Tag Archives: historical

In which I am cranky

Sometimes, as I tap away at my computer at work, I wonder how on earth people did my job without computers.  And then I remember that even as the computer makes my job easier, it also makes the “job” of the people I’m scrutinizing easier.  And by “job” I mean scam.

And then I open up a sample on my Kindle and read a sentence that even a nominal amount of internet research (i.e., a web search of a public agency’s website) would have rendered impossible.  How freaking lazy is that, in terms of background research?  And the sample is deleted immediately.  The author might have some sort of background story to make the error plausible, but I’ve got a limited amount of time and a limited reading budget, and sloppy research is not a winning attribute for me as a reader.  Next?

Also pinging the crank-o-meter:  changing the name of a character mid-series.  In Magic Bleeds, Dr. Doolittle’s name was George (see page 244).  But in Magic Rises it is Darrien (see page 197).  Seriously?  The book hit number 1 on the mass market paperback list and the next book of the series had already been scheduled to move to hardback before that high point.  Am I supposed to believe the last few books didn’t get the attention of a copy editor and one of Ace’s best editors in general in Anne Sowards?  That kind of thing is irritating as hell, and also sadly common in the Magic series, as I’ve noted in posts about earlier books.

On the reading front, I added Jo Beverley’s The Secret Marriage and Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty to the donate pile for this week’s installment of The Great Book Purge.  Beverley used to be much more to my taste, but I found during the Purge that older keepers aren’t so much now, and more recent books don’t really appeal for reasons I can’t really articulate other than to say ~meh~.  The Bray book…probably would have appealed if I’d read it when I bought it.

Otherwise, I didn’t get much new reading done in the last week — instead I’ve been re-reading Aaronovitch’s Broken Homes, because I wanted to see how I’d been so blindsided by the ending.  And there are some hints or breadcrumbs but I…still didn’t see it coming.  My copy of the book is full of post it notes on pages with hints and also with passages that I like or that I think are very typical of the narrator’s voice.

The only other book I read was Carla Kelly’s new historical, The Double Cross.  (FWIW, the title isn’t a religious allusion.)  It’s set in New Mexico in the 18th century.  It reminded me a lot of her early trads:  a sweet romance with some adventure thrown in.  It’s not inspirational fiction per se, although the Church plays a role in the daily life of the main characters, which I’d expect for the setting.  I’m not sure how the series will go; there’s a personal mystery or conflict that will need to be resolved, but I’m also wondering if there will be outside mysteries related to Don Marco’s position as juez de campo.

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Carla Kelly ebooks

I bounced over to an ebook vendor to get an electronic copy of One Good Turn, and while browsing found that several other favorites have also been digitized. Although other readers find Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand to be Kelly’s best, it is one of my least favorite Regencies in her backlist.  I much prefer With This Ring (not available as an ebook yet), The Lady’s Companion, and Reforming Lord Ragsdale.  Actually, I think I may have reviewed a couple of those.

[Searches archives, which are not very organized at all. ]

Apparently, no, I haven’t reviewed any of my favorite Kelly trads from Signet, I’ve only reviewed Summer Campaign.  I’ve also reviewed a couple of Kelly’s Harlequin Historicals (Marrying the Captain and Beau Crusoe), but none of her other Signet Regencies?  That can’t be correct, I’m sure I’ve reviewed Marian’s Christmas Wish.  Oh, wait, maybe I reviewed it over at the now defunct group blog I used to participate in, Readers Gab?  It’s going to drive me crazy now.  Okay, no, it wasn’t a review per se, but I wrote about MCW as a favorite holiday story.  The blog is gone now, so I’ll re-post here the Word version I found on my computer (originally written 12/14/2009 and published at RG at about the same time).

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What I’ve read lately

I meant to write full reviews for these two books, but the further I get from reading them, the less likely that becomes.  Instead, here are quick thoughts.

Indian Maidens Bust Loose by Vidya Samson

Borrowed this via Kindle Lending after it was reviewed by Sunita & Jayne at DearAuthor.  The first chapter didn’t immediately draw me in, so it wound up just sitting on my Kindle for a few weeks; when I was clearing out samples, I found it and decided to read it before returning.

