I adored Free, and quite agree with Dear Author that it was nice to see a social justice activist finally get her full due in the romance format. Unli...moreI adored Free, and quite agree with Dear Author that it was nice to see a social justice activist finally get her full due in the romance format. Unlike Dear Author, I had and have no problem with Milan's very deliberate use of modern social justice problems in her historicals- identity, autonomy, sexuality, social status, class, and voice were all issues struggled with at the time, as they are today. Our inclination to think that constant forward progress has brought us to this enlightened day blinds us to the reality that we are not the first (nor will we be the last) to try and construct authentic lives in the face of these social barriers.
That said, the romance pancaked on an unbelievable hero. Angst, angst, blah, blah. Now, Leighton of My Beautiful Enemy, there was an angsty hero. Edward? Not so much, although interesting to see that shout out to the admittedly bloody Franco-Prussian war.(less)
I increasingly feel Thomas is constrained by the artificiality of publishing a historical romance novel. The Hidden Blade, a supposed prequel, was a b...moreI increasingly feel Thomas is constrained by the artificiality of publishing a historical romance novel. The Hidden Blade, a supposed prequel, was a better book by far, rich with small details that brought the interior life of its two protagonists to the fore. In comparison, My Beautiful Enemy is telegraphic, jumping from plot point to action scene in order to bring all elements to a resolution.
I adore Thomas's choice to meaningfully set the book in Ch'ing China, and the fact that while her leads may be British at least in part they have the will and desire to move through the world entire to find a place that suits them both.
However, this story had the potential to be a sweeping epic, big, meaty, sad, and sweet. Instead, by cramming the second half of the story into the slight page count and format of a historical romance, Thomas lost the richness that defined the first chapter. Key moments were compressed, leaving me somewhat dissatisfied. I wanted much more of everything, and cannot help but wonder if Thomas would be better off self-publishing a la Courtney Milan.
Rich, evocative, and angsty, this book reaffirmed my love for Thomas's writing. Ying-ying, raised as the pampered daughter of a powerful prince's cour...moreRich, evocative, and angsty, this book reaffirmed my love for Thomas's writing. Ying-ying, raised as the pampered daughter of a powerful prince's courtesan, learns at once a series of martial arts from a washed up gambling addict as well as her own vulnerability and isolation due to her gender, birth, and half-racial identify. On the other side of the world, Leighton learns of the secrets lurking beneath his idyllic, privileged childhood. Too good to be true, as a child he sacrifices repeatedly to help the (somewhat hapless, if loving and kind) adults of his remaining family.
This full-length book reads as story in its own right, not as the set up of two characters who meet only once before the end. I'm so happy I read it, and do look forward to My Beautiful Enemy.(less)
If Olivia is 26 then I don't think I've ever been that young. Yes! I will sleep with you but no emotions ever I promise and best friends for ever! As...moreIf Olivia is 26 then I don't think I've ever been that young. Yes! I will sleep with you but no emotions ever I promise and best friends for ever! As if. Still, better her than Nate's disturbing inability to take no for an answer. I might think Olivia was behaving like a diva, but the fact that no one would take her very clear no as an answer was disturbing. I can see why the concept is so appealing- Olivia's quirky, eclectic circle of friends would have been great to spend time with if they weren't so interchangable with their traumatic histories and loving partners. Only Cole stood out as a character with real agency and identity. But still, in the end, I do adore an occasional over-hyped fan fic wank, and this certainly fits the bill.(less)
Finally, a nice, compelling, well-written, non-foolish historical. How I've missed thee. Nev and Penelope have the virtue of behaving as the young, na...moreFinally, a nice, compelling, well-written, non-foolish historical. How I've missed thee. Nev and Penelope have the virtue of behaving as the young, naive teenagers that they are without ever seeming cartoonish. The tension over conditions on the home farm was also interesting, a smidge of North and South livening the plot. (less)
Parts were so truly excellent- the age gap between Foye and Sabine is portrayed clearly, with many small betraying gestures on both sides, down to Foy...moreParts were so truly excellent- the age gap between Foye and Sabine is portrayed clearly, with many small betraying gestures on both sides, down to Foye's contentment with domestic bliss and Sabine's restlessness. Other parts are absurd to nonsensical- do ruthless, wealthy Ottoman lords really personally track down wayward English girls because their shiny blonde hair is oh so captivating and harem worthy? You're really going to put your heroine into brownface? It's all the more intriguing because Jewel has clearly done much historical research, and it shows. But the underlying dynamics are classic orientalism. (less)
So maybe I really liked the movie 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' but the proximate cause of my reading these stories is the doomed affair in Clouds of Wi...moreSo maybe I really liked the movie 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' but the proximate cause of my reading these stories is the doomed affair in Clouds of Witness between the murder victim and a mysterious Viennese mistress. The high drama, rigid social rules, and hopelessly destructive passion always struck a certain chord and I wanted more...
