Monday, November 16, 2009

In a world... where no one is who they say thay are... A Historical Novel Review.

by Georgette Heyer

Cover: Your average Regency romance. Pretty cute, though!

Summary: Arabella Tallant is a young lady poised on the edge of adulthood towards the end of the Regency period when she gets the chance to spend a season in London. While her family is by no means poor, they are also not wealthy, so they depend upon the graces of their wealthy friends and their abilities to scrimp and save so that Arabella can have the season she deserves.

But before she can arrive in London, a chance encounter with the dashing and embarrassingly-wealthy Mr. Beaumaris at his hunting lodge changes everything. You see, Arabella might have somehow led him to believe that she's someone that she's not. A very very rich someone. It was a matter of social vengeance that led her to do it, but nevertheless she will have to reap the consequences when he discovers she is not who she says she is.

Of course, Mr. Robert Beaumaris is not all that meets the eye; he is hiding a part of himself from Arabella, too. Even as the celebrated "Nonpareil" of London high society, where every move he makes is copied by the simplest would-be dandy, his true nature is unknown to all but a cherished few. He's tired of every fortune-hunter falling prettily into his lap. When Arabella and her inexplicable caprices cross his path, however, he is more than intrigued; in fact, he may have found someone who has seen through to his true nature. The question remains: has he seen through to hers?

You can bet that high-jinks ensue.

My Review: I really, really liked Arabella! I have to admit, right now it's right underneath Venetia as my favorite Heyer. Here's why I like Arabella in particular:
  • She is cunning and spunky without being anachronistic. That's not to say that despising your society's conventions is necessarily anachronistic, but... I easily tire of books where the "heroine" doesn't "understand" why she must wear a dress and go to parties and marry someone she doesn't necessarily know that well, when all she'd rather do is put on a pair of "trousers" and match wits with the boys. See, because unless you're Philippa Gregory and you're writing the novel Meridon, that's a really hard act to pull off and make it somehow plausible. What Heyer does here, in this novel, is make a typical Regency young lady quite feisty and likable without making her so much of a standout from her society. She longs to go to London for her first season. She secretly researches the latest French fashions when her strict pastor father is not looking. She likes to think of herself as fragile even though she has quite a hardy constitution (but fragility is so much more romantic!). She tries not to think too hard about the men she might meet in London because she's more than a little excited about the possibility of getting married. She's very much a product of her environment, and yet a standout, likable character.
  • She is so pretty, but shy of receiving hand-outs from people, that she compels them to give her hand-outs that they otherwise had had no intention to give. Seriously. This happens, like, numerous times throughout the book.
  • She manages to persuade Beaumaris into doing nearly anything for her. Similar to above, although Beaumaris's acts of generosity involve taking in orphaned chimney sweeps and mongrel dogs. But that's how you know he looooves you...
  • When Beaumaris calls her out on enjoying all the attention she gets as an heiress, she giggles and is like, "Yeah, I know, right?"
So beyond how much I liked the heroine, I once again got caught up in Heyer's clever, tongue-in-cheek, utterly Regency writing.

In particular I liked that the book focused almost entirely on Arabella herself, and since Heyer developed such a likable heroine, this was the exact right way to go. Sometimes Heyer can go off on describing a scene from a minor character's point view, but in a way that detracts from the story and sloooows the pace down (I'm talking about you, Bath Tangle). Or else she gets caught up in a weird story arc with a side character that is neither likable nor terribly important to the reader (ahem, Bath Tangle). Not so at all with Arabella; we get to read almost solely about Arabella and Beaumaris (and, anyway, it's a romance, so you don't reeeaally care about anyone else, when you're being honest) and otherwise about her brother Bertram, who gets up to some high-jinks of his own while racing about London... under his own alter-ego, of course...

In fact, aside from the wonderful romance, the best part was reading about the brother-sister dynamic between Arabella and Bertram. Heyer has some brilliant moments in this book, and their relationship, and how that relationship is affected by their strained relationship with their father, is relatable and adds so much depth to their characters.

Here was one of my early favorite passages:

It was quite impossible to explain to Papa why one chose rather to play truant, and afterwards take the consequences, than to ask his leave to do something of which one knew well he would not approve.

Bertram skipped lessons for a day and went off hunting only to come home with a broken collar bone, and all their father can do is ask Why?, and you know the kids are sighing and rolling their eyes like, Do I have to keep admitting to you over and over that sometimes I do stupid things? and I love it because that's what you do with your parents, whether you're in the Regency era or in the 1990s. You don't get each other, and sometimes you willfully don't get each other. And then when the other gives way and admits you were right, in the first place, you feel guilty for having been right... and it's just such a cute little truism of life, and one of many that Heyer always manages to capture in her novels.

