Jane and Vincent have been accompanying Melody and her new husband on their wedding tour of the continent. Leaving the newlyweds at Trieste, Jane and Vincent take ship to Murano. Lord Byron has given the Vincents an open invitation to visit him in Venice, which is a nice cover for what they plan to do in Murano. They have long wanted to visit the famed glassmakers there after their discovery about weaving magic into glass to make it portable and not tethered to the earth in a fixed locale. The couple hope that with improved techniques and materials they can get reliable results. Yet as Napoleon rallied and invaded Belgium when they were first experimenting with this idea, they are once again derailed by outside influences.
This time they are set upon by pirates who, while ransoming them and hence not enslaving them, take all their possessions and leave Vincent with a nasty concussion. Finding Byron away from home they are struck with the realization that they are destitute. A kind man from the infamous boat journey takes them in and gives them everything they could need till either Byron returns or they are able to alert their families. Only sometimes kind men have ulterior motives and the Vincents could be in far more trouble then they could even guess. In fact pirates might be a welcome relief. Just don't tell Jane's mother about the pirates, she'll never forgive Vincent.
There are few authors out there which I will drop everything for. Phone calls go unanswered, emails pile up, work deadlines get stretched to breaking point. If it wasn't for the fact that food keeps me going and therefore keeps me reading I don't think I would remember to eat. Even on a re-read of these books I have found myself reverting to these habits that are usually only employed when I first hold the book in my hands. My love of these books has grown and developed over time, much like the books themselves. They are no longer just Jane Austen fanfic with magic, they're so much more! The books are part history, part fantasy, part alternate reality, there's just so much to love about them that I really can't stress enough that you should go out right now and get yourself all the books, because the first won't be enough.
So what keeps me coming back to Mary's series, seeing as I have just devoured the first four books in quick succession yet again? Aside from the fact that I love anything Regency (ahem Regency Magic) and Mary captures the feeling of the time period by sprinkling in historic details without inundating us with information, she has created a world where the magic just works. I'm not talking about works as in you say a spell and wow a light goes on, or even that it's successful in that something magical happens, I'm saying in the way she has created how magic is done just makes sense. The way magic resides in the ether out of the visible range and is brought forth and woven into something visible, either temporary or lasting, just works, it makes sense. Add to that the manipulation of ether outside the visible spectrum, such as cold and hot, as being dangerous, and the system just clicks into place.
As an artist myself, the way you think creatively, the way work takes a toll on you physically and mentally, Mary just nails it. While Jane would blush if I went into specifics, the issue with her "flower" I totally get. There is such a simpatico going on between me and Jane with our feelings and our physical beings that I am right there with her every step of the way. While yes, there is this part of me going, Jane is me, there's a happier part of me going Jane is Jane. She is an amazing heroine, she doesn't just have a spine, she has spine enough for both her and Vincent, supporting them through their trials and hardships, making plans, taking names, befriending nuns, it's just perfect.
And those hardships. Mary perfectly captures the day to day struggle of someone who once didn't have to worry about where the next meal will come from. The shame of being less then you were and being indebted to others and having your name sullied. Wondering if there will be shelter, if there will be food, if you will be warm. Valour and Vanity shows the flip side of Regency life. It's not all ballrooms and magic, it can be working on the street in danger of fainting just hoping to bring money home for some food or wood for the fire. And the scene where Jane buys a bar of soap. The fact that a bar of soap can be such a luxury and such a source of contention. But I can say, there is something so amazing that something as small as a little bar of soap that can subtly change your outlook. But I do also look at Jane's life and think, I am glad I grew up knowing how to cook and clean. There can be something said for self-reliance.
Now speaking of those nuns... they are just one of the many aspects that made this book so awesome. The blurbs comparing this installment to Ocean's Eleven aren't wrong. Only I would personally choose Ocean's Twelve, having seen it twice in theatres it's a better movie for many reasons; it has an awesome soundtrack, has a part in Italy, I believe even in Venice, has an amazing Chachi joke, makes more fun of itself with meta humor, and has Eddie Izzard. Here we have glamourists, nuns, pirates, puppet shows, disguises, the Eleventh Doctor, breaking and entering, there is just so much awesome that it's hard to pinpoint what makes it work so well unless you count the fact that everything works so seamlessly together.
The thing I found interesting is you don't really think of heists starting before this past century. Sure there were pirates and brigands and all number of baddies who did all number of innumerable nasty things, but the heist feels like a more modern invention. In fact the definition of heist shows the word being an Americanism from the twenties and even references cars to define it. Aside from Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery, while being Victorian in conceit, but still very much a product of the seventies, I can't think of a successful book that combines a 19th century setting with an elaborate heist. For this alone Valour and Vanity should be held extraordinary and a must read, if not for every other reason I mentioned. Oh, and of course, me being a pusher for this series. Go on! You know you want to read it......more
Jane and Vincent have been recuperating at Long Parkmeade after the trials and tribulations they faced in France. Though spending so much time with Jane's family is hard on her, she can see it's excessively wearying for her husband. Luckily a commission in London means they are not long for the city. Jane though feels a tug of pity for her sister. Here is Melody, trapped far away from eligible bachelors and aging more and more with every passing season. Jane impulsively decides to help Melody by taking her with them to London. Jane and Vincent can work during the day and throw parties and go to receptions in their spare time so that Melody gets a chance at the happiness her sister has attained.
London though is in a state of upheaval. The unnaturally cold weather means that crops are failing and people are looking for someone to blame, and they focus on the Coldmongers, a subgroup within glamourists that dangerously use glamour outside the visible spectrum and therefore have a short life expectancy. There is also the Irish Question and lingering hostilities towards the French. Because of Jane and Vincent's notoriety as the Prince Regent's Glamourists as well as Vincent being the son of Lord Vebury, they soon are dragged into the world of politics and their entire life is on show for the world. Will they be able to save their marriage, England, and get Melody married? That might take a little magic to pull off.
Re-reading Without a Summer I think that I might have maligned the book too much previously. I felt like it was such a departure for the final forth of the book from everything that came before that it was a square peg in a round hole. It was waving at sharks and thinking of perhaps jumping over them. I was so focused on what annoyed me that I was over-analyzing everything and almost searching for faults when I should have been enjoying the narrative shift. Each of the five books in this series has embraced a different genre, so to speak. We started with the traditional Austenesque book, Shades of Milk and Honey, moved onto espionage and war with Glamour in Glass, later Valour and Vanity would embrace the heist genre, while here we have politics and all that entails, from court to courting if you will. While I'm not the biggest fan of courtroom dramas, always liking the first half-hour of Law and Order over the second, knowing that it was coming I was able to look at the book more objectively and realize that I loved it just as much as the others. See, I have learned to admit when I'm wrong, and that's a big step for me.
But I think my opinions on Regency court procedure were very much formed by my hatred of Death Comes to Pemberley. I know she's dead, but I can not ever forgive P.D. James for this book hinging on old obscure British laws and courtroom antics. This one book did more harm then anything previously to make me come to revile courtroom drama. The tropes of surprise witnesses, the fainting of women in the gallery, please. While the narrative of Without a Summer did naturally lead itself to court, did it really have to bring forward all the problems of Jane and Vincent's marriage into public view? Hinting at the lewdness of Jane occasionally wearing men's garb, and perhaps that was because of Vincent's sexual proclivities that made his father hire the prostitute for him that was the center of their earlier fight? Blah blah blah. While I know great worldbuilding takes everything and every aspect of society into consideration, I could have done with a little more magic and a lot less mundane martial law.
Moving on from what nagged me let's embrace that which delights me. The true history being magically woven into this alternate history was staggeringly good. It's not just the bigger changes that captured my imagination, but the little ones, the fact that the battle of Waterloo never happened so that Waterloo Bridge is now Quatre Bras Bridge was a nice little touch, and all down to the Vincents in their previous adventure. But I really loved how Kowal tied in the frigid temperatures of 1816, known as "The Year Without a Summer," into not just the politics of the book, but into people's belief systems. Just think, snow in summer? You'd be more then a little concerned with this now wouldn't you?
The average person doesn't grasp that weather can not be controlled by glamour. Therefore people look for a scapegoat to explain away this problem, and the Coldmongers make a perfect target. They are specialized glamourists who deal with temperature. Even other glamourists don't know much about what they do, only knowing how dangerous it is to mess with the elements of hot and cold. They are poor, they are not understood, and they make a far more logical scapegoat then a volcano half a world away, which was actually the true reason for these bizarre meteorological conditions. Plus, this generally accepted belief of their culpability means that Vincent's father is able to politically exploit the situation to his own gain. Just sheer genius. Or should I say evil genius if I'm talking about Lord Verbury?
Though what I think I didn't really get the first time I read this book is that it's heroine isn't Jane, it's Melody. I just thought that Jane had had a brain transplant and that Melody was awesome. It never dawned on me that this was on purpose. Jane comes across as a little bit of a naive bigot. I know Jane had a sheltered life and was a bit oblivious to things before the arrival of Vincent in her life... but there's naive and then there's ignorance. All her opinions seemed to be based on "wild supposition instead of fact." She jumps to conclusions, has an obvious wariness of anyone Irish, despite the fact that she's working for them, and expresses astonishment at people of different skin colors. But what this does is gives Melody room to shine. Because while she has always been "the pretty one" somehow Jane hijacked her story.
In Shades of Milk and Honey Melody didn't get a HEA, she got stuck in the country with her parents while her sister got freedom and love. Melody has only ever been valued for her looks. It's nice to have our preconceptions turned on their heads. Melody has developed in other ways, she knows about current events and politics. She doesn't care that glasses will mare her beautiful face so long as she can see. She has taken her inability to excel at certain things, like glamour, and developed her mind to compensate. Melody has evolved into this strong independent woman and if Jane looks a little bad in comparison, well, think how Melody has felt all these years being valued only for her beauty? Just another stereotype exploded in artful fashion by Mary Robinette Kowal. ...more
Jane and Vincent have become quite the powerful couple. Working side by side they have elevated Vincent's art, their art, to a new level. The Vincents are the toast of London, with the Prince Regent throwing a dinner in their honor in recognition of the magnificent grotto they have created for his opulent New Years festivities. Yet being a woman Jane is confined to societal expectations, and the lack of recognition that goes with it. Even newspapers articles praising the work done for the Prince Regent omit her entirely. Jane doesn't want to be easily pushed aside after dinner when the men sit and talk and the women "retire." Jane has no desire to retire! She wants to be next to Vincent discussing magic and politics and all the things that matter in the world, not shut up in some parlor till the men deign to come to them! These after dinner traditions make her realize more then anything how lucky she is to have found Vincent, who views her as his equal.