'Letter from an Unknown Woman' is claustrophobic and laden with risible angst. I am glad I did not stop there, however, as the opening of 'A Story Told in Twilight' is gorgeous and the quiet dignity of the matron in 'The Debt Paid Late' is an excellent rebuke of the pointless tragedy of the unknown woman. All of the stories focus on obsessive first love, embraced in three cases and absent in the fourth. What is now mocked and trivialized (weeping hysterical girls thrusting arms out to the Beatles, Bieber, whomever) is given a rich inner life, heavy with opportunity and danger that is incarnated in two cases by a sexually potent older male artist.
The translation is well done, with simple, clear, and intimate prose:
My husband was greatly surprised to see me back from my holiday so soon, and even more surprised to find how happy and reinvigorated those two days away had left me. He described it as a miracle cure. But I see nothing miraculous about it. Nothing makes one as healthy as happiness, and there is no greater happiness than making someone else happy.
Has rain been sweeping over the city again in the wind? Is that what suddenly makes it so dim in our room? No. The air is silvery clear and still, as it seldom is on these summer days, but it is getting late, and we didn't notice. Only the dormer windows opposite still smile with a faint glow, and the sky above the roof ridge is veiled by golden mist. In an hour's time it will be night. That will be a wonderful hour, for there is no lovelier sight than the slow fading of sunset colour into shadow, to be followed by darkness rising from the ground below, until finally its black tide engulfs the walls, carrying us away into its obscurity. If we sit opposite one another, looking at each other without a word, it will seem, at that hour, as if our familiar faces in the shadows were older and stranger and farther away, as if we had never known them like that, and each of use was now seeing the other across a wide space and over many years. But you say you don't want silence now, because in silence one hears, apprehensively, the clock breaking time into a hundred tiny splinters, and our breathing will sound as loud as the breathing of a sick man. You want me to tell you a story. Willingly. But not about me, for our life in these big cities is short of experience, or so it seems to us, because we do not yet know what is really our own in them. However, I will tell you a story fit for this hour that really loves only silence, and I would wish it to have something about it of the warm, soft, flowing twilight now hovering mistily outside our window.
I waffle on this one- I like it well enough to re-read on occasion, and the closeted first husband is an interesting (if fraught) theme in a minor key...moreI waffle on this one- I like it well enough to re-read on occasion, and the closeted first husband is an interesting (if fraught) theme in a minor key on the philandering straight first husband, but there is not much novel or particularly well-crafted here to truly hold my attention.(less)
This classic has sat on my shelf for almost ten years unread- I could never get past the dreadfully pretentious forward, preface, and author's note. H...moreThis classic has sat on my shelf for almost ten years unread- I could never get past the dreadfully pretentious forward, preface, and author's note. However, once you break through, Tuchman juggles five countries and two fronts with a minimum of confusion and a talent for miniature portraits of all involved, from the opaque Grey, the outrageously mercurial French, and the tragic hero Lanrezac to the broken Moltke and the determined King Albert.
Try her descriptions of Joffre: "With few personal ideas of his own, Joffre was adept at taking advice, and submitted more or less consciously to the reigning doctrinaires of the Operations Bureau," and, "Joffre went outside and sat down in the shade of a weeping ash in the school playground. By nature an arbiter, he collected the opinions of others, sorted them, weighed the personal coefficient of the speaker, adjusted the scale, and eventually announced his verdict."
Or this: 'He [Hindenburg] was waiting at the station in Hanover when the train drew in at four in the morning, General Ludendorff whom he had never met 'stepped briskly' to the platform to report himself. On the way east he explained the situation and the orders he had already issued. Hindenburg listened and approved. So was born, on the way to the battle that was to make them famous, the combination, the 'marriage' expressed in the mystic monogram HL that was to rule imperial Germany until the end. When sometime later he was made a Field Marshal, Hindenburg earned the nickname 'Marshal Was-sagst-du' because of his habit, whenever asked for an opinion, of turning to Ludendorff and asking, 'Was sagst du? (What do you say?)"
