Back to History archive at Stray Talk
an archive of my forays into fact and fiction

Archive: Back to History


9th June, 2008
Annika Larsdotter: barnamörderska; Inger Lövkrona
— Love @ 13:40 Comments (0)
Filed under: Back to History, C, History, Swedish, To Be Read, True crime

Annika Larsdotter: barnamörderska; Inger Lövkrona Annika Larsdotter: barnamörderska
by Inger Lövkrona
Swedish

For the Back to History and To Be Read reading challenges.

Swedish
255 pages
Historiska Media
ISBN: 91-88930-64-5

First line: Boston — Min vän slänger tidningsartikeln på skrivbordet med en kort kommentar: “Ja, här har du en till.”

Back cover blurb:
Annika Larsdotter avrättades 1765, 18 år gammal. Hon hade då erkänt dråp på sitt nyfödda barn genom kvävning. Barnets far var Annikas svåger som hade tvingat henne till sexuellt umgänge, men sedan förnekade faderskapet.

Annika Larsdotter var en av tusentals unga svenska kvinnor som under 1600-, 1700- och 1800-talen anklagades för barnamord eller fosterfördrivning. Brottet ansågs vara samtidens största samhällsfara. Barnamörderskor dömdes strängt och utan förbarmande — kvinnan beskrevs ofta som en osedlig, ondskefull och grym moder, i nära släktskap med häxor.

Denna bok handlar om Annika men också om några av hennes olyckssystrar. Varför valde dessa kvinnor att mörda sitt barn? Varför valde de inte istället att, i likhet med andra ogifta mödrar, ta på sig rollen som ogift mor?

Etnologen Inger Lövkrona söker svaren genom att studera rättsfall från perioden 1729-1776. De bevarade domstolsprotokollen ger unika möjligheter att komma nära barnamörderskornas handlingar, tänkbara överväganden och känslor.

Very short synopsis in English: This is the study of eight cases from 18th century Sweden where young, unwed women murdered, or were accused of having murdered, their newborn children. Why did they do it?

Thoughts: This was a very interesting read, but what struck me as most shocking was an excerpt at the very beginning of the book, about “prom moms”. It’s easy to read about a case from the 18th century, where shame and desperation led someone to commit almost unspeakable offenses, and think that at least we’ve moved on from that now. Not everywhere we haven’t. Young women still sometimes don’t see any other way out. It’s absolutely horrifying and sad — it was then and it is now.

The book was sometimes a bit tricky to follow, but that always happens to me when I haven’t read academic texts in a while. All things considered, a C grade is in order.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


30th December, 2007
The end is nigh
— Love @ 22:47 Comments (0)
Filed under: Back to History, General booktalk, Personal challenges, To Be Read

Not too many hours left of this year now—just over twenty-five here, actually.

I’ve looked over the challenges for next year and finally got around to joining two more I’ve been meaning to sign up for for a while. All lists are now set in stone (with the possible exception of the Decades challenge, which gives a little more leeway when it comes to changing one’s list).

  • The Back to History challenge, where you are to read twelve books, mixing both fact and fiction, set in historical times, during the year. My list is here, or under Challenges in the top navigation.
  • The To Be Read challenge, where the goal is to read (at least) twelve books that have been in your to be read-pile for at least six months (though this time limit is optional, I still chose to go with it). You also have the option to pick twelve alternates and I have done so. My list is here or, as always, under Challenges in the top navigation.
  • I will also be reading the Bible as a challenge during 2008, but that will be more behind the scenes, as I don’t think I will post much about it. The challenge is hosted by Caroline, though, and here is the challenge post itself. Like her, I shall be reading three chapters every day, except Sundays, when I shall be reading five. Unlike her, I will be reading a Swedish translation.

As you might also have noticed, in the last couple of reviews I’ve posted I’ve said that I read the books for the End of Year Mini Challenge, which is a personal challenge I came up with as a last minute thing to spur me on to manage 140 books this year. I only have one book to go now, so it seems likely I shall reach my goal.

I’m a ridiculous little book geek and every year I look forward to summing up the reading year that’s just passed, so expect one of those posts as soon as the bell tolls midnight on the thirty-first.

Happy New Year, everyone! (And by everyone I mean those who read this blog, which is a small set of everyones. All the same!)