sounding annoying, and it isn't annoying, it's actually a source of great charm and wit . . . it's not exactly close third person, but a bit like close third person (I think? I might be getting my terms mixed up).
There's a lot to enjoy in this book! I don't know that it surprises you, and some of the Misunderstandings are a little bit forced, but it is does a really good job at convincing you of the sincerity and depth of emotion between the heroine and hero, which is sort of the #1 priority for a romance novel, right? Lots of fun all around. I definitely had a stupid smile on my face a lot of the time.(less)
I've read four of Austen's novels, and although Persuasion is not my favorite*, I do think it is the funniest. The humor a slightly different source t...moreI've read four of Austen's novels, and although Persuasion is not my favorite*, I do think it is the funniest. The humor a slightly different source that Austen's other novels - it's a little broader (or maybe just a little bolder) and the ridiculous characters are 100% ridiculous. Anne's family have nothing to redeem them** . . . except for the opportunities they provide Austen's narrator (which I guess is Austen herself) to snark at them. And they do deserve it: when you are sucking up to your Irish relatives you are 1) pretty far down and 2) pretty stupid. But I think the different humor serves the story very well, because the nature of the romance could very easily slip into a depressing or sentimental plot. Instead, it feels quite true emotionally.
Wentworth and Anne moved me more than Elizabeth and Darcy (although not more than Cathy and Tilney, who are SO ADORABLE, I just want to wrap them up and put them in my pocket so they can flirt with each other by complaining about grammar, talking about books, and wondering at the crazy people around them). I'm not a huge fan of the "girl waits for and moons after the boy she lost" but Jane Austen is Jane Austen for a reason, and it's a plotline that fits perfectly into 1815. Even though it is not the most subtle of Austen's works, I think it is one of the truest and most convincing.
* My favorite is Northanger Abbey, which I know is not a very respectable choice. ** I know Forster said all her characters were at least capable of rotundity, but I am not sure that is the case with Sir Walter.
12/02/10 I think it's interesting that Mr. Elliot is as mixed a character - he's difficult - as Mansfield Park's Henry Crawford. This exchange, for example, gets to the heart of the book in many ways:
"My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company." "You are mistaken," said he gently, "That is not good company, that is the best. Good company requires only birth, education and manners, and with regard to education is not very nice. Birth and good manners are not essential; but a little learning is by no means a dangerous thing in good company, on the contrary, it will do very well. My cousin, Anne, shakes her head. She is not satisfied. She is fastidious. My dear cousin, (sitting down by her) you have a better right to be fastidious than any other woman I know; but will it answer? Will it make you happy? Will it not be wiser to accept the society of these good ladies in Laura-place, and enjoy all the advantages of the connexion as far as possible? You may depend upon it, that they will move in the first set in Bath this winter, and as rank is rank, your being known to be related to them will have its use in fixing your family (our family let me say) in that degree of consideration which we must all wish for."
Well, I don't think I will be continuing with the series. Also, I'm probably overthinking the issues in these books.
The first two books were fun and...moreWell, I don't think I will be continuing with the series. Also, I'm probably overthinking the issues in these books.
The first two books were fun and charming, the third one less so but enough to interest me. And, to be fair, I think the best parts of Gleason's idea are still here, notably the conflict between Victoria's supernatural destiny and her highly ordered, extremely proper public life and position, as well as the interactions between the female characters who are all strong willed and interesting. (Or were until this book. Sigh. Really - vilifying Caroline of Brunswick? How original.) But the love triangle has become bloated and unable to support itself and extremely unconvincing. I still think Sebastian is an interesting character, but Max reads like a parody of a romance novel hero, which frankly Gleason isn't talented enough to pull off. He's so self-righteous and narrow minded, and I suppose his ~*inner turmoil*~ and Tragic Past are supposed to make him attractive but it just makes him irritating. He has no compassion for other people - and the way he imposes his own experiences and morality on Victoria is, we have been lead to believe throughout the entire series, an example of their sexual tension. Whatever. Their attraction has never convinced me; it seems cursory and tired and quite understandably given how clichéd a choice it is.