The question of how to follow up their success leads them to consider a different path. They have some freedom at the moment and they never did have a honeymoon... With the continent recently open for travel with the exile of Napoleon, Vincent suggests a visit to his fellow glamourist, M. Chastain in Belgium. Not only has M. Chastain created a school for glamourists, but he has created a new technique that Vincent longs to see for himself. To travel with her husband and be surrounded by others able to work their craft and to perhaps learn more than she was able to learn herself is a dream come true to Jane. Though the journey there is not without peril. The continent is not as safe as they had hoped. Troops are rallying for Napoleon and it is rumored that he shall escape Elba and make an attempt on reclaiming his throne.
Being surrounded by glamour is inspirational to Jane and she stumbles upon an idea while playing with M. Chastain's daughter on the steps inside the house. What if you could capture a glamour in glass, thus making it portable? In particular, what if they tried it with Vincent's Sphere Obscurcie, which makes a person invisible, but only in a fixed location. The Vincents don't see this revelation as anything that could be used as a tactical benefit in armed combat, but others do. This discovery could mean defeat or victory at the hands of Napoleon. A discovery the Bonapartists would gladly kill for. Though the return of Napoleon isn't the only hitch that has been thrown into Jane's world. She has discovered she has a condition that will not allow her to work glamour. She is with child. Will Vincent still love her if they are no loner able to work side by side and she where to become a more traditional wife? As she quickly sees, Vincent is already keeping secrets from her and not confiding as much as he used to now that she is no longer with him at all times. Yet, when Vincent is threatened Jane might be the only one able to save him.
The declaration of my adoration of Glamour in Glass that started the first review I wrote of this book almost three years back now hasn't changed. As I return to this series I am even more enamoured of the world these books have created. Each installment in this series just finds me more and more enthralled. Instead of just continuing on the trajectory she created in Shades of Milk and Honey, making more Austenesque books, Mary instead delves deeper into the time creating a richer tapestry then Jane Austen ever did. While the mix of magic and the Regency world was what captured me initially, Mary has added in a level of French history that I am always drawn to, ie, the despotic wacko, Napoleon. How could you not love magic and deceit and Napoleonic spies? Napoleon and his hundred days, sigh. It is literally in my blood to be drawn to his time period. My great great great however many greats needs to be there, relative was a high muckety-muck for Napoleon, François Joseph Lefebvre, the Duc de Danzig. Family legend always had it that he had actually abandoned Napoleon during the hundred days, turns out, that wasn't quite the case... but, well, would you like to say you rallied to him? At least François's portrait is still at Versailles...
But the history is just a richness and plot contrivance that aids the deeper themes of the book; that of love and passion. As Vincent has shown to Jane, the most wonderful, the most true art is seated in our passions. The true artist thrives on their emotions and is driven by them. This passion makes us artists capable of things we didn't even think we could do, and I'm not just saying pulling a week of all-nighters sewing beads on a David Bowie puppet, though I have done that. Glamour in Glass pointedly shows how much our passions are able to push us beyond what we thought we could endure and achieve. Being driven by their passions leads to Jane and Vincent's new discoveries and new techniques, such as literally incising glamour into glass to create a portable invisibility field. But the heart of the matter is in their connection, their passion for each other. Because of this Jane is able to save her husband's life, quite literally. She is driven to create an elaborate and ultimately successful rescue attempt for Vincent all by herself because her ingenuity and drive is powered by her passion.
It is this love and passion that is so achingly perfect. When I think of what true love means, the marriage of true minds, it is the love embodied by Jane and Vincent. Jane is chaffed by the restrictions of her sex, she is a modern and amazingly capable woman who is not of her time. Vincent sees this and loves this in her. They are a modern couple who defy the expectations and mores of the time they live in. Vincent is even willing to buck the Prince Regent so that Jane can partake in after-dinner conversation instead of retiring to her designated seat in the parlor with the other women. They rely on and support each other in a way that makes the heart ache to have something so precious. Their love is so strong that they aren't shoved into the stereotypical romance tropes where the damsel in distress is rescued by the knight on a white steed in shining armor. Their love allows Jane to be the rescuer.
It is this love and passion that is what will last of their legacy. Because what interests me about their chosen art form is it's transient nature. A Glamoural is almost performance art. It is pulled from the ether and will one day return. It is fixed, it cannot move, and is meant to be an adornment that can easily be changed, almost as easy as redecorating. I can't help but think of the three months that Vincent and Jane spent creating the grotto for the Prince Regent's ball. It is a one night spectacle. Created for a single event and then it will be torn asunder. Gone in a flash to be replaced by the next sensation. The thing that always drew me to sculpt and build and paint was that after you were done you had something physically left over. Some tangible proof of your exertions. But then I started doing theatre, and in theatre you build something, you sweat and toil and in the end, after the run, you tear it all down. This was so hard for me to accept. To willingly destroy what you had made because the time limit was done. So while I ponder the inevitability and the end of all things, at least the love of Jane and Vincent lives on in Mary's "Histories". Their love is one for the ages. ...more
Jane and Melody Ellsworth are as different as two sisters can be. Jane is starting to accept the inevitability of her spinsterhood. At 28, there is no hope of finding a husband, particularly when Mr. Dunkirk, the man who holds a special place in her heart, is also the object of Melody's affections. Jane knows her beauty is no match to Melody's. Even if Jane is adept in the magical arts and can make the most fabulous glamours and illusions, she herself knows that men prefer beauty over brains. But more importantly, she would never stand in the way of Melody's happiness. Soon the small group of friends in Dorchester receives a few additions to their ranks. Mr. Dunkirk's younger sister Beth arrives, but the withdrawn and sallow young girl with a mysterious past is nothing to what is happening at the Viscountess's. Not only is her favorite, and need it be said, dashing, nephew, Captain Livingston, is arriving after years away, but she has also hired the famous Glamourist Mr. Vincent to make a wooded wonderland of her dining hall.
Soon everyone is coming and going between the homes with dinners and strawberry picnics, and all manner of enjoyments. Jane starts to hope that perhaps her sisters affections for Mr. Dunkirk are waning, as Jane befriends his sister and starts to hope that he might indeed have feelings for her, not Melody. The course of love never runs smooth though, neither does felicity between sisters. Melody and Jane have a falling out because Melody is willing to do anything to ensnare her man, even fain injury. Can talent and brains when out over conniving beauty? Or will the answer to true happiness be something and someone different than Jane ever thought.
Shades of Milk and Honey is like the best possible Jane Austen mash-up, drawing threads from her entire oeuvre. It's like if Elinor and Marianne had a major falling out with secret engagements to multiple parties. Then on top of everything, throw in some magic! The book is very much a slow burn. For a long time you just enjoy the routine of the characters very much pulled from the pages of Austen. The domesticity of everyday life is here on the pages for us to fall into. But instead of just painting or working on embroidery, the characters are using magic to enhance the world around them. There are the dances, there are the grand diners, and there are the arguments over fabrics at the modiste. Yet under the guise of Jane Austen fanfiction, like the threads of ether invisible to the naked eye used in a glamour, Mary Robinette Kowal is not only building an ending that packs a punch with the sheer number of Austenian endings happening simultaneously, but a deeper story about art and passion and love.
The magical element has this book being categorized as in the vein of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. While I can see the connections, one couldn't with two books both set in Regency England and employing the use of magic, but I think they are truly very different.Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell has a far more faerie aspect. But more then that, for all the comparisons to Austen, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a far more masculine book with female undercurrents. Whereas Shades of Milk and Honey is derived more directly from Austen and stays within the female sphere. In fact, I will assert that, despite being of the same subset genre of the other Regency Magic books out there, Shades of Milk and Honey is so uniquely its own that it sets itself apart by the cunning deviations of magical usage.
In all the books I've read over the past few months set during this time and dealing with magic, the magic itself has practical applications. The magic is used for defeating foes, vanquishing Napoleon, this is, after all, the prime time to vanquish him, and other active endeavors. Now I'm not saying that the magic system here won't try to embrace this down the road, I have after all read this series before, but in this first volume the magic doesn't have many practical uses, magic is just art. Magic, or, as I should say, glamour, is just another womanly art, to be lumped in with embroidery, painting, and playing the piano. In fact glamour can enhance these already existing arts with subtle touches. Glamour is a home art, and is a skill that is recommended for a good wife to have. A way to add those special touches that make a house a home. The fact that it is womanly, finally giving a legitimate reason for women to swoon, is also why Mr. Vincent's chosen profession as Glamourist causes consternation to his family.
But Mr. Vincent understands the heights to which glamour can reach, and it's Jane's embracing of this revolutionary knowledge, to her, that calls out to the artist in me. The truth is anyone, given time, can become proficient in art or music. They can be technically wonderful, but that is all there is. Every key may be hit, every brushstroke executed to perfection, and yet there is something missing. This is what Mr. Vincent sees in Jane's art. Her studying and her interest in dissecting Vincent's work has given her technical perfection. But without the passion, without the raw emotions channeled into the art, then it can never be moving, it can never take a good artist and make them great. That passion inside you is what makes you strive, makes you see something and be inspired. Makes you always trying, learning, doing. There's a reason the greatest artists are caricatured as being passionate and emotional people, because deep down, if you don't have this, you won't make it.
The love and passion of art that the character of Mr. Vincent embodies is what pulls you into the story. It's as if Darcy and Elizabeth where dueling artists where their passion was expounded upon more, a Regency Zelda and F. Scott if you will. Jane's development from a retiring spinster to passionate artist because of the revelations gleaned from Mr. Vincent's journal literally took my breath away with it's beauty, simplicity, and passion. The scene where Jane gives way to all those bottled up emotions and creates the grove of trees in her room, it brought tears to my eyes. Taking an art form that during this time period was just an accomplishment for a young lady to possess as she is made the prefect meek wife and channeling that into a way to express all those bottled up and repressed emotions makes passionate glamour perhaps the most magical discovery of all. ...more
Charlotte has been waiting at Girdings for her knight in shining armour to come, just like those glorious murals depicting her ancestors bravely battlCharlotte has been waiting at Girdings for her knight in shining armour to come, just like those glorious murals depicting her ancestors bravely battling their foes on long gone battlefields or the books she consumes copiously. She even has her own dragon with her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale. Then on Christmas Eve, out of the snow, Robert returns. Fleeing the family home for India all those years ago, the Duke of Dovedale returns like a knight returning from a long crusade in the Holy Land. Charlotte instantly starts framing her world in her rose tinted way with a happy ending of hunting unicorns with jam tarts and kissing Robert in the sun, never mind it's bleak midwinter and her grandmother has surrounded her with rogues and dimwits in a final attempt to marry her off. The worst of the lot being Francis Medmenham, descendant of the nefarious founder of the Hellfire Club. But why did Robert return? Is he here to court fair maiden? Or does he have darker designs... he has taken to Medmenham rather fast. But of course it is all a misunderstanding wherein Robert is out for revenge but he can't let the fair maiden know of his deceit. Breaking her heart for her own good, Robert sinks deeper into Medmenham's world while Charlotte is bustled off to court to wait on the Queen. But following a startling discovery and evidence that the King is going mad once again, Charlotte takes on her own causes for King and Country. Could it be that Robert's nemesis and the men behind Charlotte's uncovered plot are connected? If only through libraries and boat rides and dark tunnels used for darker purposes Charlotte and Robert could work together and not fret about what if's, might have beens and almost kisses, maybe they could save England.