And this: "As early as August 24 Sukhomlinov, the War Minister who had not bothered to build arms factories because he did not believe in fire power, wrote General Yanushkevitch, the beardless Chief of Staff..."
"At sixty-five, he [Gallieni] was suffering from the prostatitis of which, after two operations, he was to die within two years. Bereaved by the death of his wife within the last month, and having renounced the highest post in the French Army three years earlier, he was beyond personal ambition, a man with little time left, as irritably impatient with the politics of the army as with the rivalries of politicians.
Tuchman's one liners are many, and clever:
"That vexing problem of war presented by the refusal of the enemy to behave as expected in his own best interest beset them."
"This was not necessarily a deliberate effort to be offensive; it was normal for [German] General Staff officers to be offensive."
"In order to arouse feeling against the Russians, the German government had deliberately distributed the refugees in various cities and succeeded in frightening itself."
"Although 1870 proved the corollary of the theory and practice of terror, that it deepens antagonism, stimulates resistance, and ends by lengthening war, the Germans remained wedded to it. As Shaw said, they were a people with a contempt for common sense."
I also appreciated the excellent sampling of contemporary quotations:
(Ruffey to a GQC staff officer) "You people at GQG never read the reports we send you. You are as ignorant as an oyster of all that the enemy has in his bag... Tell the Generalissimo his operations are worse than 1870- he sees absolutely nothing- incapacity everywhere."
(Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren in a 1915 book) "He who writes this book in which hate is not hidden was formerly a pacifist... For him no disillusionment was ever greater or more sudden. It struck him with such violence that he thought himself no longer the same man. And yet, as it seems to him that in his state of hatred his conscience becomes diminished, he dedicates these pages, with emotion, to the man he used to be."
(Moltke to a German official) "Don't bother me with economics- I am busy conducting a war."
Tuchman advances a decent handful of theories large and small- that French deification of the offensive and elan drove their unfathomably bad decision making, that German decision makers stubbornly and almost consciously chose to ignore the consequences of the Schlieffen plan's violation of Belgian neutrality, that the slaughter of Tannenberg was a Russian sacrifice that enabled the French to halt the Germans short of Paris, that the British legend of the Marne is not borne out by facts, which testify to underlying French victories and sacrifices, that all involved succumbed to the age-old antagonism between staff and the field... However, I believe Tuchman's most enduring gift was a clarity of vision that produced a remarkably lucid account of the dissolution of plans and hopes that defined the battlefields of August 1914. (less)
The Lily Brand is my all-time favorite guilty-pleasure, cult-read, gothic extravaganza. Unfortunately, Schwab's sophomore effort has all of her first...moreThe Lily Brand is my all-time favorite guilty-pleasure, cult-read, gothic extravaganza. Unfortunately, Schwab's sophomore effort has all of her first book's plot incoherence with few of its angsty pleasures. The book consists of Celia vowing that no one will take her castle away from her, Celia flirting with Fenris, Fenris displaying a hint of vulnerability before snarling and saying something cruel, Celia feeling hurt, several weeks pass, rinse, wash, repeat. (less)
If not quite what I wanted it to be (where is the Joanna Bourne of early 20th century historical romance) I was hungry enough for this setting to be p...moreIf not quite what I wanted it to be (where is the Joanna Bourne of early 20th century historical romance) I was hungry enough for this setting to be pleasantly surprised by a better-than-mediocre book. Testament of Youth this is not, with even young soldiers thought lost on the front making it through the war intact, but Robson does a decent job of conveying the hopeless mess of life near the front. There are not nearly enough military medical protagonists in circulation (just think of how excellent The Wedding Journey is!) either.(less)
Absurd, delicious, erotic fluff. The first three quarters of the book are taught with suspense and desire- Hannah knows she should not give in but is...moreAbsurd, delicious, erotic fluff. The first three quarters of the book are taught with suspense and desire- Hannah knows she should not give in but is willing to risk it all for anything that jolts her out of her very mediocre life. Leo is a cipher, and is delectable. However, Leo's heartfelt amends and sudden turn of fortune ruins the end with a mechanically simplistic and saccharine ending.(less)
Old school in the best possible way, this put the fabulous Duran back on my auto-buy list. I had found That Scandalous Summer difficult to start and h...moreOld school in the best possible way, this put the fabulous Duran back on my auto-buy list. I had found That Scandalous Summer difficult to start and hard to finish, but then again I regularly crave the meaty, sad At Your Pleasure. While Alastair is a bit much (like The Duke's Perfect Wife's Hart Mackenzie on crack) I like how his crazy, devious brain switches from introverted self-flagellation to cunning revenge. Olivia may be a bit too good to be true but she's understandable even when she's lingering over Alastair a bit too long. In the end, there's little I like more than the penniless heroine running out the door (Jane Eyre! Until You! Lily!) and this book certainly delivered on that account.(less)
