Historical archive at Stray Talk
an archive of my forays into fact and fiction

Archive: Historical


7th July, 2008
Speed reviews: part I
— Love @ 08:43 Comments (1)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, Book Blowout, C, Classics, D, English, GLBT interest, Historical, History, Lifestyle, Mystery, Religion, Romance, Science Fiction, Sex, sexuality & gender, Speed reviews, Swedish, To Be Read, Young Adult

Since I’m sick* and way behind on reviews, I’ve realised the only way to catch up is to make them speed reviews and post a whole batch at once.

The Age of Napoleon; Alistair Horne, eng, 235 British
Interesting, but a little choppily written, and also the author assumes you know certain things and never explains them, while others he explains over and over again.
C

Cold Comfort Farm; Stella Gibbons, eng, 253 British
Funny, though I accidentally didn’t read the preface, so I wasn’t 100 % how much of it was intentional (all of it, as it turns out, and as I suspected). Flora Poste is kind of annoying, but all right all the same.
For the TBR reading challenge and as part of the BBC Big Read.
B

Rebecca; Daphne du Maurier, eng, 410 British
A re-read, not as good as I remembered it, but still lovely. Maxim is both wonderful and creepy.
C

Med uppenbar känsla för stil; Stephan Mendel-Enk, swe, 128 Swedish
Interestingly written about men and what’s considered masculine. References Morrissey at some points, mostly in connection with a man who went berserk and killed people. Lovely… not!
C

Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East; Brian Whitaker, swe, 230 British
Interesting, scary and occasionally a little bit hopeful.
C

Ingen behöver veta; Christina Wahldén, swe, 139 Swedish
About male rape and how it does exist, but people find it hard to believe. Kind of a non-ending, but then I suppose that’s sadly the case in most instances of actual male rape also.
C

Ingen grekisk gud, precis; Katarian Kieri, swe, 217 Swedish
Kind of brilliant tale of a young girl who falls for a teacher. Kind of brilliant mostly because the main character is into Morrissey, but for other reasons also. I was a bit worried where it was going to end, but it’s kind of perfect, really.
B

Sandman: The Kindly Ones; Neil Gaiman et al., eng, 335 British
I wouldn’t say Sandman is Gaiman at his best, but I do like the stories and so also in this volume. Not my favourite, though.
For the TBR reading challenge.
C

Doctor Who: The Nightmare of Black Island; Mike Tucker, eng, 255 British
Scary monsters and kiddies with nightmares. I liked it, but not as much as other DW books.
C

Doctor Who: The Art of Destruction; Stephen Cole, eng, 256 British
Farming in Africa, golden statues and creepy aliens. Good, but not great. Doctor’s always nice, though.
C

Doctor Who: The Price of Paradise; Colin Brake, eng, 255 British
References Franz Ferdinand and other pop culture a time or two. Not the best of the DW books I’ve read—I don’t much care for Colin Brake’s style of writing it, though I can’t put my finger on the exact reason.
C

Tro, hopp och burnout; Johan Unenge, swe, 228 Swedish
YA story about a guy who’s really into cars and death metal, who ends up going on a confirmation camp. It’s a decent story, and I was happy to see it didn’t end up quite where I expected it would, but the writing style is very, very choppy and not at all my cup of tea.
For the A-Z reading challenge.
C

Vadå feminist; Lisa Gålmark, swe, 188 Swedish
Basic guide to feminism. I wasn’t too keen on the writing and didn’t like the book all that much. Mostly it made me a little annoyed with the author, though it did contain sections worth thinking about. It bothers me that there is no question mark in the title.
For the A-Z reading challenge.
D

Homofamiljer; Sara Stenholm & Cecilia Strömberg, swe, 312 Swedish
About rainbow families and different ways to get one. Interesting, especially the personal stories, but not fab.
C

*Just a cold, but a bad one. I hate colds. And I’ve run out of Kleenex, which means my nose is very, very sore from regular paper towels. Woe.


22nd June, 2008
Throne of Jade; Naomi Novik
— Love @ 15:52 Comments (0)
Filed under: Adventure, B, English, Fantasy, Here Be Dragons, Historical

Throne of Jade; Naomi NovikThrone of Jade
by Naomi Novik
American

For the Here Be Dragons reading challenge.

English
399 pages
Del Rey
ISBN: 978-0-345-48129-0

First line: The day was unseasonably warm for November, but in some misguided deference to the Chinese embassy, the fire in the Admirality boardroom had been heaped excessively high, and Laurence was standing directly before it.

Back cover blurb:
When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo—an unhatched dragon’s egg—Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces.
Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands—and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, the captain has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East—a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await.

Thoughts: I read the first book in this series back in January, then bought the second book in mid-February, but I haven’t got ’round to reading it until know. Don’t ask me why, as I have absolutely no idea.

It’s a really good story. There is adventure and swashbuckling and excitement, and I could hardly put the book down. I adore the main characters (Laurence and Temeraire) and their relationship with each other, as well as the plot that takes them to China. I was a little worried that I’d find the voyage there a little dull, but Novik manages to make eight months at sea quite interesting, by skipping over the parts where nothing much happens. Good on her!

I will definitely get the rest of the books as soon as I can, because this is a series I want to follow to its conclusion. There are already two more books out (possibly three by now, as I do not know the exact publication date for the fifth in the series, except that it was supposed to be sometime in June, which is almost all gone now), which is nice. The only thing is that the two books I own so far are the ones published by Del Rey, and the ones published by Voyager really have so much prettier covers. However, I refuse to mix covers.

As for the rating, it’s a B.


27th May, 2008
Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride; Helen Halstead
— Love @ 06:57 Comments (4)
Filed under: Back to History, D, English, Historical, Romance

Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride; Helen Halstead Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride
by Helen Halstead
Australian

For the Back to History reading challenge.

English
310 pages
Ulysses Press
ISBN: 978-1-56975-588-4

First line: What a joy it is to have a worthy topic of conversation, to hold the power to amaze!

Back cover blurb:
In Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen brought together one of the most beloved literary couples of all time—Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Now, Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride continues the story of these passion-filled newlyweds as they enter London’s glamorous high society.

This page-turning novel finds Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy entangled in the frivolity and ferocity of social intrigues. Although Elizabeth makes a powerful friend in the Marchioness of Englebury, the rivalry and jealousy among her ladyship’s prestigious clique threatens to destroy the success of her new marriage.

Written in the style of Jane Austen, full of humour and sardonic wit, Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride brings Regency society vividly to life and continues the romantic, sometimes tragic, stories of other popular Pride & Prejudice characters including Georgiana Darcy and Kitty Bennet.

Thoughts: This is the first sequel to Pride & Prejudice that I have ever read (I tend to go for re-workings of the story, rather than continuations of it) and I can’t say I liked it much.

One of the reasons why was that the author felt that she needed to include explanations of who original characters were, and reminders of events of the original novel. It might just be me, but I would think that, if you decide to read a fan-written sequel to a well-known novel, you are probably quite a big fan of said novel already, and would know such basic facts as who Sir William Lucas is, &c.

It wasn’t all bad, though. I quite like Halstead’s take on Miss Anne de Bourgh, for example, and Lord Maddersfield (that’d be Lady Catherine’s brother and Darcy’s uncle) was quite amusing.

On the whole, though, it was not the best of reading experiences. I might add to this later (I have seven minutes before I have to leave for work), but for now, I shall leave it at this and give this work of fiction a D rating.


25th May, 2008
Heart of Darkness; Joseph Conrad
— Love @ 19:51 Comments (2)
Filed under: C, Classics, Decades '08, English, Historical

No cover image available Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad
British

For the Decades ’08 reading challenge (first published 1902).

English
111 pages
a Project Gutenberg e-book

First line: The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest.

Back cover blurb:
In this tale of colonial exploitation, the narrator, Marlowe, journeys deep into the heart of Africa. But there he encounters Kurtz, an idealist apparently crazed and depraved by his power over the natives, and the meeting prompts Marlowe to reflect on the darkness at the heart of all men.
This text refers to an edition other than the one I read.

Thoughts: I’ve heard this book mentioned again and again, and I’ve always sort of meant to read it, but I’ve never really known anything about it except the title.

This afternoon I took the time to read it and it was an interesting story. Very dark, but I should maybe have clued into that from the title, had I not been a complete idiot. I did find the narrative a little hard to follow at times, but I’m not sure how much that had to do with the format I read it in (e-book), and how much it was due to the actual writing.

Heart of Darkness receives a C rating. It was an okay read, but I had some issues with the flow of narrative, and at times I was made exceedingly uncomfortable by the blatant racism. It’s true that it was written over a hundred years ago, when racism was more accepted, but I’m reading it now, with 21st century sensitivities, and of course that’s going to colour my reading experience.


22nd May, 2008
Strong Poison; Dorothy L Sayers
— Love @ 11:48 Comments (1)
Filed under: B, English, Historical, Mystery

Strong Poison; Dorothy L Sayers Strong Poison
by Dorothy L Sayers
British
English
261 pages
Harper Mystery
ISBN: 978-0-06-104350-5

First line:There were crimson roses on the bench; they looked like splashes of blood.

Back cover blurb:
Mystery novelist Harriet Vane knew all about poisons, and when her fiancé died in the manner prescribed in one of her books, a jury of her peers had a hangman’s noose in mind. But Lord Peter Wimsey was determined to find her innocent—as determined as he was to make her his wife.

Thoughts: The back cover blurb lies. Harriet Vane was never engaged to the murder victim in this novel, and that’s the truth. I’m just sayin’.

This, then, is the story where Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane first meet. And it’s brilliant. Not as fantastically brilliant as Murder Must Advertise, Unnatural Death or Whose Body, but still loads better than a lot of things out there.

Here’s a few quotes from Wimsey’s first meeting with Harriet Vane, in which he’s just proposed to her:

“I wish you wouldn’t sound as if you thought it was rather funny. I know I’ve got a silly face, but I can’t help that. As a matter of fact, I’d like somebody I could talk sensibly to, who would make life interesting. And I could give you a lot of plots for your books, if that’s any inducement.”
“But you wouldn’t want a wife who wrote books, would you?”
“But I should; it would be great fun. So much more interesting than the ordinary kind that is only keen on clothes and people. Though of course, clothes and people are all right too, in moderation. I don’t mean to say I object to clothes.”