I'm going to quote Pride and Prejudice, which I think is warranted in this case. Mr. Bennett tells Elizabeth, "'My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.'" Well, I do not see how Victoria can respect Max (beyond his obvious physical prowess) and nor do I see much proof of his respect for her (ditto). To be fair, the moral point of view Max represents is prevalent throughout the book and definitely presented as The Right One, which is probably why these books have started to really irritate me (I mean, there were aspects that irritated me before . . . like, the martial arts stuff, which I think was meant to be racially and culturally inclusive but actually is kind of gross). When you introduce physical manifestations of evil, i.e. vampires, it is understandably tempting to simplify morality but frankly it makes the created world less convincing in the long run. Anyway, I've lost patience with the characters. These books have never been quite satisfying - the prose style is not rich enough, for one thing - but now they are actively disappointing me. So long, Victoria.(less)
I really enjoyed the first two books in this series. They were a little rough, but Gleason's command of plot and characters overrode that. The Bleedin...moreI really enjoyed the first two books in this series. They were a little rough, but Gleason's command of plot and characters overrode that. The Bleeding Dusk, however, is even rougher in writing style, and the plot is exciting but not always very well-managed. However, the book is an enjoyable read and perfect for summertime.(less)
Phyllida is not a serious book, and it works very well until sometime around the end when the Herendeen decided to insert some clumsy commentary on so...morePhyllida is not a serious book, and it works very well until sometime around the end when the Herendeen decided to insert some clumsy commentary on some current hot-button issues. Also, there's a subplot (kind of) with some spying that doesn't really work out either.
Mostly, however, it is a lot of fun. Phyllida is the sort of book which lets you know that even there isn't a lot to worry about, even when there seems like there should be. The characters flirt and exchange quips easily with one another. The biggest stakes are on the personal level, and Herendeen probably should have stuck with that instead of the spying stuff. The beginning of the novel is where it's strongest. I think this is because the beginning of the novel has a tigher focus, and Andrew and Phyllida are very interesting characters. Some of the secondary characters are less interesting and even irritating and they detract from the enjoyable experience of reading about Phyllida and Andrew (and later Matthew).
Personally, I found the sex scenes not very erotic. Your mileage may vary.(less)
I don't really understand why ITV hasn't snapped up the rights to these books against some future date when they're low on Downton Abbey and Lewis scr...moreI don't really understand why ITV hasn't snapped up the rights to these books against some future date when they're low on Downton Abbey and Lewis scripts. It's true, Sarah Tolerance works basically on her own - she's more a noir detective than a procedural heroine - so a great deal of the book is just her, um, thinking stuff over rather than talking it over with Laurence Fox or whatever, so that's maybe a strike against the cinematic qualities of the books, but certainly more internal novels have translated well enough, and there is something about Sarah Tolerance and her adventures that would really do well on the lushly appointed small screen. (Dimly lit [whorehouses/streets/mansions/taverns]! Billowing greatcoats! SWORD FIGHTS. It'd be great.)
Anyway, I think that Petty Treason is, perhaps, less excellent than it might have been. Frankly, a great deal of the plot and pacing depends on Sarah forgetting or not getting around to check something out. The culprits are pretty easy to spot - but when aren't they? And I think the complexity of the secret plots are interesting enough to make up for that. (Robins also does some interesting work with layering the characterizations, which I appreciated.)
The main draw, of course, is Sarah Tolerance herself. She's filled with self-doubt in this installment, to the point of overcompensation. But she's still quite competent - in fact, I get the impression that she's much more competent than lucky, which is interesting for a fictional character. Obviously, luck plays a great part in a mystery novel and in being an Agent of Inquiry, as the slightly-off Regency world of these books styles her. But she has to put up with a lot of shit, too.
I'm also very fond of the secondary characters in these books. Looking forward to The Sleeping Partner (I can't read it until I finish a seminar paper, I've decided).(less)
I've read this twice now, and I don't think it holds up very well on the second reading. It's definitely enjoyable, but has a great many "first novel"...moreI've read this twice now, and I don't think it holds up very well on the second reading. It's definitely enjoyable, but has a great many "first novel" problems.(less)
The rather delayed third novel in this series came out last fall - The Sleeping Partner. I haven't been able to get to it yet, but I've been meaning t...moreThe rather delayed third novel in this series came out last fall - The Sleeping Partner. I haven't been able to get to it yet, but I've been meaning to reread Point of Honour and Petty Treason for a while, anyway. (There's going to be a fourth, also! Which is great.)
What I like about these books is, primarily and quite rightly, the heroine, Sarah Tolerance. Serial mysteries do rather live or die on the strength of their main characters, and Robins has done a great job with her Miss Tolerance. Sarah is clear-eyed and persistent, believably clever, tough, resourceful - all the traits you'd need to have this job as a woman in the early 19th century. (It's worth noting that Robins' Regency is sort of a parallel universe Regency - not exactly the Regency we know, but close enough to be recognizable, and she slides the differences in without much comment.) But she's not without her faults, flaws, and blind spots.
I like, also, the way Robins mixes the flinty perspective of her heroine (and her heroine's circumstances) and the very, very, very polite social milieu we tend to associate with this time period. That Sarah Tolerance is caught between one world and the other does not go unnoticed or unremarked in the narrative, but the novel is itself a kind of mixture. I mean, the book opens with a riff on that most famous of opening lines, "It is a truth universally acknowledged . . ." Robins knows what she's doing. It's tough to balance the conventions of noir with the conventions of ~romantic historical fiction, and yet Robins manages. Point of Honour is both a diverting genre read, and a thought-provoking book.(less)