Oddly enough both times I've read this book I've set it down for sometime and then come back to it. I can't really explain why I do this, but I just do. More than any character Lauren has written I identify with Charlotte, and maybe that's why I set this book down, I know what I'd do, so Charlotte would do the same. While the relatablity is strong, there's too much of a closeness, I find I enjoy characters who are less like me. For example Pen, I am nothing like Pen, but give me more Pen please! The characters are flawed, but they're nobly flawed. For a book with the Hellfire Club there is a noticeable lack of dirtiness. I love Medmenham and wish he had just taken over the book and been lewd and crude and maybe slaughtered a few unicorns. Wow... that went to a dark place. Maybe I just haven't been in the fairy tale frame of mind when I think of spies and can't handle the goody goody and want me some Mary and Vaughn. Snark and evil, that's what this book needed a little bit of to balance the good. Everyone needs balance....more
Letty and Mary Alsworty are as different as two sisters can be. At a frizzy haired five foot, Letty will never be like her statuesque sister. And sheLetty and Mary Alsworty are as different as two sisters can be. At a frizzy haired five foot, Letty will never be like her statuesque sister. And she would NEVER run off in the middle of the night for a midnight elopement with Geoffry Pinchingdale-Snipe. She might try to stop the elopement with all good intentions, but never elope herself. Until fate intervenes and she's the one being spirited away in the night to a rendezvous with a certain member of the peerage. Geoff, being Geoff, marries the sister whose reputation he inadvertently ruined. He might see her as a conniving and manipulative upstart who took her chance when the opportunity afforded itself, but at least his obligations to the Pink Carnation mean that he can hare off to Ireland and put some space between his broken heart and his unwanted bride. Practical Letty for once doesn't know what to do. She's been the one who has always taken care of her family and has never had a spot of bother. Now she's married to a man who has vanished and he hasn't let her explain what really happened. A little drunk, she gets the first packet out of London to follow Geoff to Ireland. But an unwanted wife in England is a completely different situation to an unwanted wife in Ireland interfering with his mission and the threat of a French and Irish alliance. Begrudgingly taking Letty into his confidences with one Pink Carnation named Jane Wolliston and one parasol wielding pyromaniac in the making, Miss Gwen, they all try to muddle through for the good of England. But add a dangerous cousin on the prowl for Geoff's title, Lord Vaughn, who's every word has double and triple entendres, and evidence that the Black Tulip is at it again, things might be trickier than anyone thought. Can this all be untangled and England saved? Because maybe fate intervened for a reason and Letty is the sister Geoff should have been wooing all along. But back in the present Eloise has an even more pressing problem. Can she get a certain Colin Selwick to call her and set up a date?
Whenever I think of this series of books as a whole I've always thought that The Deception of the Emerald Ring was the weak point. Maybe it was that here we have another idealistic, King and Country couple who are good and sweet and pure, who have just some misunderstandings to overcome and then everything will be as right as rain. On re-reading the book I realized I couldn't have been more wrong. I loved it. This time, not reading it just for Colin and Eloise, I realized that this book had so much more. Not only do we get the fun of having Lord Vaughn around with his ambiguous alliances, but we get Miss Gwen and her formidable parasol. We also get to see the inner workings of one Jane Wooliston, alias, the Pink Carnation's organization. We see how she's able to morph into other people, other lives, so that she is a force to be reckoned with. Those Frenchies better watch out! But what I love most about this book is how it takes the unsatisfactory resolution as to who the Black Tulip is and gives a far more plausible explanation with more depth and more terror. To not have just one sadistic spy, but sadists working for a criminal mastermind makes more sense that the Marquise ever did. She mistook Turnip for the Pink Carnation! I'm sorry, but anyone who could think that doesn't deserve to be a criminal mastermind. A pawn though... totally suited for a pawn. ...more
Robert Doniger and his company ITC make components for MRI machines. Or at least that's what everyone thinks. ITC though has a vast portfolio of different investments, one of them is an archaeological site in the south of France on the Dordogne River. The site is lead by Professor Edward Johnston and his team; André Marek, a man who wishes he lived in the period he studies, Chris Hughes, who is like a son to Johnston and specializes in studying mills, Kate Erickson, an architect student who has transferred to the study of history, and David Stern, their resident geek. The site is thrown into uproar when a representative from ITC comes to do the yearly inspection of the site and makes references to things that the researchers themselves don't even know about. Johnston demands an audience with Doniger and returns with the representative to New Mexico.
Days go by and Professor Johnston isn't in communication with his team when in the ruins of the monastery they find a note from him saying that he is in 1357 and needs help. Everyone thinks it's a joke until all the tests prove that it is legit. Marek contacts ITC to question them about this development and he is told to pack his bags and pick three other team members, they are to be on a plane to New Mexico in the next hour. With Chris, Kate, and David all onboard, they are let into the big secret that ITC has been carefully guarding. ITC has developed time travel, of a sort. Really it's traveling to different times in parallel dimensions, but that is how they knew so much about the site in southern France, they'd been there when the castles weren't ruins; and due to a little accident, Professor Johnston is there now and has no way back. ITC thought it prudent to send back the only people who know the site and know what the Professor would be doing, aka his team. ITC convinces them to go on this rescue mission, but they cleverly omit the dangers and risks that the team will face and the fact that not everyone might come back alive or at all.
By 1999 I was a true Michael Crichton junky. I had powered through his whole back catalog and aside from a few blips here and there I adored every single volume. Sadly, having read all his books I could do nothing but re-read my favorites while waiting for the next book to come out. And when Timeline came out in November of 1999 I didn't see it for what it was; the beginning of the end. While two of his future books would come to be my most hated of all Crichton's books, Timeline was the one that started the slide in quality. By all accounts I should have loved this book. It's time travel, it's knights, it's amazing new technology, it's a snooze. I remember struggling through this book. Over a month after I had bought it as I unwrapped my Christmas presents I asked my parents to be excused from going to the relatives for our traditional holiday festivities. I was damned if I would waste more time on this book so I resolved to power through it all Christmas day so that at the end of it I could revel in my new books and move on. I curled up on my couch and before my parents even got home I had finally finished Timeline. And in 2004 before the movie came out I struggled through it again. And now, despite my history with this book, I braved it's pages once more and can say that yes, it doesn't improve. Even a decade didn't improve it one little bit, aside from reaffirming my desire to never be transported via beams or lasers. In fact, I think I found Timeline even more annoying this time around.
The overall problem with this book is that it hinges on a faulty premise. There is NO REASON for the grad students to rescue their professor. What's in it for them? Up until his disappearance into the past he's had a total of about two lines and we're supposed to believe that these four students are willing to sacrifice their lives for him? Why? Is he really that awesome? Chris, who views him as a father figure might have some reason, and he's the most hesitant! But other then that there is NO REASON. Stern made the right choice. Stay behind, survive. But the lack of character development isn't just in Professor Johnston, though he is the most obvious. None of the characters are developed in any tangible way. They are astonishingly ignorant and two dimensional, so much so that I have no idea how they even got into grad school. Here's the evil English warlord, here's the female grad student who can be independent, but when a man rescues her she'll swoon and think about marriage and happily ever afters. There is no depth, no development, no reason to root for these characters and hope they make it back to their own time.
The two dimensionality extends into the worldbuilding, as in, here's a cookie cutter Medieval World, go play in it. For all the trash talk of Disney and immersive experiences, I gotta say, I think Disney would do a better job then Doniger and ITC. Disney would at least have a PROPER MAP! I mean, I thought that I had misremembered and that my compass disorientation was because I wasn't paying attention to the included map, but I was wrong! It's the book, not me! At one point the Green Chapel is in the woods to the east about two miles, later it's only a quarter mile to the north? Geographic orientation be damned! Plus how are they getting so easily across the river when there aren't that many boats? Plus all the knights and lords are so basic you can't tell one apart from the other. Plus which castle is which? Their names are bandied about and switched so much that not only is this novel really really flat, but also confusing as hell. It's just adding problems one on top of the other for readers, plus, plus, plus. Plus for the first hundred or so pages, it just made my head hurt.
Re-reading this book after so long I realized it's like a really bad episode of Doctor Who without The Doctor; but not cool like "Blink" but lame like "Love and Monsters." Oh, and give him the worst companions ever, lets say Mickey, Adric, and Peri. So, it's Mickey, Adric, and Peri wandering around and killing people left and right and getting no closer to saving The Doctor because their combined stupidity is so staggering you are blown away. But even if The Doctor wasn't present look at the name of the show, Doctor Who! He is the driving force, much like Professor Johnston should be but isn't. Yes, this book came out in 1999, but the thing is time travel and science fiction already had set expectations for a narrative that had nothing to do with re-launching Doctor Who. The readers of this genre are smart and savvy. We expect the best out of a book we're expending our time on. The thing that struck me most is that this is really time travel for dummies. It's like The Da Vinci Code, written with the masses in mind, not bothering with those readers who might actually have an intellect.