“People have been wrongly condemned before now.”
“Exactly; simply because I wasn’t there.”
“I never thought of that.”
“Think of it now. You will find it very beautiful and inspiring. It might even help to distinguish me from the other forty-six, if you should happen to mislay my features, or anything. Oh, by the way—I don’t positively repel you or anything like that, do I? Because, if I do, I’ll take my name off the waiting-list at once.”
“No,” said Harriet Vane, kindly and a little sadly. “No, you don’t repel me.”
“I don’t remind you of white slugs or make you go gooseflesh all over?”

“[…] It’s my hobby. Not proposing to people, I don’t mean, but investigating things.

Because this is not the best Wimsey-book, I don’t want to give it an A rating, but since it’s still brilliant and all, a B is a must.


17th May, 2008
Lugn för dej, Gelika; Olga Wikström
— Love @ 18:10 Comments (1)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, D, Historical, Swedish

No cover image available Lugn för dej, Gelika
by Olga Wikström
Swedish

For the A-Z reading challenge.

Swedish
204 pages
Bokförlaget Settern
ISBN: 91-7586-051-1

First line: Hon levde i en värld där allt fanns ovanför henne.

Back cover blurb:
Hon heter Gelika. Hon är en vallonflicka, mörk, ful tycker hon själv. Gelika bor på en stor gård i Värmland. Fadern, den älskade, har övergett möbelkonsten för lantbruket, därför att hustrun vill det. Någon riktigt bra bonde blir han inte. Han lever upp då han arbetar i trä. Han är och förblir en konstnärsnatur.
“Ska vi dansa, Singoalla?” frågar studenten. Han och Gelika dansar bort i vägen, som en gång Frödings ungdomar. “Vem är Singoalla?” undrar Gelika. En dag vet hon det, men då har mycket hänt och Gelika känner att vingarna bär. Hon är en skönhet och hon är på väg ut.

Very short synopsis in English: Gelika is a farmer’s daughter and, in her own mind, quite ugly. This is the story of her growing up, of the tragedies that strike, and the realisation that she’s not so bad-looking after all.

Thoughts: I was quite disappointed in this. The back cover blurb made it sound like it would be about something else than it was. Well, actually, what was on the back cover blurb did happen in the book, but made up maybe one fifth of the entire novel, whilst the blurb made it seem like it would be the majority.

I don’t like being disappointed, and besides it wasn’t very good anyway, so a D grade.


11th May, 2008
Atonement; Ian McEwan
— Love @ 16:31 Comments (3)
Filed under: C, English, Historical

Atonement; Ian McEwan Atonement
by Ian McEwan
British

English
481 pages
Anchor Books
ISBN: 978-0-307-38884-1

First line: The play—for which Briony had designed the posters, programs and tickets, constructed the sales booth out of a folding screen tipped on its side, and lined the collection box in red crêpe paper—was written by her in a two-day tempest of composition, causing her to miss a breakfast and a lunch.

Back cover blurb:
On a summer day in 1935, young Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony’s misunderstanding of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the 20th century.

Thoughts: My god, this novel made me sad. It was good, though, if a little slow to get into. I much preferred part two over part one, because that one covered ground more quickly. Part one tells the events of two or three days, while part two tells the events of at least a couple of months. I’m not a huge fan of all that slow stuff, to be honest.

The rating is a C. It would have been higher if I’d enjoyed the language more.

I’m still trying to decide if I should watch the film. Part of me wants to, but part of me is also very much anti Keira Knightley, which is making watching the film seem like less of a good idea.


6th May, 2008
Hästen från Porten; Carina Burman
— Love @ 15:40 Comments (0)
Filed under: B, GLBT interest, Historical, Mystery, Swedish

Hästen från Porten; Carina Burman Hästen från Porten
by Carina Burman
Swedish

Swedish
354 pages
Albert Bonniers Förlag
ISBN: 978-91-0-011729-0

First line: För andra gången kom jag till Philadelphia.

Back cover blurb:
Han hette Djinn. Åtminstone var det så hon kallade honom, succéförfattarinnan Euthanasia Bondeson, när de möttes i den syriska öknen.
Det fanns varken lugn eller inspiration där i hettan, där sanden letade sig in överallt och städerna mest bestod av ruiner. Återigen måste Euthanasia Bondeson utreda ett försvinnande. Sökandet leder henne till den myllrande storstaden Konstantinopel, på gränsen mellan väst och öst.
I ökensol och bland mörka gränder möter Euthanasia mystiska resenärer, tvetydiga poliser och tillmötesgående haremsdamer. Det är mars 1853, och den nyfikna författarinnans svärmeri för antiken måste stå tillbaka för den alltmer påträngande politiken. Under andningspauserna mellan överfall och utredningar gör hon även förvånande fynd inom erotiken—men ingenting förbryllar så som Djinn, den vackraste arabhästen av dem alla.

Very short synopsis in English: Euthanasia Bondeson, amateur detective and writer of fiction, has left Europe for the Middle East. In the Syrian desert, she meets Djinn, the most gorgeous of horses, who soon thereafter disappears. Stolen, as far as anyone can tell, but why and by whom? Miss Bondeson’s investigations take her back to the border between East and West, to Constantinople, where she suddenly finds herself involved in political intrigue.

Thoughts: I’ve been waiting for this book. I would’ve got it the second it was published, if I hadn’t made that month one of the two of my embargo on book buying. The moment the embargo was lifted, however, I made it down to the bookshop to procure it. Of course, they didn’t have it in, so I had them place a special order and the week after I popped ’round to pick it up (at a discounted price, I might add).

I then proceeded to read it in one sitting. Now, it’s not as good as my favourite in the series (Babylons gator, now out in English as The Streets of Babylon, which is set in London, 1853 and has molly houses and all sorts of other good stuff), but it’s still more than just okay. An old favourite of mine, from the first book, is back, which was nice, and even though this installment is not quite as queer as the previous two, it still has its moments.

Now, I’m not sure if it was intentional, or if it’s just my mind going places it shouldn’t, but I get disturbing “sailor and his goat”-vibes à la Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander from a certain character. Probably it’s just my mind. I certainly hope so. (Talk about omnisexual, though.)

What else? There is a wonderful moment of not-so-subtle mocking of Jan Guillou’s Arn books (which I don’t ever plan on reading—yuck!) that had me laughing out loud.

To conclude: yes, good book! (a B rating, methinks), but not quite queer enough (though certainly queerer than I was lead to expect by other reviews) and if the author ever finds out about my sailor and his goat”-vibes, I shall be most cross. I’m just sayin’.


12th March, 2008
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club; Dorothy L Sayers
— Love @ 19:18 Comments (1)
Filed under: B, English, Historical, Mystery

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club; Dorothy L Sayers The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
by Dorothy L Sayers
British

English
243 pages
Harper Mystery
ISBN: 978-0-06-104354-3

First line: “What in the world, Wimsey, are you doing in this morgue?” demanded Captain Fentiman, flinging aside the ‘Evening Banner’ with the air of a man released from an irksome duty.”

Back cover blurb:
Ninety-year-old General Fentiman was definitely dead, but no one knew exactly when he had died—and the time of death was the determining factor in a half-million-pound inheritance. Lord Peter Wimsey would need every bit of his amazing skills to unravel the mysteries of why the General’s lapel was without a red poppy on Armistice Day, how the club’s telephone was fixed without a repairman, and, most puzzling of all, why the great man’s knee swung freely when the rest of him was stiff with rigor mortis.

Thoughts: While not a bad book in any way, this is still not one of the best Wimsey novels there are. I would say more, except that I am writing this to catch up with my reviews and I’ve still got a few more to go and am quite tired already. So brief I shall be!

What I can say is that Mr. Murbles, Wimsey’s solicitor friend, is quite an amusing character:

“Bless my soul,” said Mr. Murbles. “Let us go at once. Really, this is most exciting. That is, I am profoundly grieved. I hope it is not as you say.”

So yes, my lack of proper review concludes with a B rating.


10th March, 2008
Unnatural Death; Dorothy L Sayers
— Love @ 20:55 Comments (5)
Filed under: A, A-Z Reading Challenge, English, Historical, Mystery

Unnatural Death; Dorothy L Sayers Unnatural Death
by Dorothy L Sayers
British

For the A-Z reading challenge.

English
280 pages
Harper Mystery
ISBN: 978-0-06-104358-1

First line: “But if he thought the woman was being murdered—“

Back cover blurb:
The wealthy old woman was dead—a trifle sooner than expected. The intricate trail of horror and senseless murder led from a beautiful Hampshire village to a fashionable London flat and a deliberate test of amour—staged by the debonair sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey.

Thoughts: I realise this might not sound like much of a book, if judged by its back cover blurb, but I have come to the conclusion that, apart from Murder Must Advertise, this is my favourite Wimsey mystery.

I am in the habit of keeping a pad of transparent Post-It notes in different colours by my side whenever I’m reading a book, so that whenever I come across a paragraph (or just a sentence) that I really like, and might want to quote in a later review, I can stick one on the page for easy access later. I average somewhere between five and ten notes in a really good book and less if it’s not all that special. After I turned the last page of Unnatural Death, I went back and counted all the Post-Its I’d stuck in it. There were twenty-three of them. Suffice to say, there was a lot to like about it!

One thing that holds true to the entire series of Sayers’s mysteries, not just this installment, is that the resolutions, and the process of getting there, relies so much on forensic evidence. I’ll grant you that I haven’t read a terrible lot of mystery from this era of late (apart from Sayers, I’ve mainly read Christie, Marsh and Quentin Patrick, and those were mostly a while ago), but I have the definite impression that they don’t generally deal with forensic evidence (finger printing, shoe prints, fibers &c) in at all the same manner. This is most certainly a point in favour of Sayers, at least in my way of thinking, and probably a big reason why I like her novels so much.