How is Mary both the Cinderella poor relation and sent on a hairbrained quest dreamt up by the cook to spice up her life? Why does the good captain, a seasoned veteran of many a port, walk so blindly into danger? Finally, Kelly likes to play with the fire of ultimate redemption- her military heroes are traumatized and in real life some of them harm their partners. Kelly dilutes this real issue of domestic violence by filtering the anger through the ridiculous plot device of a raised arm, a trip, and a sharp corner. I feel that if you are going to traverse this tricky terrain, do it meaningfully and not through a big mis plot point. The Admiral's Penniless Bride is instructive in this regard.(less)
Dipping in and out of the arts, literature, science, politics, and social history, swinging back and forth through Britain, France, Germany, Austria-H...moreDipping in and out of the arts, literature, science, politics, and social history, swinging back and forth through Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia, Blom enacts a dizzying waltz through the dawn of the 20th century.
His central purpose is to portray these fourteen years as a dynamic part of the 20th century as opposed to the last gasp of the long nineteenth. He does an excellent job of sampling a sufficient variety of modernist thought and bewildering social change to make his point. Chapters are loosely modeled around themes- speed, feminism, eugenics, mental illness, pacifism, ect. Blom has an eye for an excellent quotation and manages to keep the sprawling scope of his narrative surprisingly engaging. I followed this up with Tuchman's classic The Guns of August, which in a sense makes Blom's point for him. Compare Tuchman:
So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and green and blue and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens – four dowager and three regnant – and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.
or the dismaying dislocation captured by Blom's observation:
This nostalgia was not innocent; it was poisoned by the knowledge that an era had passed by, while a new one had not yet shown its face.
In the end, I was most moved by the beautiful moment, heartbreaking only in retrospect, captured in Marie Curie's 'autobiographical notes':
One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night; we then perceived on all sides the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles or capsules containing our products. It was really a lovely sight and one always new to us. The glowing tubes looked like faint, fairy lights.
We invest these words with slowly creeping, invisible death, but only from our perch here a century later. Blom's challenge to the reader is to enter the moment on its own terms, stand with Curie, and feel the wonder of something gorgeously new. (less)
I always loved when Captain Wentworth pulls her naughty nephew away, and the hope it gives Anne that he doesn't completely hate her guts anymore. I've...moreI always loved when Captain Wentworth pulls her naughty nephew away, and the hope it gives Anne that he doesn't completely hate her guts anymore. I've always loved a martyr heroine, and Anne certainly fits the bill- suffering through the arrogant unkindnesses of her father and older sister, the fits and drama of her spoilt younger sister, the 'good old Anne' assumption that she will be the spinster woman, the one who smooths over all upset and bears all unwanted work. Nothing like suffering in silence to tug at my heartstrings!
As always with Jane Austen new phrases and scenes struck me anew. Thanks to Jane Austen, Game Theorist, I found the bit where Mrs. Croft takes the reins from Admiral Croft darling:
"But by coolly giving the reins a better direction herself, they happily passed the danger; and by once afterwards judiciously putting out her hand, they neither fell into a rut, nor ran foul of a dung-cart; and Anne, with some amusement at their style of driving, which she imagined no bad representation of the general guidance of their affairs, found herself safely deposited by them at the cottage."
Or take the delightfully simple workings of jealousy on Captain Wentworth's regard for Anne:
"When they came to the steps, leading upwards from the beach, a gentleman at the same moment preparing to come down, politely drew back, and stopped to give them way. They ascended and passed him; and as they passed, Anne's face caught his eye, and he looked at her with a degree of earnest admiration, which she could not be insensible of. She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features, having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind which had been blowing on her complexion, and by the animation of eye which it had also produced. It was evident that the gentleman, (completely a gentleman in manner) admired her exceedingly. Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance,-a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, 'That man is struck with you,-and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again.'"