Which brings me to the fact that I am capable of independent thought and therefore I will now poke holes in Crichton's theory of time travel. Can we really call it time travel? He even says it's more like space travel, because you are not going back along your own timeline, but you're crossing over into a parallel dimension that is almost but not quite the same. Which means we get into a paradox of parallel universes. How do they know that they can effect their timeline? If they aren't in their universe how can they A) be sure it's historically accurate and B) get the note from the professor. To tackle A, let's look at the mill. Chris is surprised to see the mill has four not three wheels as he thought. What if the difference between our universe and the one they go to is just that there's one more water wheel? Chris, hard as it may be to believe, might be right. As for B, how exactly did the professor know they were going to find his note for help? He's in another freakin' universe! The fact is small differences in dimensions would really add up which in turn makes the book not add up. Yes, I am probably over thinking this, but I just want it to be better, to be so much more, not Medieval Dan Brown! But I think I have proven beyond a doubt that re-reading Timeline can't magically change what's written. ...more
Edie Burchill has never had much of a connection with her mother, Meredith. They don't have a special bond or share the deepest secrets of their lives, in fact Edie hasn't told her mom yet that she and Jamie have split up months previously. Therefore it shouldn't come as a surprise that her mom has kept secrets from her as well. One of those secrets is that she was evacuated to Milderhurst Castle during WWII. There she was looked after by the Blythe sisters, the twins, Percy and Saffy, and their much younger sister Juniper, who was like a sister to Meredith. A long lost letter brings this one revelation of Meredith's past out into the open and Edie can't help but be fascinated.
After visiting a prospective author for the publishing company she works for, Edie gets lost on her way home and stumbles on Milderhurst Castle. It seems as if fate has brought her to these gates all these years after her mother entered them. She soon learns that all the sisters are still in residence, older, and in Juniper's case, insane. Juniper lost her mind the night her fiance jilted her in 1941. Edie also learns that the sisters are the daughters of Raymond Blythe, the author of The True History of the Mud Man, a classic and Edie's favorite book growing up. Astounded by all these coincidences Edie ventures into Milderhurst, not telling the siblings that she is Meredith's daughter. The secrets of the past start to unravel with Edie's arrival and the time has come for the truth to be told, especially about what really happened that stormy night in 1941.
I have come to the conclusion that Kate Morton is a writer that I love in theory but not in practice. I see these big doorstop novels about secrets and lies, where the truth about the past is teased out and revealed to us in the present and think, yes please, I'd like to read that. But expectation and reality have never met in this case of all of Morton's books save one, I did begrudgingly like The Secret Keeper to an extent. The problem is I keep thinking about what might have been, how things might have twisted and turned to make a tauter story, one that didn't leave me thinking a couple of hundred pages in why exactly was it that I picked up this book in the first place and then heroically pushing on to the finish. A finish that I have long ago seen coming.
My main problem I think is that all Morton's books seem to be slightly different stories told with the same building blocks. Older person who may be dying has secret that will change younger person's outlook on life. Commence the lugubrious ferreting out of the truth that has a fifty fifty chance of being hidden in a children's book and will definitely have a nice house in it, even if at this present time it's gone to rack and ruin. Peeling wallpaper, forgotten childhood memories, love where you least expect it. Sound familiar? It should if you've read any of Morton's books. Yes, the books tap into a common zeitgeist of wanting to look into our past and our ancestry to find answers to our lives, but there's only so many ways to tell this story and unless Morton starts to radically change her tune she will be stuck in this rut forever. I can oddly see her writing a book about her own predicament in fact...
Aside from constantly rewriting the same story in different ways The Distant Hours suffers not from comparison to Morton's other works but by the sheer bleakness of the story. This is not a happy story folks. This story will leave you a sad sack just thinking about wasted opportunities and how potential can just wither and die on the vine. Those poor Blythe sisters! I wonder if Morton set out to see just how Brontësque she could make her book with lost loves and ravaging fires and didn't pull back from the manuscript at any time and think, hey, maybe I should temper this Emily vibe I've got going with a little Charlotte? So while this book is Brontës to the max, it's just too depressing. Therefore, unless you've some masochistic desire to wallow in despair, just let me slap this book out of your hands right now.
Though in fairness, it isn't all unremitting horror and despair. We have Edie to counter that. Edie, the idiot. First I want to do a mini rant on the avatar of the reader in a book, so bare with. As readers, there is usually someone we connect to, someone who is our conduit into the narrative. A hero, heroine, antihero, whomever it is, it's someone to be our guide. Now the guide can be a little guileless, because, like them, we are coming into the story for the first time. We are just as clueless as they are, unless they are messing with us in the "unreliable narrator" trope, but that's a different kettle of fish. You, as the writer, want us, the reader, to be able to connect with your narrator and with your story. One way to guarantee that this will never happen is to have a self amused imbecile as our avatar. Writing her thoughts in a cutesy self referential way all the while showing herself to have a cranium full of nothing.
In fact, Edie's brainpan might be filled with less then nothing. Her head is a vacuum that sucks in information that promptly disappears forever. She is oblivious of the world around her. She has a totally unrealistic and fantastical job that only the true idiot heroine can get because she couldn't survive in the real world. Blindingly obvious deductions come as revelations to her hundreds of pages too late. And of course those hundreds of pages are filled with nothing but deathly boring prologue to the events of the evening of October 29th, 1941.
If it wasn't so obvious that Edie was an idiot I'd put down her lack of deductive reasoning to the plodding pace of the narrative, maybe she just fell asleep? In fact, sleeping might have been a better use of my time. As I finish my rant there's just so much in my brain that I want to scream at Morton, show don't tell, Mud Man, ugh, just no. Too many thoughts verses Edie's too few. But the final nail in the stupidity coffin for me was that somehow Edie got her hands on a first edition of Jane Eyre, retail about $50,000, and what does she do with this sacred book? She takes it on a coffee date!?! Excuse me!?! She did what? There's not hope for her. No more. Begone foul spirit! ...more
Edda and Grace, Tufts and Kitty, two sets of twins and all inseparable sisters. While they appear to have a perfect life they are thwarted by conventions and by expectations from their dear mama. Kitty has suffered the worst, being the beauty of the family her outward appearance clashed with her inner retiring nature resulting in several suicide attempts. Edda views it as imperative that they get out from under the thumb of their mother in order that they can have fulfilling lives. Women in Australia can now train to be nurses and the local hospital in Corunda, with the encouragement of the girl's father, is willing to take on the four sisters. It's hard but satisfying work, with all the sisters, save Grace, finding that this could be their true calling. Grace is the first to get married and leave the hospital. It was love at first sight for her and Bear. Soon the girls have to choose between love and a career, or a precarious balance of both. Times are tough and nothing is easy, especially in a world made for men, not women.
I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't know who Colleen McCullough was. Her book The Thorn Birds was not only a phenomenal bestseller, but the miniseries adaptation was one of my late Uncle's favorite shows ever. This is, of course, the man who bragged my entire life that the last movie he paid to see in theaters was The Name of the Rose and decided that nothing could compare after that so he closed his mind. Despite being a fan of The Name of the Rose, his seal of approval actually had me avoiding The Thorn Birds in any form for my entire life. So, despite knowing all about her, Colleen McCullough has been a part of my life without really being a part of it. Until now. I should have left well enough alone.
Don't let the talented graphic designers fool you by their pretty cover, this book is painfully bad. Rage reading bad. Full of bad cliched writing and stereotypes. Repetitive to the point where I wanted to pull out my hair. Did Colleen ever learn that you shouldn't keep repeating the same words in a paragraph? No she didn't. Or maybe she just has a very tiny vocabulary to go with her tiny mindset on the place of women, more on that to come! Oh, and all love is love at first sight? Seriously? Yet the pinnacle of this atrocious writing is that I got to know the sisters moods very intimately by the color of their eyes. Blurg. Every five seconds it's Kitty's eyes are now sparking violet, Edda's eyes are going green. Are their eyes freaking psychedelic rainbows? In fact, in this relatively short book (despite how long it felt, 352 pages is relatively short) eyes are mentioned 236 times! Eyes are mentioned on 67% of the pages! Just no.
Yet what just got under my skin like an immovable tick was that despite starting this book out with four independent women and an apparent feminist bent it very quickly went on to show that women need men and can rarely handle hard thinking and need a husband to complete them. WTF! Why would you destroy such a strong and powerful message by having each character only find happiness once she was married? These women were trailblazers, fighting to have their own lives away from parents, learning skills often reserved only for men, to then give it all up for what? Men who weren't nice and controlled them? Seriously, what's going on here? Why did this book go to cliches and limp-wristed writing? How can anyone justify saying this to an amazing and competent nurse: "Kitty, life never meant you to be a children's nurse. Your life means you to have children of your own!" Gag me now.
But Kitty's domestic fate isn't the worst held in store for the sisters. Oh no, not by a long shot. That fate belongs to Edda. Edda the invincible. Edda who wanted to be a doctor. Edda who wants to travel and be amazing. What becomes of Edda? She becomes a fag hag. Now I don't mean this derogatorily I'm just saying what is true, this is what Colleen McCullough did to her most powerful character, she made her need a man, but because Edda wanted more she needed a man who wouldn't threaten her sexuality or ambitions. Edda was at a point in her nursing career where she was at the top of her field and was scared to take that leap to be a doctor, despite wanting that originally and being thwarted by an evil step-mother. So truthfully, she could have become a doctor on her own impetus. But it takes her finding a gay politician in need of a wife for her to get to medical school. Seriously, WTF. Even worse, at the end she's obviously fallen in love with her husband and is now trapped in a marriage to a man whose nature can never give her what she now wants. Thanks for destroying the independent Edda in the most vicious and heartbreaking way possible Colleen.
From idiot girls to politics, this book doesn't just go downhill fast, it plunges itself off a cliff. I'm not the biggest fan of politics as it is, Australian politics during the depression? There is no way in hell this will ever interest me that I can think of. What is worse though is by aligning the politics with the most hated character in the book even if the politics didn't bore you to tears you'd grow to hate them because of Charles Henry Burdum. Charlie, I'm going to call him Charlie because he hates it, is the most controlling, possessive, jealous dumb ass with a Napoleon complex to ever be written. I am still baffled that Kitty was somehow bamboozled into marriage with him because from his first appearance in this book I wanted to throw him under the train he road in on. He isn't an anti hero, he is a douche. And in true douche manner he came in and took over the book and what little ray of feeble light that was trying to shine through was blocked out by this diminutive dumbass. But in the end, I hated all the characters, I hated the message, and I definitely hated this book, so I think I should just move on. When's the next boat out of Melbourne? ...more
The Inghams and the Swanns are inseparable. For hundreds of years the Swanns have served their noble lieges becoming more like family then staff. Their children are brought up together and their bonds are unbreakable. Those bonds will be tested when a horrific attack on the Earl's most precious daughter, Lady Daphne, brings danger to the very heart of Cavendon. The Swanns close ranks to protect Lady Daphne from any further threats, even her own family if necessary. But danger doesn't just circle the family, the world is on the brink of war. Can these two families in crisis come together to help each other through the horrors they have to face and the dangers to come? Or will their bonds start to fray?