Another reason, of course, is her characters. In this book, we meet not only Lord Peter Wimsey himself, but also Detective-Inspector Charles Parker, Miss Alexandra Katherine Climpson, and others.

Miss Climpson is quite the character and any part of the story she’s involved in is invariably a hoot to read, her letter-writing especially.

“[…] WELL!!! The AUNT of these two girls came to pay a visit to Mrs. Budge’s girl this afternoon, and was introduced to me—of course, as boarder at Mrs. Budge’s I am naturally an object of local interest—and, bearing your instructions in mind, I encourage this to an extent I should not otherwise do!!
“It appears that this aunt was well acquainted with a former housekeeper of Miss Dawson’s—before the time of the Gotobed girls, I mean. The aunt is a highly respectable person of FORBIDDING ASPECT!—with a bonnet(!), and to my mind, a most disagreeable CENSORIOUS woman.”

“‘Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.’ Dear me! I wonder if it’s uncharitable to compare a fellow-being to Satan? Only in poetry of course—I dare say that makes it not so bad.”

There is a strong under-current of a lesbian love story. It’s never spoken aloud, but you’d be silly not to read it between the lines at all. Actually, there are two stories of this kind within the novel. One with a happy outcome, one with a disastrous end.

“‘Betty,’ she said, ‘I mean to be an old maid so does Miss Clara, and we’re going to live together and be ever so happy, without any stupid, tiresome gentlemen.'”

And so they did, and it was adorable, even if all we hear of it is in the recollections of the people who were around them.

Then of course there’s my darling Parker. My favourite will always be Wimsey, but Parker holds a special place in my heart as well.

Parker was one of those methodical, painstaking people whom the world could so ill spare. When he worked with Wimsey on a case, it was an understood thing that anything lengthy, intricate, tedious and soul-destroying was done by Parker. He sometimes felt that it was irritating of Wimsey to take this so much for granted.

The best thing about Parker is not him alone, though—it is how Wimsey and he address each other and act around one another.

“[…] Why this interest all of a sudden? You snub me in my bed, but you woo me in my bath. It sounds like a music-hall song of the less refined sort. Why, oh why?”

“It’s starting to rain,” observed Parker, conversationally.
“Look here, Charles, if you’re going to bear up cheerfully and be the life and soul of the expedition, say so and have done with it. I’ve got a good, heavy spanner handy under the seat, and Bunter can help to bury the body.”
“I think this must be Brushwood Cross,” resumed Parker, who had the map on his knee. “If so, and if it’s not Covert Corner, which I thought we passed half an hour ago, one of these roads leads directly to Crofton.”
“That would be highly encouraging if we only knew which road we were on.”
“We can always try them in turn, and come back if we find we’re going wrong.”
“They bury suicides at cross-roads,” replied Wimsey, dangerously.

“Bear up, doctor,” said Parker, “he’s always like this when he gets an idea. It wears off in time.”

Mind you, Wimsey on his own is not bad either.

“It’s quite all right,” he said apologetically, “I haven’t come to sell you soap or gramophones, or to borrow money, or enrol you in the Ancient Froth-blowers or anything charitable. I really am Lord Peter Wimsey—I mean, that really is my title, don’t you know, not a Christian name like Sanger’s Circus or Earl Derr Biggers. I’ve come to ask you some questions, and I’ve no real excuse, I’m afraid, for butting in on you—do you ever read the News of the World?”
Nurse Philliter decided that she was to be asked to go to a mental case, and that the patient had come to fetch her in person.

I would be fool indeed to quote you all of my favourite passages, but if you thought you’d be able to get away without a single one, well—more fool you! Just be glad I exercised at least some level of restraint (little though it was—I fear this review is even more fragmented and scatter-brained than is my usual habit).

I don’t think I really need to say it, as it should be pretty obvious by now, but Unnatural Death receives an A.

And that’s that for now.


5th March, 2008
Lost in Austen; Emma Campbell Webster
— Love @ 13:44 Comments (1)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, C, English, Historical, Romance

Lost in Austen; Emma Campbell Webster Lost in Austen
by Emma Campbell Webster
British

For the A-Z reading challenge.

English
348 pages
Riverhead Books
ISBN: 978-1-59448-258-8

First line: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young Austen heroine must be in want of a husband, and you are no exception.

Back cover blurb:
Your name: Elizabeth Bennet. Your mission: to marry both prudently and for love, avoiding family scandal. Equipped with only your sharp wit, natural good sense, and tolerable beauty, you must navigate your way through a variety of decisions that will determine your own romantic (and financial) fate. Ever wonder what would happen if Elizabeth accepted Mr. Darcy’s proposal the first time around? Or ran from his arms into those of Persuasion‘s Captain Wentworth? Now is your chance to find out.

Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Austen Adventure begins in Pride and Prejudice, but your decisions along the way will lead you into the plots of Austen’s other works, and even newly imagined territory.

Lost in Austen is a labyrinth of love and lies, scandals and scoundrels, misfortune and marriages that will delight and challenge any Austen lover. Will Elizabeth succeed in her mission? It’s all up to you.

Thoughts: The premise here is quite entertaining and Webster pulls it off well enough, though sometimes I found her a little too insulting of the reader. That might possibly just be me taking offence where I shouldn’t, though.

I think I shall definitely have to play through the book at least once more, as this time around I stuck pretty faithfully to the plot of Pride and Prejudice, except for a few forays into the worlds of Emma and Jane Austen: A Life/Becoming Jane.

A fun idea, all in all, but not the best book I’ve ever had in my hands, so I find it merits a C, but not more. If Webster hadn’t been so insulting, a B might have been the order of the day, but as it appears that I am quite quick to be wounded to the core (well, not quite), that was not to be.


24th February, 2008
Standish; Erastes
— Love @ 13:38 Comments (2)
Filed under: Back to History, D, English, GLBT interest, Historical, Romance

Standish; Erastes Standish
by Erastes
British

For the Back to History reading challenge.

English
215 pages
P.D. Publishing Inc.
ISBN: 1-933720-09-3

First line: The candle guttered, and Ambrose looked up at it with a frown, the long blond hair falling away from the sides of his face.

Back cover blurb:
A great house. A family dispossessed. A sensitive young man. A powerful landowner. An epic love that springs up between two men. Set in the post-Napoleonic years of the 1820’s, Standish is a tale of two men — one man discovering his sexuality and the other struggling to overcome his traumatic past.

Ambrose Standish, a studious and fragile young man, has dreams of regaining the great house his grandfather lost in a card game. When Rafe Goshawk returns from the continent to claim the estate, their meeting sets them on a path of desire and betrayal which threatens to tear both of their worlds apart.

Painting a picture of homosexuality in Georgian England, Standish is a love story of how the decisions of two men affect their journey through Europe and through life.

Thoughts: From the moment I came across this book on Amazon.co.uk, I knew I had to read it. The story sounded amazing and I just love historical gay romance, there’s no denying that. Unfortunately, I was in for quite a disappointment.

I started reading it in January, got about a third of the way through during my first sitting with it, and then I put it down and did not pick it up again until now. I kept trying to persuade myself that if I read only one chapter a day, I would finish it in less than a month, but there just was no way of doing it. I wanted so badly to love the story, and I just couldn’t do it. I had such a hard time with the language and the way it was written — they didn’t appeal to me at all.

Finally, I picked it up again and found that if I just skimmed certain bits, it was tolerable. And so I finished the remaining two-thirds in a second sitting. I even, towards the end, found myself almost enjoying it. A part of the reason for this was, I dare say, the character of Padraig Fleury who appeared in the second half of the novel.

In the end, I didn’t like it even half as much as I had hoped to going in, but on the other hand, I did like it more than I thought I would after the first third. Even though it’s nowhere near the best book I’ve ever read, I am glad I decided to stick with it and read the entire thing. I have rarely been so close to making a book a DNF (did not finish), though. If it weren’t for the fact that I had it on my (no changes allowed) list of books for the Back to History challenge, or the fact that I had paid money for it and didn’t much like the idea of that being wasted, I don’t think I would have finished.

However, apart from all that I have outlined above, there was another thing that particularly bothered me. At one point Ambrose reads Dracula. Which is, y’know, cool and all. Except Standish is set in 1821 and Dracula wasn’t published until 1897, so unless there was time travel that I completely missed, that’s a big mistake on the part of the author, and that loses them a lot of respect from me.

I should think it obvious that the rating is not going to be a great one, but in the end, solely thanks to Fleury, it does manage a D, rather than an F. I realise we are only at the end of February and that much of the reading year remains, but I will be much surprised if this does not end up being “Disappointment of the Year.”


20th February, 2008
Duty and Desire; Pamela Aidan
— Love @ 14:34 Comments (5)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, C, English, Historical, Romance

Duty and Desire; Pamela Aidan Duty and Desire
by Pamela Aidan
American

For the A-Z reading challenge.

English
304 pages
Touchstone
ISBN: 978-0-7432-9136-1

First line: Darcy recited the collect for the first Sunday in Advent, his prayer book closed upon his thumb as he stood alone in his family’s pew at St. ——‘s.

Back cover blurb:
Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice is beloved by millions, but little is revealed in the book about the mysterious and handsome hero, Mr. Darcy. And so the question has long remained: Who is Fitzwilliam Darcy?
Pamela Aidan’s trilogy finally answers that long-standing question, creating a rich parallel story that follows Darcy as he meets and falls in love with Elizabeth Bennet. Duty and Desire, the second book in the trilogy, covers the “silent time” of Austen’s novel, revealing Darcy’s private struggle to overcome his attraction to Elizabeth while fulfilling his roles as landlord, master, brother, and friend.
When Darcy pays an old visit to an old classmate in Oxford in an attempt to shake Elizabeth from his mind, he is set upon by husband-hunting society ladies and ne’er-do-well friends from his university days, all with designs on him—some for good and some for ill. He and his sartorial genius of a valet, Fletcher, must match wits with them all, but especially with the curious Lady Sylvanie.

Thoughts: If you remember, I quite liked the first book in this series, which I read back in January. This continuation, however, I was not quite as fond of. Aidan’s Darcy, when completely away from Lizzy, is not as captivating as her version of Darcy when he has to struggle to keep his thoughts in check in her presence.