Or, my favorite this time around:
"Mr. Elliot was rational, discreet, polished,-but he was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others. This to Anne, was a decided imperfection. Her early impressions were incurable. She prized the frank, the open-hearted, the eager character beyond all others. Warmth and enthusiasm did captivate her still. She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or a hasty thing, than of those whose presence of mind never varied, whose tongue never slipped."
Quiet, romantic, bittersweet, with only the hint of a cutting edge at times, this is a most un-Austen-like Austen that I love quite truly.(less)
More of that classic Seidel theme, working women using the office as a surrogate family, this time played out against the backdrop of a popular histor...moreMore of that classic Seidel theme, working women using the office as a surrogate family, this time played out against the backdrop of a popular historical soap eerily reminiscent of Downtown Abbey. Seidel's craft is fascinating- we get a long chapter detailing our protagonist's romance with her childhood sweetheart, which helps explain why, years later, she's still with the pompous ass. We get a soap opera leading man hero whose desire to take responsibility and make things right stems in part from this sister's early death. We get a boisterous cast of a soap opera that is both dated (the soaps are dead, long live the soaps!) and yet strikingly contemporary in feel. A fun read.(less)
Oh my goodness this book is so bad. I read it once back in high school and recently picked it up for a re-read, having had no memory of the first time...moreOh my goodness this book is so bad. I read it once back in high school and recently picked it up for a re-read, having had no memory of the first time around. Stereotyped 'barbaric' Russian nobility, random faux-PTSD amnesia, and a countess-belowstairs story that's not nearly as fun as my beloved A Countess Below Stairs. I was vaguely interested in what Kleypas would do with the foreshadowed romance between Emma and the broodingly alien Prince Nikolas, until I looked it up and remembered it was a ghastly time-travel pastiche. No thank you...(less)
I like this book because it is a soap opera in the best of ways. Stuart, Robin, and Zoe misbehave so badly and repeatedly hurt themselves and each oth...moreI like this book because it is a soap opera in the best of ways. Stuart, Robin, and Zoe misbehave so badly and repeatedly hurt themselves and each other with their stubborn insistence on screwing things up to no good purpose. Yet all three manage (oh so barely) to stay in the readers' good graces, so that when they sort out their incredibly messed up baggage you cheer rather than roll your eyes. This is very much a wallpaper romance, but I could not even care I liked the character drama so much.(less)
A truly fabulous book- our heroine is an awkward, difficult, heartbreaking, brilliant closet botanist/geneticist and our hero loves her to bits, to th...moreA truly fabulous book- our heroine is an awkward, difficult, heartbreaking, brilliant closet botanist/geneticist and our hero loves her to bits, to the point where he presents her work as his own to enable publication of her work until the strain of the double life and its toll on his affection for her prompts him to set up a few boundaries. These boundaries interrupt the dynamic between our leads, force them to reevaluate their self-images, their difficult family relationships, and what level of vulnerability they are willing to assume in order to build a new relationship.
One reviewer commented that the book was very much about consent. This stuck with me as I read because I also identified a theme interwoven throughout, which I guess I will call worth and self-worth. Not that consent (and Sebastian's beautiful displays of mature self-mastery) was an insignificant facet of the book. More important to me, however, was Violet's struggle to negotiate both her outward facing social worth (demanding that people treat her with respect) as well as an inner sense of self-worth (internalizing her right to bodily and intellectual integrity, to pleasure, to a fulfilling life). The radish review eventually highlights this epiphanic scene that characterizes this struggle so well:
Not pretty, and also selfish. Selfish to feel pride at what she'd done. Selfish to want... She looked at herself in the mirror, her head tilting. It wasn't working. Usually when she called herself selfish, she squirmed and stuffed the things she wanted away. But today, it wasn't working. Maybe she was too tired.
"Selfish Violet," she said aloud, but stripped of the shame that usually accompanied them, the words rang false. Selfish?
No. She wasn't empty. Those words had lost their place in her heart. Today she had another refrain in her head, one that had been playing so quietly that she hadn't even heard it until that moment.
Clever Violet. Resilient Violet. Sweet Violet. That whispered memory left no room for selfish. Was what she'd just done selfish? What did the word even mean?
Violet contemplated the mirror. When her husband called her selfish for refusing to go to bed with him, what had he meant? I deserve my chance to have an heir more than you deserve to live. When Lily said it would be selfish of Violet to ally herself with Sebastian, what did she mean? My attendance at balls is more important than your happiness. When Violet called herself selfish, that was what she meant- that she didn't deserve the thing she wanted. Not happiness. Maybe not even her own life.