Sometimes you need to go to a happy, if unbelievable place, where the moon is always full and servants are like family, just to take you away from your cares. Where everyone loves everyone else, though perhaps a little too much with the incestuous nature between the Inghams and the Swanns. I almost expected them to start quoting that other famous resident of Yorkshire, Emily Brontë, by saying of the Inghams and the Swanns, "whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same." This isn't high art or great literature like Emily, this is pure fun, like Downton Abbey on crack, without the constant threat of one of the Bateses ending up in the clink. These magical happy pills make even the worst situation not only bearable, but work for everyones benefit and eventual happiness. Though seriously, I would like to know how there's always a full moon.
Cavendon Hall does suffer from an unevenness. Most of this has to do with pacing, but also how it's stylistically written and sometimes falls prey to self aggrandisement. Tackling the later, I really would like other authors opinions on quoting yourself. Each part of the book begins with a series of quotes from Shakespeare to Tennyson to Emma Harte. Emma Harte? As in A Woman of Substance Emma Hart? Yes, Barbara Taylor Bradford just quoted herself. By placing this quote with actual quotable greats I can't tell if she's just using something to hand that she thinks works or is trying to elevate her art to a new level? Either way, it seems a bit shady to quote your own characters in a setting that isn't tongue-in-cheek. Makes me think she's more then a little full of herself... but if any of my author friends would like to weigh in I would love to hear what they have to say.
As for the unevenness, it's not just that she occasionally switches up her writing style to be hyper sexual for a paragraph only to revert to her staid writing style of every other page, but the way time is handled is troublesome. Two years take up the first 279 pages while the final 126 pages is six years. So there's this nice introduction, we get to know everyone and become a part of their daily lives to have it all then whoosh past us at light speed. I'm not sure if it's that Barbara Taylor Bradford just didn't want to handle WWI in detail or what. I would say it almost felt as if she was sick of telling her story, but seeing as this is a series with the next book coming out in March, she couldn't be sick of her characters already if she's writing even more about them? But I think this can be a universal gripe to all authors, don't make us fall in love with your characters and then shift focus and gloss over things. Stay consistent within the narrative. All your books don't have to be the same, just the one you're currently writing should be consistent. And if it ends up a doorstop of a novel, so be it, I'll read it.
What I feel is the driving narrative of the book is also in my mind one of the biggest issues. This is, of course, Lady Daphne's rape at the very beginning of the book. Rape is a hard issue to deal with sensitively and properly. Just look at last season of Downton Abbey where Anna's rape split the audience with those who just didn't want more misery for Anna to those who thought the rape storyline was brave, and finally to those who thought the storyline was just handled insensitively. With such a hot button topic it has become rather inappropriately in my mind a way to add drama and spice to a story. When in doubt have your strong female character attacked and assaulted. To me this just seems like a convenience versus a real desire to tackle the issue.
Even in writing about the events in the book I feel uncertain as to how to describe the event critically. The attack and the cover up that surrounds it to me smacks of not wanting to confront something horrible, but wanting to make it like it never happened. This is where my problem lies. The stigma of speaking out. Yes, this was a different time period and "reputation" was the be all end all, but still... this is a problem that still exists and even "period" literature that holds this opinion of silence being the best solution just adds to the problem.
And while the rape and it's repercussions does drive the story, it's how Barbara Taylor Bradford built off this to create a greater atmosphere of fear that kept me reading. Taking the "pervert in the woods" and expanding his reach, showing the terror and fear his other sightings added to the story, this took the book further. I can't help thinking though that if this fear is removed, how will the next book have any tension or jeopardy to keep the spark of interest going in the reader. I also can't help but think if Lady Daphne had told all after her attack that a lot of other bad situations would have been avoided... perhaps Barbara Taylor Bradford was subtly saying that silence isn't the solution... then again, she could have just wanted to scare us and keep reading her book. Anything for the story right?...more
Matthew and Diana return from the past to find much changed and much the same as it ever was. There has been loses while they were gone, and they mustMatthew and Diana return from the past to find much changed and much the same as it ever was. There has been loses while they were gone, and they must morn them. But life goes on, as Diana's ever increasing belly shows. The time has come to find answers as the lives growing in Diana's belly depend on them. Matthew delves into the science side at Yale while Diana goes to England to find out the answers of Ashmole 782. New and old technologies are used to find out secrets of their supernatural kind. Secrets that will hopefully bring the Congregation to a new understanding of how the world works. Witches and vampires and demons are more alike then they are different and these similarities should be embraced not segregated. But in the end there will be a battle, but will it be political or will Matthew's dangerous past come back to haunt him?
The "All Souls Trilogy" baffles me. It has so much wasted potential but, like some other series that I have found middling, it has a fierce fanbase that I don't want to rile, as well as a few close friends. This is the same fanbase that can see no wrong in Outlander, the forty year old women who will beat you to death if you say anything against Jamie Fraser. I just don't get it. Maybe I'm just not at the point in my life where this reaches out and touches something deep in my soul, instead I'm sticking by my opinion that this is Twilight for middle aged women. Before I actually read this installment I was excited for the conclusion of this series. Shadow of Night really captured my interest with it's historical bent, but sadly this volume decided to focus on science versus history. The mess this resulted in felt like Michael Crichton writing YA. The writing was clumsy with the shift from Diana's first person narration to Matthew's third person narration. The ending was a trite cliche with an extremely unrealistic HEA. In fact, was there actually enough to merit the moniker "book" when anything of interest was unresolved and everything seemed like it could be summed up in an afterword?
Now for the fun part. The part where I take apart The Book of Life and point at everything that drove me crazy. Shall we start with Stevie Nicks? I think we shall. What the hell is it with Stevie Nicks and witches? Yes she's rumored to be one, but she denies it so often and then does an about turn that you could get whiplash. But the fact of witches identifying with her music has gotten to a point in our culture where it's so cliched that to use it you seriously are going to incur my wrath. It just shows a laziness that you can't think of something more interesting and will just rely on the stereotype. Wasn't this whole series trying to say that things are more complicated and confusing then what you'd expect? Well, that means I'd expect something better then Stevie Nicks. At least she didn't show up and do an extended music video in the middle of the book for absolutely no reason, thank you American Horror Story: Coven and Ryan Murphy for bringing me that cringe worthy moment in television history. That moment is also the first thing that popped in my mind while reading this book. Ug. Stop.
As Gallowglass says "This family was more fun when we had fewer medical degrees." Thank you Gallowglass, aka the one character I like, for pointing out the obvious. The characters zeal for scientifically researching the world of creatures and their problems, from studying blood rage to genomes to The Book of Life itself made me want to scream in frustration. I like the history, I don't like the science. Yes, in books that tackle supernatural beings we have to look at the world they now inhabit, the fact that DNA and genetics can uncover centuries old secrets, but do we need to do it in such detail? Let's all go to Yale and get a research grant and blah blah blah, blood rage, blah blah blah, babies, blah blah blah, what was I even talking about? Now I'm not saying science can't be interesting, but it's more interesting when it's real. When it's made up mumbo jumbo by an author that isn't that accomplished and has tons of plot holes and inconsistencies? No thanks.
But you know what's worse then science? Politics! I hate politics. I pay attention because it's what every good citizen should do. Also, I live in the epicenter of political evil right now, so, well, it's a main topic of conversation, as in, what stupid and illegal thing happened today? But do I want to read, watch, listen, osmose politics for fun? NO! Here we have ANOTHER book with an unnatural union being thwarted by a secret governing body that just doesn't get the world is changing. Again, Twilight much? Any urban fantasy author will tell Harkness that it's best to leave the overly political BS that governs your world off stage. Seriously, all those meetings in Venice where they were droning on and on about all the different species that Harkness has created I was more interested in the architecture. The boat rides to and from the meetings were more thrilling. How did she make Venice boring? Well, she made a lot of things boring and took a lot of pages to do it, so really, I shouldn't be that surprised.
Writing this review is making me realize why it took me a month to read this book. ME, who usually devours a book in a few days no matter the length. OK, let's get this over with. So, what annoyance shall I conclude with? Oh, how about Diana! At the beginning of this series Diana was the conduit for the reader. She was fairly normal, aside from the whole being a witch thing. But over time as her relationship with Matthew deepened, she has become something other then human, something more. She now has arrows and firedrakes and weaving IN HER ARM! Yes, it's kind of cool, but there's also the fact that she is totally unrelatable now. She's a superhero, so we can look up to her, but the truth is, do people really truly ever relate to superheroes? They might want to be them, but relatability isn't part of that. Maybe my whole problem with this book and it's fans is that I can't relate at all and perhaps it's better if we just keep our distance. ...more
Sally Fitzhugh spent all her time at Lady Climpson's Select Seminary dreaming of the day when she would leave Bath and get to go to all the balls sheSally Fitzhugh spent all her time at Lady Climpson's Select Seminary dreaming of the day when she would leave Bath and get to go to all the balls she could wish for instead of trying to get out of doing homework. Sally has been out a year and she never thought the time would come when she would be bored with this life she dreamed of. If things couldn't get worse the silly people of the ton are enraptured with Sally's friend Lizzy's step-mother's book, The Convent of Orsino, and a vampire craze has engulfed the little season this October. All the rumors of vampires and the occult are swirly around the newly returned Duke of Belliston. He has been absent since the death of his parents years prior and seems the perfect vampire, or so everyone is saying. Sally isn't one of them.
Sally was hoping that the arrival of her two dearest friends, Lizzy and Agnes, would enliven things, but their trio is now more a duo and Sally is feeling distinctly left out. At a party abutting the regal home of the Duke of Belliston, Sally takes a dare to walk over to his house, bored and assuming she won't be caught she strides straight into Lucien, the Duke himself. Events soon transpire to thrust these two together on a more daily basis... but is this relationship something the two of them might secretly hope for? Could Sally fall for a supposed vampire?
If you've never met Lauren, she's this little pepperpot of energy powered by caffeine that talks a mile a minute from topics ranging from the sex lives of socialites in Kenya to Cary Elwes in Ella Enchanted to her high school debates. She exudes such a fun and vibrant energy that her happiness and far ranging interests are contagious. While being a writer of historical fiction she is, in my mind, the exact opposite of the more staid and reserved "traditional" historical fiction authors out there, ahem Philippa Gregory. The reason for the comparison is that Lauren's bubbly enthusiasm carries over to her books. Lauren has the research and the facts down, she has the academic and scholarly aspects of Gregory, but it's her enthusiasm that makes her books so much more then a well written piece of historical fiction. Lauren's books are fun because she brings herself into the equation, perhaps a little more in this volume with Eloise's fate. She loves her characters and her stories with such zeal that you are carried along with her on a reading adventure that you won't forget.