Fletcher, his valet, I do still quite like. He takes a few liberties and makes enough hints that I am pretty sure he knows where things are heading, even when Darcy does not. I even have a few suspicions as to the identity of his future wife’s current employer.

Even though I did not much like this book, I still intend to read the third, and final, installment of the trilogy. Lizzy is coming back for that, after all, and I am quite looking forward to how Aidan writes the disastrous first proposal and Darcy’s reactions to Lizzy in Derbyshire.

The first installment received a B grade and this one receives a C. I hope the next one manages at least a B, because I would be sad if it didn’t, when the first was so promising.


15th February, 2008
Murder Must Advertise; Dorothy L Sayers
— Love @ 13:26 Comments (5)
Filed under: A, Decades '08, English, Historical, Mystery

Murder Must Advertise; Dorothy L Sayers Murder Must Advertise
by Dorothy L Sayers
British

For the Decades ’08 reading challenge (first published 1933).

English
356 pages
Harper Mystery
ISBN: 978-0-06-104355-0

First line: “And by the way,” said Mr. Hankin, arresting Miss Rossiter as she rose to go, “there is a new copy-writer coming in today.”

Back cover blurb:
When ad man Victor Dean falls down the stairs in the offices of Pym’s Publicity, a respectable London advertising agency, it looks like an accident. Then Lord Peter Wimsey is called in, and he soon discovers there’s more to copywriting than meets the eye. A bit of cocaine, a hint of blackmail, and some wanton women can be read between the lines. And then there is the brutal succession of murders—five of them—each one a fixed fee for advertising a deadly secret.

Thoughts: I think I might have mentioned it before, but just in case I haven’t, I feel I should state, for the record, that Murder Must Advertise is my favourite Wimsey book. It is also the first Wimsey book I ever read and the one I’ve read the most times. This was the first opportunity I had to read it in English, though, so it was a little bit like coming to it for the first time.

Wimsey is, as always, simply marvellous, and Parker still deserves his spot as my second favourite. Bunter, due to the nature of the story, does not make many appearances (if any at all. I’m afraid my memory’s a bit like a sieve), which is a bit of a pity, as I like him quite a bit as well and his and Wimsey’s working relationship is always a pleasure to read about.

Add to that the insight you get into the world of advertising (I believe Sayers herself worked in advertising at one point). It’s true that it’s the world of advertising in the 1930s, and if anything, things are probably even crazier these days, but there are a few passages in the book where Wimsey ponders the effects of advertising on people, and I think the questions he poses are still well worth asking.

Where, Bredon asked himself, did the money come from that was to be spent so variously and so lavishly? If this hell’s-dance of spending and saving were to stop for a moment, what would happen? If all the advertising in the world were to shut down tomorrow, would people still go on buying more soap, eating more apples, giving their children more vitamins, roughage, milk, olive oil, scooters and laxatives, learning more languages by gramophone, hearing more virtuosos by radio, re-decorating their houses, refreshing themselves with more non-alcoholic thirst-quenchers, cooking more new, appetizing dishes, affording themselves that little extra touch which means so much? Or would the whole desperate whirligig slow down, and the exhausted public relapse upon plain grub and elbow-grease?

I especially love the last two paragraphs of the book. They don’t at all deal with the story, so I could technically quote them here without terribly spoiling anyone, but I’m not going to. You will have to read the book yourselves (or at least look at the last page), to understand what I’m talking about. Perhaps you won’t even like them, but I do. A lot.

Instead, I shall proceed to quote a few other passages of the book. There is one in particular that I wish I could quote, because I laughed out loud at it, but unfortunately it isn’t funny unless you’ve read certain other bits of the story, so I won’t bother about it after all.

“And if I were you,” continued Garrett, “I wouldn’t mention Dean to Willis at all. There’s some kind of feeling—I don’t know quite what. Anyway, just thought I’d warn you.”
Bredon thanked him with an almost passionate gratitude.
“It’s so easy to put your foot in it in a new place, isn’t it? I’m really most frightfully obliged to you.”
Clearly Mr. Bredon was a man of no sensibility, for half an hour later he was in Willis’s room, and had introduced the subject of the late Victor Dean.

“You look as though you’d been shining up a pipe.”
“Well, I did shin down a pipe. Only one pipe—rather a nice pipe. It took my fancy.”

“Your narrative style,” said Parker, “though racy, is a little elliptical. Could you not begin at the beginning and go until you come to the end, and then, if you are able to, stop?”

To end this so-called review, I had better give the novel its rating. If you were expecting anything other than an A, I am afraid you are much mistaken, as an A it is. And if I know you well and you have not yet read this book, then you can rest assured that I will attempt to make you read it, if it’s the last thing I do. So there.


10th February, 2008
A Countess Below Stairs; Eva Ibbotson
— Love @ 18:23 Comments (5)
Filed under: A, A-Z Reading Challenge, Back to History, English, Historical, Romance

A Countess Below Stairs; Eva Ibbotson A Countess Below Stairs
by Eva Ibbotson
British

For the Back to History and A-Z reading challenges.

English
383 pages
Speak
ISBN: 978-0-14-240865-0

First line: In the fabled, glittering world that was St. Petersburg before the First World War there lived, in an ice-blue palace overlooking the river Neva, a family on whom the gods seemed to have lavished their gifts with an almost comical abundance.

Back cover blurb:
After the Russian Revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian countess, has no choice but to flee to England. Penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as a servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination.
Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly over-whelmed by her new duties—not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme. To make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there’s the small matter of Rupert’s beautiful and nasty fiancée…

Thoughts: This is, without a doubt, one of my favourite books. I think it might even trump Pride and Prejudice as the one. I first read it in ninth grade when I found it, quite by accident, in the library at school. I was familiar with Ibbotson’s other body of work, those fantastical books of hers aimed at children, but I didn’t know she also wrote for another audience. At first, I admit I was a little doubtful—it was a romance, after all, and the translation was rather sloppily done (the original title was written as “A Countness Below Stairs”, that’s how sloppy it was), and the cover didn’t look like much. But oh god, I was blown away! I overlooked the typos and the printing errors, and just devoured the book. When I put it down, my eyes were wet from tears (I can be an übersap, sometimes) and it was late at night. The next day, when I came home from school, I picked it back up and read it all over again.

Since then, I’ve read it over and over again, always still in the same sloppy translation, but now I’ve finally found it in the original and thus it was almost like discovering it all over again. I can now tell that while the publishing work of the translation left quite a bit to be desired, the actual translation wasn’t half-bad. I know it so well now that reading the original, I was a little astounded that the errors I had grown so used to weren’t there. But oh, how I still love it! And still, this the sixth (or seventh? I’ve lost count) time I read it, I was still moved to tears in the exact same places, even though I know how it all ends.

As you know, I don’t usually post quotes, but sometimes I simply have to make an exception. Lord Peter Wimsey books often produce such exceptions, and so does A Countess Below Stairs.

“Rupert, none of your servants are socialists, I hope?”
“Good heavens no, I shouldn’t think so. I mean, I haven’t asked. Surely you don’t have to be a socialist to want to have a bath?”
“It often goes together,” said Muriel sagely.

And so they played some of the world’s loveliest piano music—the exiled homesick girl, the humiliated, tired old man. Not properly. Better than that.

Torn between despair and embarrassment, between loneliness and shame, the earl’s dog stood before them, his great head raking the room. He had done it, the unspeakable thing. The degradation, the horror of it, was behind him—and now where was she? Had it all been in vain; the debasement, the agony, the choice?
But no, it was all right. He’d seen her. She was there. She would make whole what was broken, console him for his master’s absence, would understand his imperative need to be scratched now, this minute, and for a long time in that special place behind his ear.

It’s seems a bit like stating the too obvious at this point, but the rating I’m giving this book is a solid A. There’s no other alternative — trust me on this. What’s a bit funny, though, is that I’m not head over heels for any of the characters, nor really the writing either, which is usually the case for me. I just completely and utterly love the whole book.

To end this post, I’m going to post the link to a music video on YouTube. The song is I Saved the World Today by The Eurythmics and no, there’s no apparent connection. But when I first read A Countess Below Stairs, the single had just been released and was being played on the radio as I read the book, and so the two will always, for me, be interconnected.


10th February, 2008
Clouds of Witness; Dorothy L Sayers
— Love @ 11:54 Comments (2)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, English, Historical, Mystery

Clouds of Witness; Dorothy L Sayers Clouds of Witness
by Dorothy L Sayers
British

For the A-Z reading challenge.

English
279 pages
Harper Mystery
ISBN: 978-0-06-104353-6

First line: Lord Peter Wimsey stretched himself luxuriously between the sheets provided by the Hôtel Meurice.

Back cover blurb:
Rustic old Riddlesdale Lodge was a Wimsey family retreat filled with country pleasures and the thrill of the hunt—until the game turned up human and quite dead. He lay among the chrysanthemums, wore slippers and a dinner jacket, and was Lord Peter’s brother-in-law-to-be. His accused murderer was Wimsey’s own brother, and if murder set all in the family wasn’t enough to boggle the unflappable Lord Wimsey, perhaps a few twists of fate would be—a mysterious vanishing midnight letter from Egypt… a grieving fiancée with suitcase in hand… and a bullet destined for one very special Wimsey.

Thoughts: There’s nothing quite like a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery to remove the bad taste of an exceedingly poor read such as Elyot’s By a Lady. If you then discover that the Wimsey novel you thought you’d read before was not, in fact, a re-read at all, you are quite happily surprised.

In other words, I thought I’d read this book before, but I hadn’t, which pleased me exceedingly, as it meant that I had undiscovered Lord Peter ahead of me!

I’m still utterly in love with the man, of course. Clouds of Witness isn’t exactly my favourite Wimsey novel, but it’s by no means bad at all and, as usual, provided me with quite an abundance of nice quotes. I shall only post the one, however.