There’s no romance on the page, although there are marital machinations, so the blurb about waiting for Prince Charming is misleading and not great marketing IMO.  Pretty standard for chick lit, even with the Indian aspect.  The pacing was a little wonky:  it could’ve used some editing or trimming; as the end of the book approached, it felt like a string of slapstick moments strung together.   Despite very slow pacing through the middle, the end arrived very quickly and wrapped everything up a little too neatly.  Over all, an enjoyable read by an author I would try again, but not a keeper.

Lessons for Survivors by Charlie Cochrane

This is another Cambridge Fellows Mystery, set post WW1.  It’s published by Cheyenne Publishing; the series had been with Samhain for the last several books, so I’m kind of curious about what prompted the publisher change.  Price-wise, it was a little expensive ($6.99) for the length (185 pages) compared to earlier editions.  I enjoyed the book as I read, because I like The Adventures of Orlando and Jonty, and yet in some ways it felt needlessly convoluted and also as if some opportunities were wasted.  The blurb mentions the huge threat of the sleuths being outed by a rival, yet that aspect of the story didn’t get much attention.  Not bad but not the best installment of the series IMO.

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SBD: this and that

Today’s SBD:  one book read, three books purchased.  That proportion is not exactly as I would prefer, since I’m still on the purging plan.  (That sounds unpleasant but it’s not, truly.)  But it’s a function of my utter lack of self-control.

The original plan for this morning was to go to MoMA and take in the Diego Rivera exhibit, but I wasn’t really in the mood for a museum crowd.  Instead I headed down to Union Square and the Strand bookstore.  Spent an hour and a half in the store and never made it off the first floor.  Ended up leaving with Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare, and used copies of Sara Creasy’s Song of Scarabaeus and Bujold’s Sharing Knife: Horizons.  Yes, yes, I own a hard copy of the Bujold book, but when I saw it there in the half price bin, I felt an irresistible need to re-read the series.  (At least I managed not to buy the other books of the series while I was there :P)  It’s a good thing I didn’t make it upstairs or down to the basement; who knows what I would have bought?

The only book I’ve read lately is Joanna Bourne’s The Black Hawk.  A few years ago Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady was THE book; I read it but didn’t lurve it like everyone else.  Bourne wrote beautifully, but the hero and heroine just didn’t matter to me.  A secondary character in that book, Adrian Hawkhurst, was the most intriguing character of the bunch.  As you might guess based on the title, The Black Hawk is his story.  Skipping between 1818 and 1794 with pauses at various points in between, Bourne tells the love story and adventure of Justine (aka Owl), a French spy, and Hawker, an English spy.  Once again, very well-written (IMO) yet after finishing the book, I know I’ll never read it again.  Why?  Eh.  As interesting as the story is, as much as I appreciate a historical in which the h/h get their HEA when then are over 30, I didn’t really care about the characters.

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The Canterbury Papers

I started and discarded two books earlier this week.  The First Princess of Wales by Karen Harper had a Mary Sue heroine and a servant who spoke with a brogue within the first few pages à automatic discard.  Madeleine L’Engle’s A Winter’s Love was clearly going to be angsty women’s fiction, which I wasn’t in the mood for.

Fortunately, the next book I plucked from the TBR worked.  The Canterbury Papers by Judith Koll Healey is a novel of political intrigue and adventure set in the early thirteenth century in the England of the Plantagenets and Capetian France.  The narrator, Princesse Alaïs, is the sister of King Philippe of France, former betrothed of Richard the Lionhearted, and former lover of King Henry II.  The adventure begins when Queen Eleanor writes to Alaïs, asking her to retrieve some politically damaging letters from Canterbury cathedral.  Upon arriving at Canterbury, Alaïs encounters William of Caen, with whom she and the Plantagenet children spent their youths.  A variety of flashbacks reveal snippets of Alaïs’ history, and how she came to be an unmarried, almost-middle aged princess, and they also narrate the story relationship of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their children, as well as giving background to the political currents of the day.