Lauren doesn't take herself too seriously and she is able to have fun with the historical genre while deftly skewering it at the same time with wordplay and modern nudges and winks. Though the theatre major in me had a major chuckle over the "renaming" of Sheridan's The School for Scandal as The Tutelage of Scandal, it's really vampire literature that is most lovingly lambasted in The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla. Just the idea that Miss Gwen, that bane of all young gentleman with her pointy parasol, would be the Stephenie Meyer of her day is a hoot. But that Miss Gwen not only has the ton in a virtual vampire frenzy, but that she even has sparkly vampires, that Lauren is creating parodies on so many levels, from what it is to be an author, to an author's fanbase, all the way to all the different vampire iterations over the centuries, that you can't help but fall for this book. Add to that references to Monty Python's Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, to The Princess Bride, Lauren's willingness to takes liberties will make you smile inside and want to hold onto this series forever.
The fact that The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is such a strong entry in the Pink Carnation series means that next year when the final volume, The Lure of the Moonflower, is published the ending will be bittersweet because Lauren just keeps developing as a writer. Lauren has been able to avoid many of the pitfalls of long running series by having each book be some offshoot of the first volume. Main characters will reappear, but never in more then background rolls, while the previous background characters take center stage. I love Sally Fitzhugh taking center stage, and yes, that's because I have a great love for all the Fitzhughs. But beyond that she is such an interesting character (but let's not talk about the chickens) with an indomitable will for one so young.
Though it's the events Sally is thrust into that really gripped me. Because at the heart of all the Napoleonic spies and secret leagues, the core of this book is a murder mystery, with a random attack stoat. While the spy angle has always been important, the truth is, spies aren't for everyone. I think this volume will have a wider appeal then previous ones because of the apparent murder/suicide of the Duke of Belliston's parents. This mystery gave the book a greater urgency and made me devour it at a most rapacious rate. Come next year I don't know what I shall do once I finish reading that final volume... luckily until then I will occupy myself with re-reading all the books with The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla being one of the highlights....more
Julia Conley has inherited a house in England. A house on Herne Hill has been left to her by an unknown great-aunt. Julia and her father left England when she was six and her mother was killed in a car crash. Since her life in New York hasn't been going that well lately as one of the many unemployed, she decides to go to England and spend a few months sorting out the house and hopefully sorting out her life. For Julia who has viewed her family as just her and her father she finds it hard to come to gripes with the fact that this was where her mother came from and she still has family here with a few cousins, who of course feel slighted with great-aunt Regina's will. The more time Julia spends in the house the more she wishes she had been given the chance to know her great-aunt.
For Regina might have held the key to a lovely Pre-Raphaelite painting in one of the rooms of the house, which has a matching painting hidden deep at the back of one of the cupboards. Why was the one painting displayed and the other hidden? Who is this artist Gavin Thorne? Going back to 1849 we learn about the painter Gavin Thorne and his muse, Imogen Grantham, who happened to be the mistress of the house on Herne Hill and married to a wealthy and significantly older collector who was occasionally visited by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who doted on his historical relics. Yet why hide the painting? What connection does this painter and this wife have to Julia? More importantly, after 160 years can Julia find out?
Sometimes life is staggering in it's synchronicity. The very day that I received That Summer in the mail my Great-Aunt Vicki died. My family got the call that she had passed in her sleep and that the rest of the family was to descend on Madison to take care of her estate. My Great-Aunt was the last of the older generation, being preceded in death by all my Grandparents and even an Uncle. While sadly I have never been bequeathed a mysterious house, because she was the last of that generation I have gotten quite used to clearing out ancestral homes, my Grandparents farm having accumulated over a hundred years worth of ephemera, with sadly not a rare painting or a secret stash of cash in sight, but a random piano being used as a tool bench and much mouse effluvia. As I spent the following weeks sifting through the rooms of her house, picking what to keep and what to give away, I couldn't help but think of all the things I don't know about my family and where I come from. There is a strong ancestry bug that my family has, but I have not yet been bitten, and there's a part of me that keeps thinking, better now before it's too late.
The detritus is all we have left of our family's history. Random paintings around the house, Aunt so and so painted this, Cousin so and so did that one; just what if the painting was something more? What if the painting was a closely guarded secret that would unlock some mystery about yourself? The search for your own identity is caught up in the past, in where you come from. While Julia's search for what happened in her own past with her mother as well as to her ancestor's is something that might be uncommon, the search is something we can all identify with. Lauren has tapped into something deep within everyone, a longing to know where they're from in order to find out where they belong. This gives us a strong connection to the characters, we are on their journey with them and I wouldn't want it any other way.
While the time slip genre is nothing new, Lauren is able to create a more accessible story then some authors who mire their books in overly flowery details and descriptions that go on for so many pages you lose the thread of the story. This isn't to say the writing is sparse, it's exactly what it needs to be to conjure this world, no more and no less. Though there is a part of me that wishes at some time in the future Lauren would go all out and write a doorstop of a novel. Yet in Lauren's time slip she is able to capture the best of all worlds, with a little Kate Morton, a little Somewhere in Time, a nod to Du Maurier's Rebecca, a Keats Bridget Jones call out with a wink to Nancy Mitford's silly season. There are also echoes of Victorian literature, from Imogen's marriage mirroring Dorthea's in Middlemarch, to Gavin bringing a little of the John Thornton vibe from North and South. Yet these homages aren't derivative, they give us a touchstone for the time period but then become so distinctly their own story that while you remember the connections at the back of your mind they are inconsequential as the story takes on a life of it's own.
As for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, I will admit that this subject matter is what made me swoon when I heard over a year ago about Lauren's next planned stand alone. I think that I have adequately covered my love of them in previous posts and writings, but I will say that even in the BBC production of Desperate Romantics, they have always been a band apart. Outsiders who verged on Gods in their ways of self aggrandising each other and mythologizing their lives and works. They were Romantics in every sense of the word, demanding the capital letter "R". Yet Lauren brought them down off their pedestals. Packed into the snug sitting room on Herne Hill we see a human Rossetti with his schemes and ideas and his future spiraling out before him. The ways the Brotherhood sought out collectors of antiquities to give an authenticity to their paintings adds a realism to them and their works.
These men aren't Gods, no matter how many posters in English classrooms and dorm rooms might say otherwise, they are men. They have loved and lost and with Gavin we have a true romantic hero that is swoonworthy. And like all good writing, this one aspect of the book, the Brotherhood, it doesn't overpower the story, it compliments it, it strengthens and adds to it. You will fall into this book and even if you are just a fraction of a romantic the Pre-Raphaelite's were you will find yourself falling in love with both couples in the different time periods. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did, and if you're coming into this book from Lauren's Pink Carnation series, there are a few gems hidden in the book, but like these painters who would hide the Brotherhood's initials in their paintings, you might have to have a keen eye to spot them....more
I was really hoping for maybe something more historical about the amorous adventures of the monarchy and the Double Duchess... instead it's a cute litI was really hoping for maybe something more historical about the amorous adventures of the monarchy and the Double Duchess... instead it's a cute little story about Cora almost making a huge social blunder but being saved by a kindly tattoo artist... um... ok... not what I was expecting at all. Then it just seemed padded out with old ads from English Lords looking for American ladies with ready cash and the first two chapters of her book 'The American Heiress.' So skip this, read 'The American Heiress' instead....more
Charlotte Baird is a bit of an odd duck, even for an heiress. She would rather spend her time taking photographs and manipulating them then hunting for a suitable husband. That all changes when she meets Bay Middleton. This suave horseman sweeps her off her feet and steals her heart. But her brother and prospective sister-in-law are adamant to show her that Bay is an entirely unsuitable match. Charlotte could marry a Duke and to settle for the best seat in the county? It seems such a waste. Though Fred and Augusta's disapproval might not be so altruistic as to save Charlotte from a fortune hunter as it is to keep the wealth at their own disposal. For Bay's part he genuinely loves Charlotte but he is torn. He has been asked to pilot Sisi, the Empress of Austria, for the hunting season, and there's a connection between him and this royal that can not be denied. Yet, in order to win Charlotte, he must indeed deny Sisi.
I was never the girl who wanted a pony. Girls of a certain age split distinctly along the equine obsession line. Me, I wasn't a horse girl. Oh, I had plenty of friends in grade school who were obsessed and spent every day at school talking about the weekend when they'd get to ride their ponies. Not me. I can literally count the number of times I have been on a horse on one hand. One delicate fragile hand that I was convinced a horse would love to bite the fingers off of. See, while I wasn't a horse girl, my grandparents did live in the country so I got to visit their neighbor's horse Dr. Pepper all the time and feed him grass and tremble with fear as his teeth chomped down on the stalks in that death clamp. I know he would never have hurt me, but that experience combined with my inane classmates practically guaranteed that I would never want a pony; a state I'm sure my mom was happy with having grown up in the country with seriously horse obsessed girls.
The reason for me mentioning this predilection of mine is that The Fortune Hunter, while ostensibly about romance and intrigue, comes down to horses in the end. Bay and his horse Tipsy, the Grand National, the hunting, Sisi and her riding ability, all of this adds up to a fair amount of horse for one book. Yet, despite not being a horse person, I did not lose interest. Daisy makes the subject of horses approachable and not alienating. They weren't just there to be another facet of our characters, they were a driving force of these characters.
Unlike my insipid classmates going on about their pretty ponies, Daisy has crafted this story so that when Tipsy is mentioned you don't tune out. She doesn't dwell on irrelevant details and what a pretty mane Tipsy has, instead Tipsy is elevated to a character just as important as Queen Victoria or Charlotte herself. I became invested in the horsier aspects of the story because the horses were integral to the story in a way that made sense. Daisy's writing made you feel that she knows what she's talking about but writes in such a way as to keep you interested, and for a subject I'm not invested in usually, I was drawn into this book.
The reason I liked Daisy's previous book, The American Heiress, is that not everything was wrapped up tidily with a bow in the end. Life isn't simple or easy, but complicated and messy, and sometimes I crave that reality in a book. Sometimes books can be a little too far fetched and focusing on the HEA, but how often does that happen to us? Yet in the case of The Fortune Hunter I found this looser ending not as satisfying. The main reason for this is the timeline brought about by the historical note at the end of the book. In The Fortune Hunter, Bay and Sisi's relationship is shown to flame and burn out over the course of one hunting season.