Naturally this passage and others like it led me to game theory- the excellent Jane Austen, Game Theorist- namely Chwe's pointed observations that rational, self-interested behavior tends to be labeled "selfish" and "anti-social" when the person in question is lower status- younger, female, minority, ect. The social expectation that one gender always gives, and the other always takes, leads to people disciplining even mildly assertive displays by women through guilt and shame. Milan's exploration of that theme here was masterful.
The extended discussion of women's voice, agency, and identity was more often than not explicit, and will be taken up by many readers (and it should be). However, I loved Milan's more subtle exploration of the toll gendered expectations took on her hero as well. If Sebastian has a true genius, it is his deep emotional intelligence and his commitment to caring for his friends and family: "'My friends are worrying about me,' Sebastian continued. 'That's completely backward. I'm supposed to take care of them.'" Emotional/social work is labor, and more often than not it is uncompensated, unrecognized, and feminized (devalued) labor. Sebastian struggles under the dismissive weight of those who judge him as non-serious because his talents shine most brightly in such a feminine sphere. Tangentially, this dynamic forcefully reminded me of Sherry Thomas's excellent Not Quite a Husband, where an equally prickly and brilliant woman is matched with a man with an unexpected (and undervalued) gift for domestic work- running a household, or, in its more masculine guise, logistics. (Now that I think of it, Leo's childhood devotion to Bryony also resonates here- does it take youthful admiration to socialize our romance heroes into love for otherwise intimidating and non-typical women?)
Of course, questions of logistics lead me to my favorite hero Miles, and radish reviews was not off in another Milan review comparing her work to Lois McMaster Bujold. Violet's bath scene and the chasm between her head and her heart (and her sex drive) reminded me of nothing so much as Ekaterin's equally rending shower scene in A Civil Campaign. Of course, the excellent conversation about sacrifices, and gifts, and female agency in that book is also very much apropos. Finally, not to get too ridiculous and meta, but my favorite observations ever on how society distributes sacrifice for the greater good unequally also apply (Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education, a favorite!)
In sum, this is an excellent romance that worked both at the genre level (all necessary conventions honored, expectations met, and payoffs delivered!) and at a more meta level, where my brain was always veering off onto tangents in recognition of Milan's solid treatment of very important themes. In contrast to the current sad state of romance series, Milan's books keep getting better and better.(less)
I really love The Chocolate Run, and decided to take a risk on one of Koomson's more 'women's fic' books. The relationship between Ryn and Del, just l...moreI really love The Chocolate Run, and decided to take a risk on one of Koomson's more 'women's fic' books. The relationship between Ryn and Del, just like the relationship between Amber and Jen, struck me as cruel and inflicted with a helping of racism. Perhaps because these books are British there always seems to be missing perspective- the princess behavior of the heroine's friends is as much a function of whiteness as it is conventional beauty in my mind, but the text never delves into race they way I suspect an American story would.
Although Luke's ultimate reasons for inserting himself into Ryn and Tegan's domestic life make sense (and are quite angsty), at first it makes zero sense why Luke shows up to play daddy, nor why Ryn lets him do it. While I enjoyed their blossoming relationship, (despite loathing Luke's entitlement complex and judgement of Ryn's appearance) the end was a bit too rushed for me to truly savor and invest in their happiness. Ryn and Tegan's relationship, on the other hand, was solidly sketched from beginning to end, and I loved it.(less)
Stilted, awkward prose. Wildly inconsistent character motivations. Enormous disappointment- I'm still on the hunt for decent books set in this period,...moreStilted, awkward prose. Wildly inconsistent character motivations. Enormous disappointment- I'm still on the hunt for decent books set in this period, but Rowe's books certainly don't ring that bell. Part of the problem is my frustrated anticipation of Rogue Spy; every time the couple speaks English just feet away from German soldiers or hide in the closet (?!?) I jones for Bourne's clever, deft touch.(less)
A compelling read, Thomas elaborates again on her ever-present theme of lovers hell-bent on punishing each other before finally reaching forgiveness,...moreA compelling read, Thomas elaborates again on her ever-present theme of lovers hell-bent on punishing each other before finally reaching forgiveness, or at least equilibrium. Felix has a backstory to explain why he's so willing to toy with and then humiliate our protagonist, Louisa. What I most like is the way the story frames his behavior but does not excuse it- sometimes we are cruel to each other in the most casual ways, in quick reaction to our own sense of vulnerability. Louisa is less-sharply drawn although very interesting- an unapologetic and shrewd manipulator who finds her twin in Felix. I'm in agreement with Dear Author that Matilda is little more than a plot point and her disability is (mis)used to create plot-necessary motivations for Louisa. That aside, the book was tight, well-written, and (at the end) bizarrely moving.(less)
My favorite book? Possibly. My favorite romance? Definitely.