Overall, I really liked this book and would recommend it to Austen fans, to anyone new to Heyer (I think it would be a great starter book for a Heyer reader), or the general historical romance fan. I don't know how you could be disappointed in it!

Buy this book on Amazon

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday... Dinner?

So my loooong period of exams and insane amounts of reading for courses is over! (I'm serious-- just one of my four courses required 300-400 pages of reading per week. Is this normal? I'm a college senior and I've never seen this before, but who cares?!? It's over!) I plan to be around here, posting Gratuitous Pic Spams of lovely period films, reviewing historical books, and generally lolling about the internet as much as poss once again.

I have several important things to catch up on:

I'm going to a ball!

Okay, it's a virtual ball, but I'm still excited, and you're all invited, too!

The Pemberley Ball, hosted by vvb32 reads

It's an Austen-themed extravaganza to celebrate our love of one Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Come as your chosen, fictional lady (or gent) and enjoy three evenings of fun and chatter with like-minded fans. I will be following the festivities as Duchess du Lac. There will apparently be plenty of Austen-themed giveaways, too! It runs from November 20-22, and you can RSVP right over here.

Thing the second:

The Courtier's Book has received its first award, and from none other than the illustrious Marie Burton over at The Burton Review! Marie runs one of my favorite book review blogs, so this was such a nice surprise for me. Thank you so much, Marie!

Here's how the award works:

  • You must pass the award on to 5 other deserving blog friends.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author and the name of the blog from whom he/she has received the award.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award.
  • Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
  • Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.
It has taken me almost a week to get around to this, but I'm really excited to get to mention more of my favorite bloggers-- I highly recommend each and every one:

1. Okbo over at OkboLover-- new, excellent book reviews are up there so often, Okbo puts the rest of us to shame!
2. Julie over at Outlandish Dreaming-- basically, anyone whose blog has a giant picture of Jamie Fraser as their banner is automatically my hero.
3. Robin over at Ups and Downs-- check this one out in particular; she shows you how to replicate modern versions of the beautiful hairstyles we see in our favorite period films.
4. Meghan at Medieval Bookworm-- a new review almost every day, and she even has a specialty in medieval history, so she has a fascinating perspective on historical fic.
5. The Girls at Whitebrook Farm-- umm... true story: I still love the Thoroughbred young adult book series... probably at an unhealthy level. These ladies bring the snark in their recaps and reviews of these and other horse books like it was always meant to be.

So, later this week you can expect a review or two of what I've managed to squeeze in to my insane required reading schedule, beginning with a delightful Georgette Heyer review tomorrow...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Vive la Revolution!

Y'all remember how much I liked Michelle Moran's Cleopatra's Daughter, right? Well, this little news item from Amy on Passages to the Past had me jumping up and down this morning:

Michelle Moran reveals UK cover for 2011 publication, Madame Tussaud

(I speak French and I still spelled that wrong three times.)

I'm really excited for this book; the French Revolution has always been one of my favorite fiction settings. But it's sooo far away...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I'm about to go medieval on your... well. You know. A Historical Novel Review.

It's blog tour time!

Pendragon's Banner
(Book 2)
by Helen Hollick

Cover: Overall, I like it. It's very *manly* looking, and will probably attract a lot of readers.

Summary: Arthur is king in a historically-based Great Britain. He goes on progress, he works in a world plagued by ethnic conflict, and he fights for his own survival as well as for that of his loyal men and his dream of a Britain under his single rule. It is a fast-paced novel of the early medieval period, with one man fated to bring light to to a dark age.
My Review: This is one of the better Arthurian books I've read in while. While I'm a huge fan of T.H. White's classic The Once and Future King, I'm probably a bigger fan overall of Arthurian books based on historical fact. Hollick has clearly done her research and kept this Arthur solidly based in a real time.

On a side note, I also appreciate that the author decided to write dialogue in a more sophisticated and style. Much as I loved The Mists of Avalon, I always felt taken out of the time period when so much of the dialogue was written in a modern syntax. At the same time, Hollick writes her dialogue in the way that Sharon Kay Penman does: stylistically, but not distractingly-old-fashioned. It's enough to help engross you in the period, but also easy enough to read through quickly.

I have to say that Gwenhwyfar ("Guinevere" from the traditional tales) was my favorite character. She was strong and made her opinion known whenever she had one, and it made her sections of the book particularly interesting. I think some criticism that might come her way would be that Gwenhwyfar is anachronistically spunky, but I think that she's rather more historically accurate by being portrayed this way. We don't know a fraction of what life was like for medieval women because of the lack of written information about them. Modern writers have to work based off of scant material, and as such it's easy to make mistakes or strange suppositions. However, I think that Hollick is fully justified in her characterization of Gwenhwyfar; after all, women didn't just turn "spunky" in the 1970s when they became much more equal to men in the official views of society. There have always been fierce ladies, no matter their social position or their period of time, and the Guinevere of legend, if there is any historical base, must have been one of them. She was descended from royalty, educated, and believed she was destined to marry the greatest king of all time; why wouldn't she speak her mind? For all intents and purposes, she and everyone around her believe her to be one of the most influential women of the age. Plus, reading about a lady like her is always entertaining and makes you turn the pages as fast as you can.