While I knowing conflating events is common to help the narrative, the fact that their relationship, whatever it actually was in real life, actually lasted for five years makes the season of passion ring false. Yes, Charlotte and Bay didn't marry until he had severed ties from Sisi, but this was a long five years later. I'm sorry, I just can't get beyond this five years. Five years means a lot more then what we saw and changes so much that the interpretation of events that Daisy has written would be drastically altered by the true timeline. While I enjoyed the story I would have liked it to maybe reflect reality a little closer, or at least left me ignorant of the truth unless I had searched it out... which, in fairness to my own predilections, I would have and we'd be having this same discussion. So, I guess we're stuck in a loop.
The photography interest Daisy "gave" to Charlotte is an aspect of the story I greatly enjoyed. Not only was this able to advance the plot and also show Charlotte the "truth" that she was blinding herself from, but it's logical historically, unlike those five years, grumble. During the Victorian era there were so few hobbies that were viewed as permissible to ladies of quality. Photography was one of these, though a little on the outer edges, mainly because of the damage it could do to your skin with the developing of the prints. But what I found most interesting wasn't so much Charlotte's photography, but her manipulation of the images, viewing people as animals.
While to some this might seem macabre, the truth is the most common and acceptable hobby for Victorian women was photocollage. I few years back I went to an exhibit at The Art Institute of Chicago called "Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage." This show was of Victorian women's photo albums wherein they painted ducks and had photographs of their family member's heads on the bodies. Butterflies with cameos on the wings. The weirder the more likely they'd do it. Work that is so reminiscent of what Charlotte did that it struck a cord so true that Charlotte and I understood each other, which is the greatest thing a character in a book can do; connect with you....more
I really liked the wedding of the twins, it was so sweet. Also, I know I've mentioned this before, but once in awhile I feel lost because I don't remeI really liked the wedding of the twins, it was so sweet. Also, I know I've mentioned this before, but once in awhile I feel lost because I don't remember every single detail from each volume, but not this one! It was very well self contained but still with continuing story arcs. Also, how bad ass is the grandma on her goat? Also, if you have a stomach bug like I do, it's best to avoid reading this till you are better. 1) The tons of food made me hungry, 2) how they prep the tons of food, ie, killing, skinning, everything gross that could be done to a sheep is done to a sheep. I don't eat sheep, and this made me really really really never ever ever want to eat sheep....more
Jane and Vincent have been accompanying Melody and her new husband on their wedding tour of the continent. Leaving the newlyweds with their parents, JJane and Vincent have been accompanying Melody and her new husband on their wedding tour of the continent. Leaving the newlyweds with their parents, Jane and Vincent head to Murano. Lord Byron has given the Vincents an open invitation to visit him in Venice, which is a nice cover for what they what to do in Murano. They have long wanted to visit the famed glassmakers there after their discovery about weaving magic into glass to make it portable and not tethered to the earth. The couple hope that with improved techniques they can get reliable results. Yet as Napoleon rallied and invaded Belgium when they were first experimenting with this idea, they are this time set upon by pirates who, while ransoming them and hence not enslaving them, take all their possessions and leave Vincent with a nasty concussion. Finding Byron away from home they are destitute. A kind man takes them in and gives them everything they could need till either Byron returns or they are able to alert their families. Only, sometimes kind men have ulterior motives and the Vincents could be in far more trouble then they could even guess. In fact pirates might be a welcome relief.
There are few authors out there which I will drop everything for. Anything other then reading their newest book is considered nonessential. Phone calls go unanswered, emails pile up, work deadlines get stretched to breaking point. If it wasn't for the fact that food keeps me going and therefore keeps me reading I don't think I would remember to eat. Mary Robinette Kowal has become such an author for me. What began as a strong like has developed into a deep love with her Glamourist Histories. Any chance I get I'm recommending them to people and have so far converted quite a few of my bookish friends. My goal is for complete conversion (say it in a scary cyberman-esque voice). I think this goal is possible based on how these books have grown and developed over time. They are no longer just Jane Austen fanfic with magic, they're so much more! The books are part history, part fantasy, part alternate reality, there's just so much to love about them that I really can't stress enough that you should go out right now and get yourself all the books currently available, because the first won't be enough.
But what is wonderful about Mary Robinette Kowal beyond her writing is that she interacts with her fanbase and while still maintaining the proper author reader relationship she opens up her writing and her process to her readers, giving them a glimpse behind the curtain. In this day and age if an author wants to create a lasting impression on a reader and fortify her following they couldn't do better then to emulate Mary. Back in November I was beyond thrilled because for NaNoWriMo Mary was looking for Alpha readers for the fifth installment of The Glamourist Histories currently titled Of Noble Family. I was doing little dances of joy when I was approved, but more then that, because I had read the series all along Mary included a copy of the forth book, Valour and Vanity. She sent me the email on November 14th and by November 17th I had already devoured every single line. I didn't think that she could surpass my love of Glamour in Glass, which is the second book in the series and my number one read of 2012, but I think she might have. The only problem I faced was that getting to read the next book, Of Noble Family, in installments wouldn't really work for my voracious appetite. So, showing amazing fortitude, if I do say so myself, I waited until the start of the Beta read and over another long weekend I took it all in.
So why you're asking am I so enamoured of these books? Aside from the fact that I love anything Regency and Mary captures the feeling of the time period by sprinkling in historic details without inundating us with information, she has created a world where the magic just works. I'm not talking about works as in you say a spell and wow a light goes on, or even that it's successful in that something magical happens, I'm saying in the way she has created how magic is done just makes sense. The way magic resides in the ether out of the visible range and is brought forth and woven into something visible, either temporary or lasting, just works, it makes sense. Not just that, but as an artist myself, the way you think creatively, the way work takes a toll on you physically and mentally, Mary just nails it. There is such a simpatico going on between me and Jane with our feelings and our physical beings that I am right there with her every step of the way. While yes, there is this part of me going, Jane is me, there's a happier part of me going Jane is Jane. In the previous book, Without a Summer, I felt that Jane's voice was lost a little. She became more wishy-washy. She was constantly in doubt and lacked a spine. Here she doesn't just have a spine, she has spine enough for both her and Vincent, supporting them through their trials and hardships, making plans, taking names, befriending nuns, it's just perfect.
Speaking of those nuns... they are just one of the many aspects that made this book so awesome. The blurbs comparing this new installment to Ocean's Eleven aren't wrong. Only I would personally choose Ocean's Twelve, having seen it twice in theatres it's a better movie for many reasons; it has an awesome soundtrack, has a part in Italy, has an amazing Chachi joke, makes more fun of itself with meta humor, and has Eddie Izzard. Here we have glamourists, nuns, pirates, puppet shows, disguises, the Eleventh Doctor, breaking and entering, there is just so much awesome that it's hard to pinpoint what makes it work so well unless you count the fact that everything works so seamlessly together. The thing is you don't really think of heists starting before this past century. Sure their were pirates and brigands and all number of baddies who did all number of innumerable nasty things, but the heist feels like a more modern invention. In fact the definition of heist shows the word being an Americanism from the twenties and even references cars to define it. Aside from Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery, while being Victorian in conceit, but still very much a product of the seventies, I can't think of a successful book that combines a 19th century setting with an elaborate heist. For this alone Valour and Vanity should be held extraordinary and a must read, if not for every other reason I mentioned. Oh, and of course, me being a pusher for this series. Go on! You know you want to read it......more
A young baby boy is being thrown out with the trash. Unwanted and alone a chance of fate has him picked up by the richest Lord in the land, Lord LoveaA young baby boy is being thrown out with the trash. Unwanted and alone a chance of fate has him picked up by the richest Lord in the land, Lord Loveall. Lord Loveall has been mourning all his life for his dear departed sister and when he sees this baby he assumes it to be female and a chance to have his sister back. But Lord Loveall can't just miraculously have an heir, a quick marriage is arranged with his sister's old governess, Anonyma, who has stayed on as librarian at Love Hall to catalog the works of her icon, the poetess Mary Day. Anonyma agrees to raising "Rose" female because the poetess had some interesting theories on gender and Anonyma sees it as an experiment. For many years they are able to keep up this farce, until one day the world crashes down on them and Rose can no longer hide who he is.
The familial vultures swoop in to claim what they have always lusted after. A scandal would be so unbecoming, so Anonyma withdraws... what does she have now that Rose has fled? Rose left in the night without a trace, unable to face what he is. Through awkward sexual awakenings, near death fever dreams, chance encounters, and a twist that you hopefully won't see coming, Rose embraces the odd life that he has been given in this strange world and the companions in his journey who truly love him.
Misfortune is a Dickensian tale with at LGBTQ mindset. Full of interesting incestuous characters I felt that it never quite lived up to it's full potential due to the shifting narrative that, in the end, opted for a shorter, sleeker, story with annoying time jumps, instead of becoming a book of true Dickensian girth. Now I'm not saying that I wanted every detail on Rose's debauched journey to Turkey, but covering such an expanse of time as a fever dream seemed indulgent of the author. In fact, that might be the crux of my problem, the modern sensibilities thrust into this Victorian age by Stace's whim alienates me from the story. Stace says in an interview in the back of the book that he didn't want to be drawn into the trappings of the time period, a carriage is a carriage, not a barouche, not a gig. By having Misfortune be a modern book set in the past he seems to be wanting to make the book more of a post modern statement piece then a quality read.
By breaking convention he is writing a book that will appeal more to those who have never read Dickens or historical fiction while leaving those of us who love 19th century literature and period pieces cold. Coupled with the fact that he pulls a complete Dickensian HEA that was obvious from page one, his tendency to use some literary tropes and abandon others just goes to show that he was gratifying himself instead of his audience, plus exactly HOW was Rose to inherit... she being a she? Many such little questions bothered me throughout. Though my biggest problem with the book that has nothing to do with Stace might just be a side effect of this lack of interest in the historical details. This problem being that the cover illustration shows clothes incorrect to 1820. Yes, I know I should let this go, but the thing is, I remember the day I picked up this book on a table in Barnes and Noble and it was those lovely Regency clothes that sold me on it...
Yet in the end, Rose is problematical to me. Firstly, the sheer self centered delusions indulged by her parents scares the shit out of me. That two adults could contrive to raise a boy as a girl is just wrong to me. I know in this day and age there are a lot of people who talk about wanting to raise their children gender neutral so that they can come into their sexuality on their own. Personally, I think this is bullshit. It takes awhile for children to become aware of things, just look to Rose for an example, and by at least not setting down for them the basics, well, you are going to get one f'd up kid, again, look to Rose. Children need to understand the world around them in order to find their place, wherever that may be. By taking away Rose's knowledge of the world around her with regard to her body, that's just so many levels of wrong. At least her father Geoffroy has some excuse, obviously being insane, but Anonyma, the cold calculated way she sees changing her child's sex as an experiment just makes me want to slap her so hard. While yes, this does lead to some amusing situations, in the end, I felt such sorrow and pity for Rose that at times the book became hard to read.