How can you not love watching two brainy, awkward, wounded people resist honest love for...moreMy favorite book? Possibly. My favorite romance? Definitely.
How can you not love watching two brainy, awkward, wounded people resist honest love for years before finally giving way: "'I have been facing one fact for some time,' said Harriet, staring out with unseeing eyes into the quad, 'and that is, that if I once gave way to Peter, I should go up like straw.'"
And the letters? "Dear Harriet,
I send in my demand notes with the brutal regularity of the income-tax commissioners; and probably you say when you see the envelopes, 'Oh God! I know what this is.' The only difference is that, some time or other, one has to take notice of the income tax.
Will you marry me?- It's beginning to look like one of those lines in a farce- merely boring till it's said often enough; and after that, you get a bigger laugh every time it comes.
I should like to write you the kind of words that burn the paper they are written on- but words like that have a way of being not only unforgettable but unforgivable. You will burn the paper in any case; and I would rather there should be nothing in it you cannot forget if you want to."
And the recognition that a relationship worth having recognizes and cherishes the beloved on its own terms- it is not a socially-constructed prison of gendered expectations: "Harriet; I have have nothing much in the way of religion, or even morality, but I do recognize a code of behaviour of sorts. I do know that the worst sin- perhaps the only sin- passion can commit, is to be joyless. It must lie down with laughter or make its bed in hell- there is no middle way... Don't misunderstand me. I have bought it, often- but never by forced sale or at 'stupendous sacrifice'... Don't, for God's sake, ever think you owe me anything. If I can't have the real thing, I can make do with the imitation. But I will not have surrenders or crucifixions..."
Plus, of course, a mystery that exposes still-unanswered anxieties on how to reconcile the intellectual potential of women (not to mention their individual wants and dreams) with the social architecture built upon the neutral fact of biological reproduction. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead indeed.
Oh Peter- our diplomat, spy, soldier, and detective extraordinaire: "God! how I loathe haste and violence and all that ghastly, slippery cleverness. Unsound, unscholarly, insincere- nothing but propaganda and special pleading and 'what do we get out of this?' No time, no peace, no silence; nothing but conferences and newspapers and public speeches till one can't hear one's self think... If only one could root one's self in here among the grass and stones and do something worth doing, even if it was only restoring a lost breathing for the love of the job and nothing else."
As for Harriet: "She went to bed thinking more about another person than about herself. This goes to prove that even minor poetry may have its practical uses," and, "Could there ever be any alliance between the intellect and the flesh? It was this business of asking questions and analyzing everything that sterilized and stultified all one's passions Experience perhaps had a formula to get over this difficulty: one kept the bitter, tormenting brain on one side of the wall and the languorous, sweet body on the other, and never let them meet. So that if you were made that way, you could argue about loyalties in an Oxford common-room and refresh yourself elsewhere with- say- Viennese singers, presenting an unruffled surface on both sides of yourself. Easy for a man, and possible even for a woman, if one avoided foolish accidents like being tried for murder."
And finally, "H: Do you find it easy to get drunk on words?
P: So easy that, to tell you the truth, I am seldom perfectly sober. Which accounts for my talking so much.
H: And yet, if anybody had asked me, I should have said you had a passion for balance and order- no beauty without measure.
P: One may have a passion for the unattainable.
H: But you do attain it. At least, you appear to attain it.
P: The perfect Augustan? No; I'm afraid it's at most a balance of opposing forces..."
Who can turn up their noses at Oxford, feminism, love, and John Donne? Not I.(less)
Let it be widely known that I picked this up off the Seminary Coop's front table a whole day before this cutesy NYT review. As game theory normally ma...moreLet it be widely known that I picked this up off the Seminary Coop's front table a whole day before this cutesy NYT review. As game theory normally makes me cry, I thought a Jane Austen approach would be gentler on my brain than the more classic books. Instead, what I got was a well written and admiring exploration of strategic thinking in human relationships as portrayed by Austen.