I was predisposed to like this book, because I was fascinated by the Plantagenets as a young teenager and read about them voraciously, particularly Eleanor of Aquitaine.  The woman was the greatest heiress of that time, she married the king of France, went on a crusade, divorced the king, married Henry who became the king of England, gave birth to at least eight children (two of whom would be kings), and was basically the grandmother of all Europe in the thirteenth century.

And I was pleased.  There were a couple of things that made me roll my eyes – I guessed the identity of the red haired scribe, and thought the love interest was blatant, and thought Alaïs was TSTL when it came to her room being ransacked  – but the book was well paced and used to good effect some of the known information about the major figures of the day and real political events and tensions.

I’d recommend this book for readers who like historical fiction.  (B-)


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SBD: more Balogh and a mystery

After reading A Matter of Class, I moved on to Balogh’s Simply Perfect.

Spoilers follow.

I think I have too modern a sensibility to appreciate the big horror of this book — the hero has an illegitimate child whom he loves, and he is contemplating sending her off to school so he can get married to fulfill his family’s obligations (heir to a dukedom). And when he reveals his illegitimate child, everyone is horrified and embarrassed, and they all expect him to abandon her.  Well, except for financial support, which would be the only suitable connection between them.  I couldn’t really understand why everyone took such offense at him actually caring about his child, regardless of the circumstances of her birth.

The heroine was sort of interesting, in that she consciously chose her independence via running a school, even when there were easier, more socially acceptable ways of surviving (marriage).
Some dialog early on made me roll my eyes.  They talk about handicapped children and whether they are educable.  Although the word "handicap" existed at that time, it didn’t come to mean disabled until World War I or later, not post Regency.  
Moving on, I switched genres entirely to mystery:  Mahu Surfer by Neil Plakcy.  Am liking it a lot.  Read a later book in the series, circling back now.  

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Recently read: A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

Reginald Mason is a wealthy, refined, and, by all accounts, a gentleman. However, he is not a gentleman by birth, a factor that pains him and his father, Bernard Mason, within the Regency society that upholds station over all else. That is, until an opportunity for social advancement arises, namely Lady Annabelle Ashton. Daughter of the Earl of Havercroft, a neighbor and enemy of the Mason family, Annabelle finds herself disgraced by a scandal. Besmirched by shame, the early is only to happy to marry Annabelle off to anyone willing to have her.

Though Bernard wishes to use Annabelle to propel his family up the social lade, his son does not wish to marry her, preferring instead to live the wild, single life he is accustomed to. With this, Bernard serves his son an ultimatum: marry Annabelle, or make do without family funds. Having no choice, Reginald consents and enters into a hostile engagement in which the prospective bride and groom are openly antagonistic, each one resent the other for their current state of affairs.

So begins an intoxicating tale rife with dark secrets, deception, and the trials of love — a story in which very little is at it seems.

I can remember a time when Mary Balogh’s European historical were auto buys for me. It was a narrow window, just after I’d discovered her backlog of traditional Regencies, as she was making the jump to hard cover series and single titles.

I stopped buying her books because she didn’t make my short list of hard cover auto buys, and then gradually stopped borrowing her books from the library or buying them in mass market release, too, although I couldn’t give a specific reason. Lack of distinctiveness in a glutted genre market, maybe, or just that I had other things to read that caught my attention first.

How have the more recent releases been received by readers? Now that I’ve read A Matter of Class, I’m going to have to look.

The cover art is nice, although I’m not clear which scene it might be representing.  More interesting to me is the use of cover quotes from Debbie Macomber and Christine Feehan.  Macomber used to write good categories but now her work seems to be more cozy and inspirational (I’m guessing, I haven’t read anything of hers in at least 5 years).  Feehan is a big paranormal author who writes edgier, sexier stuff than either Macomber or Balogh (I’m guessing based on reviews, haven’t read her).  So what market was Balogh’s publisher trying to tap into by having cover quotes from both?  Is there a big overlap between the two readerships, or was the intent to appeal to both?  