“[…] I’ve lost him altogether.”
“It’s all right—I’ve got him. He’s tripped over a root.”
“Serve him glad,” said Lord Peter viciously, straightening his back. “I say, I don’t think the human frame is very thoughtfully constructed for this sleuth-hound business. If one could go on all-fours, or had eyes in one’s knees, it would be a lot more practical.”
“There are many difficulties inherent in a teleological view of creation,” said Parker placidly.

As for the rating, I think a B is in order. It’s a good read, great even, but like I said, not an absolute favourite.


7th February, 2008
By a Lady; Amanda Elyot
— Love @ 23:40 Comments (1)
Filed under: Chick lit, English, F, Historical, Romance

By a Lady; Amanda Elyot By a Lady
by Amanda Elyot
American

English
372 pages
Three Rivers Press
ISBN: 1-4000-9799-1

First line: “It’s beautiful,” C.J. murmured, examining the curiously pockmarked amber cross.

Back cover blurb:
New York actress C.J. Welles, a die-hard Jane Austen fan, is on the verge of landing her dream role: portraying her idol in a Broadway play. But during her final audition, she is mysteriously transported back to Bath, England, in the year 1801. And Georgian England, with its rigid and unforgiving social structure and limited hygiene facilities, is not quite the picturesque costume drama C.J. had always imagined.
Just as she wishes she could click her heels together and return to Manhattan, C.J. meets the delightfully eccentric Lady Dalrymple, a widowed countess who takes C.J. into her home, introducing her as a poor relation to Georgian society—including the dashing Earl of Darlington and his cousin, Jane Austen!
When a crisis develops, C.J.—in a race against time—becomes torn between two centuries. An attempt to return to her own era might mean forfeiting her blossoming romance with the irresistible Darlington and her growing friendship with Jane Austen, but it’s a risk she must take. And in the midst of this remarkable series of events, C.J. discovers something even more startling—a secret from her own past that may explain how she wound up in Bath in the first place.

Thoughts: I read about this book on a blog a while back (I forget which one, I’m sorry to say) and since I’ve been on a bit of an Austen kick lately, I thought it sounded interesting and figured I would give it a shot. The review I read warned that there was hot, steamy sex to be found in the novel, and while that’s not normally my cup of tea (especially in a Regency era novel), I figured I would be okay with it since I had advance warning. Yeah, not so much.

I absolutely and utterly hated this book. I think it might actually be the worst book I’ve ever read. Usually when I find fault with a book, there’s something else about it that makes it not quite so horrid. Say, if the language is bad, the characters have redeeming qualities, and so forth. But this sorry excuse for a novel was quite honestly bad in every imaginable way.

The main character, C.J., is such a Mary Sue it’s not even funny. She’s an American actress who is absolutely obsessed with Jane Austen and is about to get her big break landing a role as Jane Austen in a two-character Broadway play. Guess who the author is? An American actress who is seriously into Jane Austen and played that very person in a two-character play (if it was on Broadway I don’t particularly know, but it doesn’t seem too unlikely). And of course, C.J. is perfect in every single way. Ergo1, Mary Sue.

The story is nearly always told from C.J.’s point-of-view, except occasionally when it suddenly changes to be the point-of-view of whatever other person happens to be nearby. These changes feel very crudely done and seemed to serve no real purpose, except to confuse and annoy.

As if that wasn’t enough, the language is absolutely horrible. The author seems bent on sticking as many big and fancy words in there as she possibly can, with no regard to if they fit the feel of the rest of it, or not. And don’t get me started on the sex scenes! My god, they made my eyes bleed. Let’s just say there was a little too much ear-licking for my tastes, and just in general terribly unappealing. Nothing even remotely sexy about the writing there. I think she was going for romantic/hot and steamy, but completely and utterly failed.

Another bone of contention I have with this book is how the women of 1801 are portrayed as compared to C.J., who is the representative of the 21st century woman. The former, with a few exceptions, are made out to be exceedingly unintelligent, whilst C.J. is so clever and so well-read, which we are made to understand is how all 21st century women are. I think there might be something in that, don’t get me wrong (we do have access to a lot more information, these days), but I don’t exactly think C.J. is the average modern day woman either. She is well-acquainted with early 19th century law, knows more about heart conditions than the Georgian physician (true that medicine has made advances since 1801, but would a layperson really know more than a doctor, even if he was a backwards one? I’m not so sure), and uses Latin phrases in everyday conversation2 quite a lot. I just don’t buy that this is the average woman of our time. But then, as mentioned previously, C.J. is a Mary Sue and thus cannot be held to the same standards as the rest of us.

One last thing I have a problem with is the character Lady Dalrymple. She’s eccentric, but a nice person and rather well-liked, even, as far as I can tell, by Jane Austen. Now, if you are familiar with your Austen novels, you will know that in Persuasion, there is a character with that very same name. This person, however, is a rather proud and disagreeable lady. One would assume that Elyot’s chosen the names for her characters to make it out that Jane Austen took the names of her characters from people she knew (there are other examples of this as well). If that is indeed the case, I feel sorry for Lady Dalrymple to be thus abused by someone who apparently quite liked her.

The rating, if anyone’s having any sort of doubt at this point, is an F. I would go lower if I could, but I can’t, and so an F it is. The only reason I read ’til the end (I’ll have to admit to skipping some passages that were too much to bear), was because I’d spent money on the book and didn’t want that to have been a complete waste.

1. Oh, I’ll be made to eat that ergo before the end of this review, you mark my word.
2. This is when I eat my ergo.


26th January, 2008
Whose Body?; Dorothy L Sayers
— Love @ 23:08 Comments (5)
Filed under: A, A-Z Reading Challenge, Decades '08, English, First in a Series, Historical, Mystery

Whose Body?; Dorothy L Sayers Whose Body?
by Dorothy L Sayers
British

For the Decades ’08 (first published 1923), First in a Series and A-Z reading challenges.

English
212 pages
Harper Mystery
ISBN: 978-0-06-104357-4

First line: “Oh damn!” said Lord Peter Wimsey at Piccadilly Circus.

Back cover blurb:
The stark naked body was lying in the tub. Not unusual for a proper bath, but highly irregular for murder — especially with a pair of gold pince-nez deliberately perched before the sightless eyes. What’s more, the face appeared to have been shaved after death. The police assumed that the victim was a prominent financier, but Lord Peter Wimsey, who dabbled in mystery detection as a hobby, knew better. In this, his first murder case, Lord Peter untangles the ghastly mystery of the corpse in the bath.

Thoughts: It would appear that I have gone and done it again. Read a book I was certain was a re-read, only to find that it wasn’t, I mean. I was utterly convinced that Whose Body? was a re-read, and thus felt a little bit of a cheat for including it in so many challenges, but I couldn’t in fact remember a thing from it. Now, I know that if I did read it before, it was upwards of seven or eight years ago, but I still refuse to believe I would have no recollection of it at all. After all, Lord Peter Wimsey is not the sort of man you forget just like that.

If it sounds as though I’m complaining, rest assured that nothing could be further from the truth! I am utterly, utterly pleased to find that there was more Lord Peter for me to discover. It is not exactly a treat you are given every day.

My copy of the book (a handy paperback that’s been lugged around everywhere with me this week, as I have had very little time to actually sit down and read, but have been determined to sit down and read all the same, wherever and whenever that might have been) is full of little blue post-it notes sticking out where there are passages I liked especially much (mostly funny and/or snarky ones). I don’t usually quote the actual books in my reviews (apart from the first line, obviously), but I figured I would make an exception for Lord Peter and post a few things I adored (I will attempt to make all of them non-spoilery, so not all my favourites are included. In fact, most aren’t).

“[…] if I sacked you on top of drinking the kind of coffee you make, I’d deserve everything you could say of me. You’re a demon for coffee, Bunter — I don’t want to know how you do it, because I believe it to be witchcraft, and I don’t want to burn eternally.”

“[…] That’s all,” said Parker abruptly, with a wave of the hand.
“It isn’t all, it isn’t all. Daddy, go on, that’s not half a story,” pleaded Lord Peter.

“Never mind,” said Parker, soothingly, “he’s always like that. It’s premature senile decay, often observed in the families of hereditary legislators. Go away, Wimsey, and play us the ‘Beggar’s Opera’, or something.”

Quite obviously, my favourite character is Lord Peter Wimsey himself, mostly because he is magnificently snarky and simply wonderful, but there are other marvellous characters in these books as well. Parker, who is a police detective and a friend of Wimsey’s, and the Dowager Duchess of Denver, who is Wimsey’s mother and quite funny (though usually not intentionally so), are just two of them. I also have to mention Bunter, Wimsey’s man, because what sort of person would I be if I didn’t? The Wimsey books would be nothing without him, as he is Wimsey’s assistant in pretty much everything that he does.

But I ramble, and it’s getting late, so I’ll end this review (if it can even be called that. I’m not entirely sure anything I write in this blog properly could be) with an A rating. It was an exceedingly nice surprise to find that I hadn’t read the book before, the mystery I thought was a good one (though I hardly dwelt on that in the review) and the characters even better.


7th January, 2008
Some Danger Involved; Will Thomas
— Love @ 19:56 Comments (1)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, Back to History, English, Historical, Mystery

Some Danger Involved; Will Thomas Some Danger Involved
by Will Thomas
American

For the Back to History and A-Z reading challenges.

English
302 pages
Touchstone
ISBN: 978-0-7432-5619-3

First line: If someone had told me, those many years ago, that I would spend the bulk of my life as assistant and eventual partner to one of the most eminent detectives in London, I would have thought him a raving lunatic.

Back cover blurb:
An atmospheric debut novel set on the gritty streets of Victorian London, Some Danger Involved introduces detective Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, as they work to solve the gruesome murder of a young scholar in London’s Jewish ghetto. When the eccentric and enigmatic Barker takes the case, he must hire an assistant, and out of all who answer an ad for a position with “some danger involved,” he chooses downtrodden Llewelyn, a gutsy young man with a murky past.
As they inch ever closer to the shocking truth behind the murder, Llewelyn is drawn deeper and deeper into Barker’s peculiar world of vigilante detective work, as well as the heart of London’s teeming underworld.