The NYT describes this as, "230 diagram-heavy pages," a gross exaggeration- there are only 14 graphics in the book, 13 of which are in the introductory chapters on game theory. Instead, this read as excellent Austen literary criticism that happened to draw on African American folklore and political science texts in addition to the more typical fare.
Chwe's exploration of cluelessness was well done, in particular the observation that high status individuals embrace cluelessness in order to maintain rank- obliviousness is a privilege of people who don't have to care what those "beneath" them think and can at times be a strategic advantage (a la Ender's Game and the dilemma of U.S. checkpoints in Iraq). I also liked Chwe's numerous pointed observations that pressure on the individual to conform to norms of selflessness and social behavior often fall harder on disadvantaged rather than privileged people: "For Mrs. Norris and Lady Catherine, calling a young woman independent or selfish is just another way to keep her from making her own choices (p. 134)," and, "Social norms are often considered a necessary corrective to unbridled selfishness, but it is easy to be in favor of social norms when they are not stacked against you. Shouldn't Fanny be able to make a 'selfish,' 'individualistic' choice about whether or whom to marry? (p. 128)."
However, my favorite observation was that strategic partnership is the height of true intimacy: "This post-game recap, in which a couple reviews the choices and motivations of others and themselves, is often the moment of greatest intimacy (p. 149)," and, "Captain Wentworth and Anne do not have Captain and Mrs. Harville's unspoken communication, and they do not have Emma and Mr. Knightley's history of strategic teamwork, but to his credit, Captain Wentworth creates that partnership on the spot by explicitly asking for help and following Anne's instructions; he is the kind of man who does not mind asking for directions (p. 145)."
There were parts that raised my eyebrows- while Chwe makes useful connections between theory of mind, our current understanding of the autism spectrum, and a certain brand of Austen's cluelessness, he is far too uncritical of Baron-Cohen's utterly whack "male brain" theory. His attempt to redeem quantification of human behavior through a throwaway comment on Mary's study of thorough bass was, while intriguing, a hopelessly weak point with which to conclude the book. However, overall this read like a delightful confection but prompted at several turns new understanding of both Austen's texts as well as the social dynamics of today.(less)
Well, as Quaker-English nobility romance novels go it's no Flowers from the Storm. And as Carla Kelly naval captain hero regencies go it's no Mrs. McV...moreWell, as Quaker-English nobility romance novels go it's no Flowers from the Storm. And as Carla Kelly naval captain hero regencies go it's no Mrs. McVinnie's London Season. That said, I always remembered Miss Whittier Makes a List fondly, largely for the warm, appreciative dynamic between the *gulp* feisty American lead and the grim British naval captain. It's also astonishingly sensual for an early Carla Kelly. What memory papered over was how painfully young Hannah was- she agonized very little over abandoning her nationality and her religious community for Daniel and I could not help but think that much of her blithe embrace of a very different future was driven by youthful forward momentum rather than a real choice to leave her previous identity behind. Also, the late 18 aughts were a horrible time for an American to contemplate union with a British naval captain (Dolly Madison says shame on her!). That said, Carla Kelly is a wizard and the book holds together strongly with that practical but poignant tone that is classic Signet Regency Carla Kelly.(less)
One of my less favorite Dorothy L. Sayers books, which still makes it a pretty fabulous piece of sly characterization married with brisk, tight plotti...moreOne of my less favorite Dorothy L. Sayers books, which still makes it a pretty fabulous piece of sly characterization married with brisk, tight plotting. This is pre-Harriet Peter (aka shallow and whimsical Peter) with a nice characterization nugget strewn late in the book when he chats up a priest on ethical responsibility.
Unnatural Death is a rare Sayers spoiled somewhat by the prejudices of her time. Even my beloved Parker not only uses racially fraught language- he *thinks* and speaks along those lines as well. Be prepared.(less)
I have been in make-soup-and-tea-and-snuggle-up comfort reading mode since 2013 rolled in. Carla Kelly (especially classic Carla Kelly) generally make...moreI have been in make-soup-and-tea-and-snuggle-up comfort reading mode since 2013 rolled in. Carla Kelly (especially classic Carla Kelly) generally makes the top of my comfort read list.
Jesse was my favorite medical lead until he was knocked off by Jonas in A Kiss For Midwinter. Nell is less sharply drawn, a sweet 18 year old whistfully looking into the window of warm family life from the outside a la A Little Princess. Much of the poignancy is Jesse's knowledge that a much more secure and loving life awaits Nell if they can only make it to British lines.