And yes, I did just use the word "fierce."

Arthur is noble and easy to like. The action scenes are great fun, too. One of the most beautiful and horrible parts of Arthurian literature, for me, has always been the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot, and immensely hard to understand. Hollick approaches this part of the lenged from a different angle that is more satisfying.

While this definitely feels like the "middle" part of the trilogy that it is, I read it without having read the first one and was able to follow along and enjoy it without feeling like I was missing something. I look forward to the next book in this series, and to going back and reading The Kingmaking.

Visit the author's website

Buy this book on Amazon

The Courtier's Book is part of the Sourcebooks blog tour for Pendragon's Banner-- see what everyone else has to say about this exciting book by following along on the next tour stops:

The Tome Travellers Weblog (10/12)

A Reader’s Respite (10/12)

Carla Nayland’s Historical Fiction (10/13)

Enchanted by Josephine (10/14)

Fumbling with Fiction (10/14)

Found Not Lost (10/15)

Nan Hawthorne’s Booking the Middle Ages (10/15)

Jenny Loves to Read (10/16)

The Review From Here (10/17)

The Courtier’s Book (10/18)

Chick Loves Lit (10/19)

Love Romance Passion (10/20)

He Followed Me Home… Can I Keep Him? (10/20)

The Impasse Strikes Back (10/21)

S. Krishna’s Books (10/22)

Books Like Breathing (10/23)

Passages to the Past (10/24)

Virginie Says (10/25)

Readaholic (10/25)

Reading with Monie (10/26)

Rundpinne (10/26)

Books & Needlepoint (10/27)

Capricious Reader (10/27)

Books are my Only Friends (10/27)

A Sea of Books (10/28)

Bloody Bad (10/28)

Revenge of the Book Nerds! (10/28)

Booksie’s Blog (10/28)

Devourer of Books (10/29)

Peeking Between the Pages (10/29)

Starting Fresh (10/29)

Historical Tapestry (10/30)

Medieval Bookworm (10/30)

Book Soulmates (10/30)

Susan’s Art & Words (10/30)

Steven Till (10/31)

Café of Dreams (10/31)

There are plenty of interviews, guest posts, and book reviews to interest anyone-- enjoy!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This is technically "historical," right? An Intelectual Thriller Review.

The Lost Symbol
by Dan Brown

I hate it. What is it? Is this a novelization of National Treasure?

Summary: Oh, god, yes, I've been waiting to write this...

Renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon has been summoned to talk about something historical, and eerily-related to the mystery that unfolds when he discovers a gruesome-but-esoteric crime scene. Of course, he is immediately under suspicion for the crime, and he must flee from a Javert-esque police officer. He finds an encrypted object that he must solve before time runs out, but doing so might unleash a secret... a secret that could turn the whole world on its head if it is released. Some people want this secret out; others do not. Nevertheless, time may be running out for Langdon.

Also, there is a chick involved.

My Review: I loved it.

What can I say? You get what you pay for. Refusing to buy this butt-ugly book in dead-tree form, I downloaded it to my eReader and proceeded to plow through it in three days. I'm sure that's not fast to most of you fellow bloggers, but I read this along with two other books for a class, I read during lecture, and I read standing in line at the bank. It was kind of awesome.

If you like other Dan Brown books, you'll like this one, and I must admit that I think he has improved as a writer. He still has his problems... there are a lot of italics, for one. A lot. Sometimes he uses them to indicate the thoughts of a character. But sometimes he just uses them to tritely emphasise an otherwise average sentence. There are some useless factoids I could have done without, like what kind of engine was in the plane that Langdon flew to D.C. There were a few moments where I actually figured out a clue before Langdon... and that's saying something for me. All that said, I think he has improved. He's more socially aware, for one. His characterization is less telltelltell and much more nuanced. His villain is much more horrible (although... probably not more believable) than in his previous books. The love interest is 50, and easily close to the age of Langdon, making this a respectable move from a female character construction standpoint.

In the end, this is a great book on an entertainment level. Not everything has to be perfect. We can't all be Michael Crichton. Get charmed by Langdon's weirdness. Lose yourself in an action sequence. And hey, if there's one thing you can't fault Dan Brown on, it's pacing. I didn't want to put this book down because I always had to turn one more page (electronically, that is). I'll say it here and now: I enjoyed this book and I look forward to the next Dan Brown book, hopefully featuring the irascible Langdon.