Thoughts: Sometimes, when you read the first line of a book, you just know that you’re going to end up loving the whole book. This one had one of those and I was not disappointed in the least. It reads very much like a classic Holmes-type detective story, but is in fact written just a few years ago.

And oh, Victorian London! It’s one of my favourite settings for books, I have to admit. All that grime and slum and, well, everything about it — I adore it. As for the story line itself, it was pretty good. It wasn’t obvious whodunnit, but there were a couple of clues that you could’ve picked up on (unless you’re as dense as me, of course), which is nice. I don’t like mysteries where the solution is too obvious, but neither do I like when it’s so surprising you still can’t see the clues even when you know the answer.

This was the first in a series and although I like it, I’m not sure I’ll read the following books. At least I’m not absolutely dying to.

For the moment, rest assured that the B grade I’m giving it is very well-deserved.


5th January, 2008
An Assembly Such as This; Pamela Aidan
— Love @ 22:49 Comments (5)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, Back to History, English, First in a Series, Historical, Romance

An Assembly Such as This; Pamela Aidan An Assembly Such as This
by Pamela Aidan
American

For the First in a Series, Back to History and A-Z reading challenges.

English
256 pages
Touchstone
ISBN: 978-0-7432-9134-7

First line: Fitzwilliam George Alexander Darcy rose from his seat in the Bingley carriage and reluctantly descended to earth before the assembly hall above the only inn to which the small market town of Meryton could lay claim.

Back cover blurb:
“She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.”

So begins the timeless romance of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s classic novel which is beloved by millions, but little is revealed in the book about the mysterious and handsome hero, Mr. Darcy. And so the question has long remained: Who is Fitzwilliam Darcy?
In An Assembly Such as This, Pamela Aidan finally answers that long-standing question. In this first book of her Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy, she reintroduces us to Darcy during his visit to Hertfordshire with his friend Charles Bingley and reveals Darcy’s hidden perspective on the events of Pride and Prejudice. As Darcy spends more time at Netherfield supervising Bingley and fending off Miss Bingley’s persistent advances, his unwilling attraction to Elizabeth grows—as does his concern about her relationship with his nemesis, George Wickham.

Thoughts: Unlike Darcy’s Story, which I read in December, this book really captured me from the first chapter. Here is Mr. Darcy as I have always pictured him. The other characters, some of which are original characters, are well-written as well and especially Fletcher, Darcy’s valet, won my heartfelt approval.

On the whole, it felt as though it was written very much in the spirit of Austen herself, and there was much giggling and squeeing from me as I read it.

The only negative thing about it is that it’s the first in a series and I hadn’t realised that the whole series would make up the events in Pride and Prejudice. In fact, I thought the following two books would relate the events after Darcy’s and Lizzy’s wedding. As I found it was not the case, I shall simply have to hunt down the following two volumes at my earliest convenience, as I will not rest until I know what happens next (shut up! Yes, I know I know what happens next, but I don’t have Aidan’s Darcy’s take on it, so there!).

For now, it’s a B grade. If the rest of the series proves to be as good as this, I might bump it up to an A in the end.


5th January, 2008
Flambards Divided; KM Peyton
— Love @ 15:34 Comments (2)
Filed under: D, Decades '08, English, Historical, YA Challenge 2008, Young Adult

Flambards Divided; KM Peyton Flambards Divided
by KM Peyton
British

For the Young Adult and Decades ’08 (first published 1981) reading challenges.

English
283 pages
Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-257055-6

First line: Christina had dreamed of Will again.

Back cover blurb:
When Christina marries Dick, she hopes that life at Flambards will settle down at last. But the village gossips find it scandalous that she, a rich landowner, should marry a peasant, and show their disapproval in no uncertain terms.

Even more unsettling is Mark’s return from the war in France. Badly injured and resentful of Dick, Mark is still the imposing character of old who stirs up confusing feelings in Christina. Just as before, Christina finds her loyalties divided between two very different men, and knows she has a terrible decision ahead of her…

Thoughts: This is by far my least favourite book in the series. It is the last one and the most grown-up, so you’d think I’d like it better, being older now than the first time I read it. But no. In fact I feel as though Peyton quite ruins my favourite character (even if his reactions are understandable, I still don’t want him to have them quite so violently. Things could have worked out, I am quite certain of it).

Another thing is that all the other books are seen completely from Christina’s perspective, but here we suddenly get passages written from someone else’s point of view. Normally I wouldn’t have minded that, but with three books behind you, it’s a little late to start changing things around without it seeming a little strange.

In the end, whilst the rest of the Flambards-books have received Cs, this one gets a D, for the reasons outlined above.


4th January, 2008
Flambards in Summer; KM Peyton
— Love @ 15:11 Comments (2)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, C, English, Historical, Young Adult

Flambards in Summer; KM Peyton Flambards in Summer
by KM Peyton
British

For the A-Z Reading Challenge.

English
188 pages
Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-275054-9

First line: The RFC ditty with the sad tune, which Christina had sung several times with Will and his friends when he had been home on leave, would not leave her head.

Back cover blurb:
Widowed at twenty-one, Christina has returned to Flambards to find much has changed. The First World War is well underway, with Uncle Russell and her beloved Will both dead, while Mark is missing, presumed killed. Flambards itself is run-down, neglected and completely overgrown.

Christina vows to return the manor house to its former glory, and works hard to transform the home of her childhood. It is only when a familiar face appears at her door one day that she realizes that Flambards may even bring her love again…

Thoughts: This is the third of four books about Flambards and I finished it in one sitting. Like the previous books in the series, it’s a nice enough read and, while still considered YA, decidedly more adult than the other two.

While I don’t like it quite as much as Flambards (which I think is my favourite of the four), I still give it a C rating.


3rd January, 2008
The Edge of the Cloud; KM Peyton
— Love @ 23:43 Comments (0)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, C, English, Historical, Young Adult

The Edge of the Cloud; KM Peyton The Edge of the Cloud
by KM Peyton
British

For the A-Z Reading Challenge.

English
181 pages
Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-275023-5

First line: ‘We’ve eloped,’ Christina said to Aunt Grace.

Back cover blurb:
Christina and Will have escaped Flambards for London with their heads full of dreams, only to find a whole new set of problems. Not only the basic ones of work and a place to live, but Will’s single-minded ambition to design and pilot flying machines, which terrify Christina every time he leaves the ground. Will is certain he can become a success, but what price is he willing to pay for the glory?

Thoughts: This is the sequel to Flambards and has less horses (and a lot more air-borne machinery). It reads as a logical continuation of Christina’s and Will’s story and earns itself another of those C ratings I seem so fond of dealing out of late.


3rd January, 2008
Flambards; KM Peyton
— Love @ 19:52 Comments (0)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, C, English, First in a Series, Historical, YA Challenge 2008, Young Adult

Flambards; KM Peyton Flambards
by KM Peyton
British

For the First in a Series, Young Adult and A-Z reading challenges.

English
220 pages
Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-271955-3

First line: The fox was running easily.

Back cover blurb:
Christina is sent to live with her uncle and his two sons in their country house, Flambards.

She finds her uncle fierce and domineering and her cousin Mark arrogant and selfish. But Flambards isn’t all bad, for Christina soon discovers a passion for horse-riding and forms a binding friendship with her cousin Will.

As time goes by Christina comes to realize the important part she has to play in this emotionally-charged and strange household.

Thoughts: Oh, it’s been absolute ages since I’ve read any horse-y books! I used to be quite crazy about them when I was younger, just as I was crazy about everything else related to horses.

It is a nice book, though. I quite like it still, even if perhaps not quite so much as previously. A C is in order—I spent a couple of hours curled up with it, time which I don’t begrudge it, and I have no objection to (re-)reading the rest of the series, but it’s not absolutely fantastic.


3rd January, 2008
His Majesty’s Dragon; Naomi Novik
— Love @ 15:30 Comments (7)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, English, Fantasy, First in a Series, Here Be Dragons, Historical, Seafaring Challenge

His Majesty's Dragon; Naomi Novik His Majesty’s Dragon
by Naomi Novik
American

For the Here Be Dragons, First in a Series, Seafaring and A-Z reading challenges.

English
356 pages
Del Rey
ISBN: 978-0-345-48128-3

First line: The deck of the French ship was slippery with blood, heaving in the choppy sea; a stroke might as easily bring down the man making it as the intended target.

Back cover blurb:
Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors rise to Britain’s defense by taking to the skies… not aboard aircraft but atop the mighty backs of fighting dragons.
When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into the uncertain future—and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarefied world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

Thoughts: I really, really liked this book. I’d suspected I might, and thankfully I was not disappointed, as has sometimes been the case (The Eyre Affair springs readily to mind as an example of this). Naomi Novik’s take on the Napoleonic Wars is quite exciting to read and her characters are ones you quickly become exceedingly fond of. The only beef I have with the story is that it’s sometimes a little too fantastic, perhaps. That, and the reactions of the main character to certain things (though, granted, they are perfectly understandable reactions for him to have, as a product of the Regency era. Still, they grated on me a little).

All in all, though, I can say with certainty that I will try to get my paws on the next three books in the series as soon as possible, and that I will also wait with bated breath for June to come around and with it the publishing of the fifth book.

A B rating is nothing if not extremely well-deserved in this case.


31st December, 2008
Flying Colours; CS Forester
— Love @ 18:48 Comments (2)
Filed under: Adventure, B, Classics, English, Historical, Personal challenges, Seafaring Challenge

The Admiral Hornblower Omnibus; CS Forester Flying Colours (part of the Admiral Hornblower Omnibus)
by CS Forester
British

For the End of Year Mini Challenge and the Seafaring Challenge.

English
155 pages
Penguin Books
ISBN: 0-14-011940-X (for the whole Omnibus)

First line: Captain Hornblower was walking up and down along the sector of the ramparts of Rosas, delimited by two sentries with loaded muskets, which the commandant had granted him for exercise.

Back cover blurb:
Hornblower becomes a national hero when he escapes a French firing squad. But the Terror of the Mediterranean becomes Europe’s most wanted man, forced to fight alone for England — and liberty.