But the collusion to keep this lie up. Gaw, the rage in me. Personally, the fact that they were able to pull it off for so long makes me a little awestruck. I personally don't see how they did it. I liked that they mentioned that all paintings with genitals shown were hidden, because that was a problem I really had. How, in an English Country House, with the great artwork that is usually in said houses, were they able to keep Rose in the dark? The secluded environment helped, but still, how? Recent studies have shown that people in the 19th century weren't so repressed sexually as we like to imagine. Yes the book has Anonyma lecturing a young Rose on what is private and what is public, and never stripping or lifting of skirts... but still... how? Rose was raised with two other children and they never once lifted a skirt or whipped it out of their pants? That is giving those kids some amazing, I would say unbelievable restraint. Were they sewn into their clothes? Because that's the only way I see this happening, otherwise, I just don't buy it. And if I can't buy this, well, then the book has a major flaw... or shall I just say, it's a flawed book?
Time and neglect have been brought to bear on Ashenden Park. Occasionally loved and cared for, the great estate has fallen into the hands of two siblings after the death of their aunt. They don't know what they should do with this giant white elephant they have inherited. Going back through time to the houses beginning in 1775, James Woods is finishing the architectural touches for his new masterpiece to be wrought in Bath stone, though little does he know that tragedy will personally strike him and his employers will never finish the house. It's 1844 and a new family cares for and loves Ashenden, it is the home of their dreams and their children love it well, but their grandson is feckless. 1938, the house is once again in disrepair, cut up and sold for whatever money the current owner can get for a ceiling or a mantelpiece. 1946, the war arrives and a man who is a prisoner lives where one day he will return a house to lost glory for the aunt of two siblings. Ever rising and falling in it's luck will Ashenden Park be glorious ever again?
It takes a lot to make a house memorable in literature. I don't think it's something that you can set out to do, it's something that happens over time. Manderley, Number Four Privet Drive, Tara, Pemberley, all these places are held in the hearts of readers. We imagine what it would be like to go there, to walk through the woods, to gaze at the family portraits, to be immersed in the world of our favorite story. To us readers these are tangible places that we can visit, if only in our imaginations or between the covers of our favorite book. To have the conceit of following a house through time is at once intriguing and sheer folly. If Ashenden proves anything it's that the engendering of a house in literature can not be forced on us.
In order to fall for a literary house you have to fall for the story. A house itself isn't a story unless it's peopled. Would Hill House be evil and menacing without inhabitants? No, it couldn't be because there's no one to interact with it's bricks and mortar, there's no Eleanor. The house just sits there waiting for occupants. Why yes, Asheden does become occupied, but by having the narrative spread out decades apart over a hundred plus years with different characters there is no way to become invested in the story. The house is an empty vessel and here are some people who occupy it, but don't bother getting too invested in them, they'll be gone soon enough. If there had only been some overarching plot separate from the house itself, like in Mark Gatiss's Crooked House that weaves together hauntings of Geap Manor over a two hundred year period to a conclusive denouement, well, that might have been something I could have worked with, but sadly there wasn't.
As for these people who flit through Ashenden over time. I couldn't have cared less about them. Rarely were they nice or kind, usually they were self centered jack-offs. The way the book is written it's really just intertwined short stories. I'm not the biggest fan of short stories. I like scope. I like having a beautifully built world that I can immerse myself in, which is why I like television and miniseries more then movies. Short stories are hard to invest in unless they are perfectly crafted little jewels that can stand on their own. By having the stories linked through Ashenden this is never possible. Each story with a jerk and a bump leads to the next and the next, with ever more unlikable characters that I didn't want to invest my time in.
But the short narratives weren't the most annoying thing. What really got me was this fine breadcrumb trail of characters and even objects that Wilhide wove through the book. So to recap, lots of unlikable characters I don't like and don't care to remember are peppered throughout the history of Ashenden like little Easter Eggs. Somebody hold me back. Sure, it's a cute idea, a way to link past and present, but sometimes cute ideas should not be employed because they annoy the heck out of your readers. It's gimmicky and gets maddening real fast. That stupid brown cow pitcher, and I have to say, I actually liked a pitcher of a brown cow more then anything else in this book. I liked an inanimate object more then the people. Um, that's a problem.
This is Wilhide's first fiction book, having written a plethora of books on design and architecture, and I have to say it shows. She was unable to create an engaging book. If her goal was to show the "living history" of the house, well, I guess she did that. Wilhide was able to show how the house changed and adapted over time from it's construction to it's current state of dilapidation, but it was a depressing show and tell that felt like I was reading about the slow death of the house sinking further into despair. Never did it feel like she was exulting the house, never once giving it the people it deserved. A pop star? Please no. Anyone who was nice to the house was skimmed over. One of those nice persons was name Florence Henderson, and I hope that this was historical, because otherwise, WTF Wildhide! No.
Houses all have stories to tell. But does this mean that the stories should be told? No it doesn't. What got me most was that anytime you almost felt invested the story would shift, much in the way Jeffery Eugenides Middlesex did, and you were back at square one, usually with an even more unsavory cast of characters. If you set out to do something unique and different go all in. Go epic, go centuries of detail and dirt. Don't reign yourself in, and don't under any circumstance ellipses over time with little introductory paragraphs at the start of each chapter that are ethereal and dreamlike but are really the type of amateurish and indulgent writing that should have been cut. ...more
Eve's brother Silas is trying to make a go of his luxury hotel in Jamaica. He even has his nephew Seth working for him as his second in command. But things aren't going well. The staff is surly, the customers are fleeing, and Silas is desperate. He thinks that perhaps his sister Eve could help him, but it's not like he's going to ask her, that would be demeaning. Instead Silas writes a letter for Seth to send to his mother, pulling on her heartstrings, and she inevitably agrees to come, despite her husband pointing out the fact that the letter was obviously penned by her own brother and not her son. Yet Eve goes to Seth and tries to fix Silas's problems... though she will fix them in her way not his, which causes yet more strife.
While back in England Eve's family misses her so much it hurts. Even her dear friends miss her. Anna and Amos are at loggerheads. He, as an elected MP for Labour, doesn't view it right that his wife should not only befriend, but work for the upper classes. Their honeymoon is certainly over. While the Earl of Netherwood, Tobias, and his faithless wife Thea are actually coming back together, having a second honeymoon. But the one person making the most news is Lady Henrietta Hoyland, Tobias's elder sister, who is making headlines for her work with the suffrage movement, and for her attack on Downing Street that has lead to her imprisonment. This is just what the youngest Hoyland, Isabella, didn't need when she's coming out; her family in tatters. Yet through the tribulation and strife, the things that really matter, family, love, will be all that remains at the end of the day.
What I have loved most about this series is the minutiae, the day to day details of these characters lives and how from the lowliest pit ponies to the Countess herself, they all flitted in and out of each others lives in Netherwood. This book is completely different from the two proceeding volumes, instead painting the lives we have come to love in broad strokes with the result being that rich, deep characters, have become one note caricatures. Whereas before we were treated to the insights of the Dowager Countess's maid, Flytton, she gets one measly mention in this installment. I'm not sure if this tone shift is because Jane wants to take the books in a different direction, perhaps to lure in more readers, or if she has reached the point wherein she has so many characters that she is unable to successfully juggle them. My money is on the later, mainly because for this volume we were given four pages of dramatis personae, poor Flytton is even excluded there. But I will not discount the "new readers" because there seemed to be a bit too much explaining of people and situations that readers of the series would easily remember.
The narrative has always been linked by a common location, Netherwood, so that people flowed in and out of each others stories easily. By pushing them so far apart distance wise, it seems like when they do show up it's not natural but fate forced to make the story still work as before but within this new rickety framework. The narrative style needs to change if the characters are going to continue to be so geographically dispersed. Maybe the answer is individual books for certain characters. Or being willing to let some characters go or take a backseat for a book or two. Because the lack of detail, the willingness to gloss over things and speed ahead, made this a messy book that left me dissatisfied and wanting more. Plus, if we are to follow every character and then Eliza's journey to France is just mentioned in a sentence or two... well, either you stick to your new style completely, or just abandon it as the failed experiment it obviously is.
One thing that was really missing from this novel was the food. In the previous volumes Jane has lavished attention on the food, making my mouth water and making me wish I had a cook to bake those ambitious recipes in the back of the book for me, or at least Eve's shop around the corner to visit. Gone even are the recipes, and gone is the heart and soul of this book. While food is still important, much like many of the characters, it's just mentioned quickly and pushed aside. This I think is symbolic of what has really happened with this series. As Eve says, you have to put love into your cooking. The ritual of making the humblest pie to the most elaborate feast all comes down to the love put in. I felt like the love was gone, in some cases, like Amos and Anna's bickering, literally gone.
But what ripped out my heart and jumped on it was that I still love these characters, and all the new ones as well. To see them so briefly and in such circumstances hurt me more then if I hadn't seen them at all. Unlikeable characters ran riot, with Silas becoming so horrid it was almost unreadable. And likable characters like Amos who were complex and many sided became one dimensional and mean. Plus Seth! What the hell! There was such progress with Seth at the end of Ravenscliffe and then it's not just two steps back but who the hell is this evil little Silas wannabe, he's a shit. Everything was cookie cutter without the joy of making the cookies. The plot was predictable, Henrietta's being literally an episode of Upstairs, Downstairs, while Silas and his Jamaicans... that wasn't obvious... not in the least (rolls eyes and sighs). I'm just exasperated. A book that I had so looked forward to picking up has basically broken my heart.
I also wonder, at the end of the day, if Jane was trying to thrust some "morality play" into this mess. With the very vehement hatred of the government from the likes of Amos and Henry, to the dissatisfaction with the monarchy, and then the brouhaha with the Tsar, all on top of which men like Silas, who embody all that is wrong with the empire... was Jane being heavy handed with the war is inevitable to fix this broken world? That revolt is not just coming but inevitable? With our foreknowledge of what is in store, the upheaval and insurrection, she is lending all events portents of doom. I kind of hate this in books. Yes, we know where all this leads, but you know what, people at the time didn't know exactly where it was going. To be basically giving them prophetic abilities seems too much to take in. Plus, if the next book is anything like this one, well, I don't know if the series can even make it to the outbreak of war if it continues this rabid downward trajectory... unless Jane does another time jump......more