Check this out: Dan Brown's 20 worst sentences, as collected by The Telegraph

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Visit the author's website

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I know, I know...

I appear to have disappeared from the blogosphere over the past week or so, and... that's pretty much what happened. I'm not making excuses, but what can I say? I just started my final year of college (including one class where I'm reading 1-2 academic books per week), I'm working on several personal projects, and on top of all that I have to have time to *read* these historical fiction books in order to review them!

So, if I don't post a whole lot for several days or a week at a time, never fear, I will return! Here are a few things I have in the works for October:

**I just downloaded my copy of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, and I am unsuitably excited about reading this. I can't wait to see what harrowing adventures "renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon" has gotten himself into this time!
**More above-average romance from the Tudor Rose series by Susan Wiggs.
**Profiles to historical blogs I've been reading and LOVING lately.

And as a sort-of sidenote, since I do often read books that are not distinctly historical or historical-fiction in nature, would anyone be interested if I post reviews on those here, anyway? I've done a few in the past, but I wasn't sure if it seemed too digressive from the point of The Courtier's Book.

Monday, September 28, 2009

That rare Mary Bennet sequel!

A Match for Mary Bennet
by Eucharista Ward

Cover: Mary is adorable. A little too adorable...just kidding. Pretty, follows the trend for Austen sequel style.

Summary: Mary Bennet is one of two sisters left from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice who remains unmarried, but she is the only one who does not wish to be married. She attends balls and assemblies at her mother's beck and call, but she longs for deeper conversation. She wants to do charitable works and discuss poetry and literature, but she must rather spend her time primping and gossiping. In short, she's not sure she will ever be married, if this is the kind of compromise she'll have to make.

The other beloved characters from P&P also make prominent appearances. Colonel Fitzwilliam has set himself to marrying Caroline Bingley, the snobbish sister of Jane Bennet's husband. Elizabeth and Darcy, married and now parents of a son, play host to their families at Pemberley. It is there that Mary meets Mr. Oliver, the new vicar of Kympton, who seems anything but the typical clergyman to her. Mary is very serious, after all, so she has decided opinions on what a parson should be like, and Mr. Oliver is not it. He is straightforward and bold and charms everyone except her. Worst of all, when she finds occupation helping instruct the local church choir, Mr. Oliver is there to distract her and her students.

Everything seems to be going wrong for Mary. When she wants to have a quiet evening in the library at Pemberley, Mr. Oliver is there. When she can't acknowledge Lydia as her sister because of her embarrassing behavior, Mr. Oliver is there to tell her that she must learn to forgive the faults in others. If familiarity can breed attraction, then Mary is starting to see the value in Mr. Oliver's constant presence.

Then Mr. Stilton arrives on the scene. He's a handsome, rich, flirtatious rake. He rides his horses fast, and in his wooing of Mary he insists that she do so, as well. We can guess how this is going to end up.

Amidst the everyday joys, sorrows, and gossip of Regency country life, Mary Bennet must find a balance between her natural inclination to spend her life educating herself and serving others, and in finding the man who will complement that life.

My Review: I got an advance copy from Sourcebooks during the summer and passed an afternoon or two enjoying this light regency romance.

I was never a fan of Mary when I read Pride and Prejudice. In fact, much like Jane Austen, I didn't really like, or find much potential for interest in her. She was judgmental and hypocritical, and it always seemed to me like she didn't want to be anywhere that she was.

Once I got into Ward's book, however, Mary became a person with flaws, but she was rounded-out, and her flaws were explained. She's not just judgmental; she, herself, is judged quite harshly on a constant basis by her mother and her sisters, and her own criticism acts almost as a defense mechanism. She comes to be more accepting throughout the story, and begins to find that others will treat her the same way.

As for the other P&P characters, I loved her portrayal of Lizzy. She was smart and sparkling, but not overwhelming or lifeless now that she is married. I never pictured her as a retiring character, and I was pleased to see her as a well-received, active member of society. Mr. Darcy, while a minor character, is generous to his family members. Caroline Bingely and Lady Catherine remain huge snobs, much to my joy.

The writing is tight and clear, and of the best example of derivative Jane Austen fan fiction. This is no bodice ripper! The characters behave as Austen herself might have written them, rather than a modernized interpretation. Die-hard Austen addicts and the casual fan will appreciate Ward's attention to period style and detail.

It is a true romance novel in the sense that we come away satisfied with the pairing of Mary and her fiancee. We know quite early on whom she will choose, but the way that it happens, the interactions between the love interests, and some surprises along the way are what make this a pleasant, relaxing read.

Overall, if this is the way that Jane Austen sequels are going these days, then I look forward to reading plenty more!

A Match for Mary Bennet comes out on October 1st, and is available now for preorder.

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Visit the Sourcebooks Jane Austen center,