Thoughts: I tend to get confused about which Hornblower books I’ve already read and which I have not, since I’ve not managed to find them all previously and the old translations I have don’t always include the original title. It was, therefore, a bit of a surprise when I discovered that Flying Colours was new to me. It’s true that I knew the basic storyline, since it’s alluded to in a later short story (later chronologically, anyway. I think it might have been published before Flying Colours), but I hadn’t actually read the entire thing before.

I liked it. I liked it a lot. But then again, I don’t think I’ll ever cease being intrigued by the vast difference of Hornblower as he sees himself and Hornblower as others see him. That, by far, is my favourite thing about these novels, even if Hornblower’s relationships with his men (especially Bush) and all the high seas adventures come close behind.

At any rate, I’m giving this a B and will let that conclude this year of reading. I don’t expect I shall finish anything else in 2007.


30th December, 2007
Lord John and the Hand of Devils; Diana Gabaldon
— Love @ 20:07 Comments (0)
Filed under: B, English, GLBT interest, Historical, Mystery, Personal challenges

Lord John and the Hand of Devils; Diana Gabaldon Lord John and the Hand of Devils
by Diana Gabaldon
American

For the End of Year Mini Challenge.

English
317 pages
Century
ISBN: 978-0-7126-8065-3

First line: Lord John Grey jerked his eyes away from the door.

Back cover blurb:
Diana Gabaldon, the New York Times bestselling author of A Breath of Snow and Ashes, delivers three tales of war, intrigue and espionage featuring the unforgettable Lord John Grey. In the heart of the eighteenth century, Lord John’s world is one of mystery and menace; where allies have the power to destroy him with a single blow. As he ventures into an ominous unknown, his companions are haunted soldiers, sinister family secrets and lingering memories of a fiery-haired Scot named James Fraser.

In The Hellfire Club, Lord John is drawn by an attractive stranger in the doorway of a gentlemen’s club, where he witnesses the shocking murder of a young diplomat. Vowing to avenge the death, he is lead into a maze of political treachery and a debauched underground society, the notorious Hellfire Club.

In The Succubus, Grey’s assignment to a regiment in Germany finds him caught between two threats: the advancing French and Austrian armies and the menace of a mysterious ‘night-hag’ who spreads fear and death among the troops.

In The Haunted Soldier, Lord John is called to testify in the case of an exploding battlefield cannon and is forced to confront his own ghosts. Knee-deep in a morass of gunpowder, treason and plot, he is haunted by a dead lieutenant and followed by a man with no face.

Thoughts: Lord John is back! And he’s still the Lord John I’ve come to love. Poor, poor man, though—he never seems to get a moments peace. Still, I suppose that is one of the things that makes me like the stories about him, because they are filled of adventure and mystery and other fantastic things. Mind you, I still am not fawning over Gabaldon’s writing. Her language isn’t fantastic, but she does get her point across and, of course, her characters are marvellous people, which is what’s made me stick around for so long.

One of the stories in this volume, I’d read before (it’s included in one of my two copies of Lord John and the Private Matter and, to be honest, the reason I have two copies of that book in the first place), but the two others were new to me, and I quite enjoyed them all.

This volume receives a B rating and it’s a well-deserved one.

Apparently, there is another Lord John novel in the works and you won’t hear me complaining about it! (Well, that is to say, unless I make a remark or two that it’s taking a little long…)


29th December, 2007
The Night Watch; Sarah Waters
— Love @ 13:10 Comments (0)
Filed under: D, English, GLBT interest, Historical, Personal challenges

The Night Watch; Sarah Waters The Night Watch
by Sarah Waters
British

For the End of Year Mini Challenge.

English
506 pages
Virago Press
ISBN: 978-1-84408-241-4

First line: So this, said Kay to herself, is the sort of person you’ve become: a person whose clocks and wrist-watches have stopped, and who tells the time, instead, by the particular kind of cripple arriving at her landlord’s door.

Back cover blurb:
The Night Watch is the extraordinary story of four Londoners: Kay, who wanders the streets in mannish clothes, restless and searching… Helen, who harbours a troubling secret… Viv, glamour girl, recklessly loyal to her soldier love… and Duncan, an apparent innocent, struggling with demons of his own.

Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked-out streets, illicit liaisons and sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, this is an astonishing novel.

Thoughts: I borrowed this book from the library in the spring, but never got more than a few pages in. I found it quite cheap in an online book store a while back, so decided to get it and try again. I’ve seen it read all over the places and people have really liked it, plus I’ve read all the other books by Waters.

However, while I did finish it this time around, I just did not like it. It’s told backwards, almost, and I found it really hard to get invested in the characters. Every time I had managed to start to care, even a little bit, and was curious as to what would happen to them next, the story jumped back in time and it was like starting all over again.

I’m giving this novel a D rating, because no matter how much I might have wanted to like it—love it, even—I just couldn’t. I’m not sure I’ll read any more Waters, if she does write something new. All her books have had, to me, tedious passages that I struggled to get through to get at the good bits, but it seems that each new story from her has more and more of these. I’m sorry, Miss Waters, but I think we’re through.


23rd December, 2007
Darcy’s Story; Janet Aylmer
— Love @ 13:14 Comments (1)
Filed under: C, English, Historical, Romance

Darcy's Story; Janet Aylmer Darcy’s Story
by Janet Aylmer
British

English
277 pages
Harper Collins
ISBN: 0-06-114870-9

First line: It is a consequence of possessing an income of ten thousand pounds a year that a man may order his life to his own liking, and chose his own society.

Back cover blurb:
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has long stood among the most beloved novels of all time. The story of Elizabeth Bennet’s blossoming romance with “haughty, reserved and fastidious” Fitzwilliam Darcy has enchanted readers for nearly two centuries. Yet, Mr Darcy has always remained an intriguing enigma—his thoughts, feelings, and motivations hidden behind a cold, impenetrable exterior… until now.
With the utmost respect for Austen’s original masterwork, author Janet Aylmer lovingly retells Pride and Prejudice from a bold new perspective: seeing events as they transpire through the eyes of Darcy himself. One of the world’s great love stories takes on breathtaking new life, and one of fiction’s greatest romantic heroes becomes even more sympathetic, compelling, attractive, and accessible, all through the imagination and artistry of a truly gifted storyteller.

Thoughts: When I was fourteen, I discovered Austen-inspired fanfiction online. It’s been a long time since I last read any, but upon browsing a few book blogs a couple of months ago, I was reminded of the published and printed fanfiction that is out there. Darcy’s Story is the first of these that I read and, while I can’t say that it was absolutely and utterly fantastic, it was a decent read. I minded a bit that certain parts were repetetive in the extreme, and I thought the style of writing was a bit far from Austen’s own, but on the whole, the book still earns itself a C.


18th December, 2007
Ut ur skuggan; Jessica Kolterjahn
— Love @ 13:54 Comments (1)
Filed under: B, C, GLBT interest, Historical, Swedish

Ut ur skuggan; Jessica Kolterjahn Ut ur skuggan
by Jessica Kolterjahn
Swedish

Swedish
257 pages
Månpocket
ISBN: 978-91-7001-533-5

First line: Minne: Jag spelade piano.

Back cover blurb:
Jag fotograferar. Det är det enda som känns som om det är mitt eget. Allt annat är någon annans. Någon annans val.

Agnes växer upp i en rik överklassfamilj i Stockholm under 1920- och 30-talen. Hemmet är kyligt och kärlekslöst och Agnes liv präglas av längtan. Hon längtar efter ett eget liv, efter att få göra något meningsfullt, efter att bli älskad.

Först när hon får en kamera av sin morfar börjar hon känna sig hel. Genom den upptäcker hon världen på ett nytt sätt och får en egen identitet.

Steg för steg bryter Agnes sin isolering. Hon umgås med spännande människor i ett Stockholm som sjuder av jazz, politiska motsättningar och sexuell frigörelse. Hon får uppleva kärleken – både den förbjudna och den socialt accepterade.

Agnes väljer att gå sin egen väg, men till slut inser hon att hon aldrig kan glömma sitt livs stora kärlek.

Thoughts: A couple of years ago I read a book by Marika Kolterjahn, who is married to Jessica ditto (I think it’s quite neat with an author couple, I must admit). That was a young adult tale of a girl discovering her sexuality. This novel deals with more or less the same topic, but is written for adults and, in my opinion, the better of the two. There was something here, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, that kept me reading until I’d turned the last page, which ended more or less where I felt the story should end.

On the whole, a good book, and one well deserving a B rating.


10th December, 2007
Now & Then; William Corlett
— Love @ 15:52 Comments (1)
Filed under: A, English, GLBT interest, Historical

Now & Then; William Corlett Now & Then
by William Corlett
British

English
346 pages
Abacus Fiction
ISBN: 0-349-10775-0

First line: The room he died in smelt of Dettol and bonfire smoke.

Back cover blurb:
Now, Christopher Metcalfe returns to his family home in Kent after the death of his father. Sorting through a box of memorabilia from his days at public school, Chris is suddenly confronted by the face that has haunted him for thirty years.

Then, as a callow fifth former enduring the excesses of a school system designed to run an Empire that no longer existed, a most extraordinary thing happened amid the thrashings and cross-country runs: he was seduced by Stephen Walker, a prefect two years his senior with whom he went on to share a brief but intensely passionate affair. Now, again, alone, approaching the age of fifty, Christopher is painfully aware of the price he paid for letting go, and resolves to find Stephen, and discover what became of the only person he has ever loved.

Thoughts: I started reading this at a couple of minutes to ten one night, intending to put it down and go to sleep after half an hour or so. Three o’clock in the morning, on the dot, I closed the covers after having finished the whole thing.

I haven’t been this captured by a book in quite some time. I simply adored it. If you can recall, one of the issues I had with While England Sleeps was that I felt that the language didn’t really fit—wasn’t British enough, if you will—but I had no such problem with this novel. It’s written by an Englishman, and you can really tell. The language is lovely and British and I’m sorry, but for some types of stories, you have to have that to make it work. (I probably sound like such a language snob now.)

Either way, I really, really loved this book. It has a good mix of moments of happiness, of gloom and of angst, the language is wonderful and it’s part set in a public school. There’s no way the rating is going to be anything other than an A. Go read it—now!


5th December, 2007
While England Sleeps; David Leavitt
— Love @ 18:25 Comments (0)
Filed under: C, English, GLBT interest, Historical

While England Sleeps; David Leavitt While England Sleeps
by David Leavitt
American

English
309 pages
Abacus Fiction
ISBN: 0-349-10953-2

First line: In the early 1950s, history and politics conspired to create a circumstance in which it was impossible for me to ply my chosen trade—namely, writing.

Back cover blurb:
At a meeting of republican sympathisers in London, Brian Botsford, a young middle-class writer and Cambridge graduate, meets Edward Phelan, an idealistic self-educated London Underground worker. They share a mutual attraction. Across the divisions of class they begin an affair in secrecy.
But Edward possesses ‘an unproblematic capacity to accept’ Brian and the love that dare not speak its name, whereas Brian is more cautious and under family pressure agrees to be set up with a suitable young woman. Pushed to the point of crisis, Edward threatens to volunteer to fight Franco in Spain.
In While England Sleeps, David Leavitt, highly praised for his precisely observed portrayal of the complexity of intimate relationships, depicts the violent drama of war and forbidden love in a historical novel of great resonance and breadth.

Thoughts: I’ve read one other book by Leavitt (The Lost Language of Cranes) and since I really liked that, I was prepared to be swept off my feet by this one, especially given that it’s set in 1930’s England with commies and queers. Really, I thought, there was no way I could not like it. Well, as it turns out, I was wrong.

At first, I really struggled with it. I found the language a little irritating and not at all fitting the story (I guess I had a bit of a problem with how this American author wrote a British middle-class man, even if said man had lived in the US for decades), so I put it down and I didn’t touch it for a little over a week. Then I started again and I suddenly found myself dragged in and not bothered by the language much at all.

Of course, though, being a story of commies (though not as much as I’d thought) and queers, it was doom, doom, DOOM all the way through. I wonder why I ever think it’s going to turn out differently?

Like I said, it won me around a little by the end, but not enough to earn it more than a C.


13th November, 2007
Paper Moon; Marion Husband
— Love @ 21:43 Comments (0)
Filed under: B, English, GLBT interest, Historical

Paper Moon; Marion Husband Paper Moon
by Marion Husband
British

English
332 pages
Accent Press
ISBN: 1-905170-14-9

First line: The robe the man had given her to change into was dark blue silk, printed with storks and Japanese gardens and tiny bridges on which pigtailed men crossed shimmering streams.

Back cover blurb:
The passionate love affair between Spitfire pilot Bobby Harris and photographer’s model Nina Tate lasts through the turmoil of World War II, but is tested when his plain is shot down. Disfigured and wanting to hide from the world, Bobby retreats from Bohemian Soho to the empty house his grandfather has left him, a house haunted by the secrets of his childhood. Here the mysteries of his past are gradually unravelled.

Thoughts: This is the sequel to The Boy I Love and you can forget the issues I had with that book ending on a too depressing note. Turns out that, even though they are not the main characters this time around, my favourite people from that book still had story left for them and by the time I’d turned the last page, things were settled more to my liking.

It’s another B rating. It was easy enough to lose myself in (I couldn’t wait to get home from work so I could continue reading) and I’ll probably end up re-reading it at some point.


12th November, 2007
The Boy I Love; Marion Husband
— Love @ 14:03 Comments (0)
Filed under: B, English, GLBT interest, Historical

The Boy I Love; Marion Husband The Boy I Love
by Marion Husband
British

English
276 pages
Accent Press
ISBN: 1-905170-00-9

First line: Hiding in Adam’s pantry, Paul remembered how he was once forced to eat marmalade at school, a whole pot of marmalade, Jenkins twisting his arms up his back as Nichols held his nose and clattered the spoon past his teeth.

Back cover blurb:
A tangled web of love and betrayal develops when war hero Paul returns from the trenches. He finds himself torn between desire and duty, his lover Adam awaits but so too does Margot, the pregnant fiancée of his dead brother. Set in a time when homosexuality was still illegal, Paul has to decide where his loyalty and his heart lie.

Thoughts: At first I found the story a little confusing, as there are frequent, though very short, flashbacks. You get used to them after a while though, and they are interesting in the way that they don’t give everything away at once.

Don’t read this if you want a happy ending, because you won’t get it here. I’m a little tired now, of books with a homosexual theme that end on a depressing note. I’ve read too many of them lately — I want a happy ending for a gay character, damn it! But I guess there’s no change in sight any time soon, since EM Forster lamented the lack of happy endings as early as at the beginning of the 20th century. But I digress.

Despite the somewhat mopey feeling I was left with, I quite liked it. A B is in order, I think.


11th November, 2007
Kydd; Julian Stockwin
— Love @ 18:23 Comments (2)
Filed under: Adventure, C, English, Historical, Seafaring Challenge

Kydd; Julian Stockwin Kydd
by Julian Stockwin
British

For the Seafaring Challenge.

English
440 pages
Coronet Books
ISBN: 0-340-79474-7

First line: ‘The Honourable Member for Molton.’

Back cover blurb:
Guns. Guts. Courage. Discipline. Death.

The year is 1793. Europe is ablaze with war and men are urgently needed to man the ships. Press-ganged off the streets of Guildford, young wig-maker Thomas Paine Kydd must learn the harsh realities of shipboard life very quickly. It’s that or die.

In all the danger of tempest and battle, Kydd eventually learns to admire the skills and courage of his shipmates. He comes to relish the challenge of the 98-gun line-of-battle ship HMS Duke William, and the camaraderie of its battle-hardened crew. Kydd is loyal, brave and passionate. But will that be enough to turn the raw youth into a true sailor?

Thoughts: All other novels I’ve read on this theme have, more or less, featured officers as the main characters. This one doesn’t, which in a sense made it more interesting. However, I’ve discovered that I rather do prefer to read about officers rather than able (or ordinary, as the case may be) seamen.

This is just the first in a series of books, and while it was certainly okay (once I got in to it properly, which took a while, because of the tedium of everyday life aboard a blockade-cruising ship) , I have no urge to read the following books. If it had given me taste for more, my rating would have been higher, but as things are, I give it a C.


9th November, 2007
Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade; Diana Gabaldon
— Love @ 23:21 Comments (0)
Filed under: Adventure, B, English, GLBT interest, Historical, Mystery

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade; Diana Gabaldon Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade
by Diana Gabaldon
American

English
504 pages
Century
ISBN: 978-1-844-13201-0

First line: To the best of Lord John Grey’s knowledge, stepmothers as depicted in fiction tended to be venal, evil, cunning, homicidal, and occasionally cannibalistic.

Back cover blurb:
It’s 1758 and Europe is in turmoil — the Seven Years War is taking hold and London is ripe with deceit. The enigmatic Lord John Grey, a nobleman and high-ranking officer in His Majesty’s Army, pursues a clandestine love affair and a deadly family secret.

Grey’s father, the Duke of Pardloe, shot himself just days before he was to be accused of being a Jacobite traitor. Now, seventeen years on, the family name has been redeemed; but an impending marriage revives the scandal. Lord John knows that as Whitehall whispers, rumours all too often lead their victims to the wails of Newgate prison — and to the gallows.

From barracks and parade grounds to the bloody battlefields of Prussia, Grey faces danger and forbidden passions in his search for the truth. But it is in the stony fells of the Lake District that he finds the man who may hold the key to his quest: the enigmatic Jacobite prisoner Jamie Fraser.

Eighteenth-century Europe is brought startlingly to life in this compelling adventure mystery.

Thoughts: I’m not sure if I actually like Diana Gabaldon’s writing or not. I like some of her characters exceedingly well, but the writing itself? It’s so hard to decide, and so hard, sometimes, to separate the two. Either way, Lord John is one of my all-time favourite fictional characters and I was very pleased to have him back.

Poor man, though; Gabaldon treats him abominably ill throughout the course of the book. He does get a few happy moments in the middle somewhere, but there aren’t many of them. I know I can be an angst whore, but sometimes enough is just enough. And I wish the sex scenes were more appealingly written.

All in all, this gets a B. I’ll most likely go back for a re-read later on. It is Lord John we’re talking about here, after all!


4th November, 2007
Northanger Abbey; Jane Austen
— Love @ 18:15 Comments (2)
Filed under: B, Classics, English, Historical, Romance

Northanger Abbey; Jane Austen Northanger Abbey
by Jane Austen
British

English
236 pages
Penguin Popular Classics
ISBN: 0-14-062075-3

First line: No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.

Back cover blurb:
Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen’s amusing and bitingly satirical pastiche of the ‘Gothic’ romances popular in her day.

Catherine Morland, an unremarkable tomboy as a child, is thrown amongst all the ‘difficulties and dangers’ of Bath at the ripe age of seventeen. Armed with an unworldly charm and a vivid imagination, she must overcome the caprices of elegant society, encountering along the way such characters as the vacuous Mrs Allen, coquettish Isabella and the brash bully John Thorpe. Catherine’s invitation to Northanger Abbey, in her eyes a haven of coffins, skeletons and other Gothic devices, does lead to an adventure, though one she didn’t expect, and her misjudgement of the ambitious, somewhat villainous General Tilney is not wholly unjustified. However, with the ‘unromantic’ hero Henry Tilney, Catherine gradually progresses towards maturity and self-knowledge.

Thoughts: I first read this almost ten years ago and I must say I had a whole new appreciation for it this time around. I don’t remember liking it exceptionally well before, but now I was quite enamoured — especially with Henry Tilney, who I believe I thought quite a bore previously. I still haven’t read any of the Gothic novels that Austen refers to on a number of occasions, but I do plan on getting some of them read within the next year. Perhaps I should have left my re-read of this until after, to appreciate it even more, but I don’t think it was absolutely necessary. And, after all, I could always read this again, should the fancy strike.

I give this book a B. It’s not the best book I ever read, but it was enjoyable.