As a romance novel, well, it wasn’t bad or poorly written. The characters were fairly flat, but I attribute that to the very short nature of the book – very little page space for anything other than clichés. The plot was extremely predictable. The backblurb hints at dark secrets and deception. Not sure what the dark secrets were, but I guessed the deception by the opening paragraph of the second chapter.

As an object, the mmp price ($6.99) was too high: length-wise, it was shorter than many category romance novels that sell for $4.50 to $5.50. The book is quite slender but is padded by 10 page author Q&A and then 5 pages of discussion questions. (Really? What market was the publisher going for? That seems very unusual for genre romance.) And it was originally released as a hard cover. Personally, I would have been very unhappy to pay $15.95 for that.

Meh. C for me.

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Belated TBR post for January

Wendy the SuperLibrarian is hosting the TBR Challenge for 2011.  I slacked off last year and read very few books from the TBR, so I didn’t feel like I should sign up to participate officially.  Serendipitously, I was reading a book pulled from the TBR on January’s TBR day, even though it wasn’t the correct subgenre.

Title:  Lord Carew’s Bride
Author:  Mary Balogh
Publisher:  Signet
Subgenre:  Traditional Regency
Publication date:  June, 1995

Her Heart’s Dilemma

Samantha Newman’s heart skipped a beat when she found herself dancing with the irresistibly handsome and notorious Earl of Rushford. This ruthless libertine, who had betrayed Samantha six years ago, was waltzing back into her life. She had vowed never again to become his plaything, yet she could not deny the strong attraction that drew her to him.

Faced with a marriage proposal and feelings that have been stirred by Rushford’s charming cousin, the Marquess of Carew, Samantha must decide if she can ignore the embers of an old passion–and ignite the flames of a new one….

I can remember loving Mary Balogh’s European historicals back around 2000-2002. Since then? Eh, not so much. The Bedwyn series killed my interest: they were all pretty interchangeable, and were part of her move to hardcover. Was disinclined to pay hardcover prices for material that didn’t feel original. But I have some of her older trad Regencies in the TBR mountain.

My synopis of the plot:
While staying with her happily-married cousin (see Balogh’s Dark Angel), Samantha meets gentleman who works as a landscaper on the Marquess of Carew’s estate. He’s lame, but lovely company. Except he’s actually the Marquess, he just introduced himself as plain Mr. Harley Wade. But she doesn’t know that and just enjoys his company until it’s time to go back to Town for the season. While there, she becomes entangled with Rushford, a nasty bit of work who nearly ruined her cousin (again, see Dark Angel) and Samantha herself. Slimy, smarmy, smirky, he’s still nearly irresistible to Samantha, who is dumber than a stump. Up pops Mr. Wade to her rescue: he proposes and she accepts, thinking it will be a friendly marriage but not a love-marriage. But then she learns he’s the marquess. And later that Rushford is now her cousin by marriage. Sturm und drang follows. But eventually they get a happy ending.

What did I think? Well, I might’ve enjoyed this if I’d read it when it was first released. Now, though, I think Samantha is a self-centered, ignorant twit, and Wade deserves better. The plot was slow. Extremely slow. I spent most of the book waiting for something – anything! – to happen. Maybe if you’re looking for a quiet, slow read, with very little action and mostly introspection, this would be a good read for you? But I was bored.


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SBD: more Austen fan fiction

For SBD, I’m sharing a vacation read.

Title: I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend

Author: Cora Harrison

© 2010 MacMillan

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single girl in possession of a journal must write all her secrets in it.

Meet Jenny Cooper: shy, pretty cousin of clever, sparky Jane Austen (who has lots of handsome brothers and a vivid imagination).

These are Jenny’s secrets:

• She has never gone to a ball.
• She hates her school.
• She longs to wear a new gown and flirt with a handsome naval officer.
• She wishes real life could be more like a novel.

A delicious dance between truth and fiction this is a thrilling story of a moonlight flit, a dashing young man, and two girls in search of a hero.

Why this book? Because I was wandering around the bookstore at Dublin Airport, searching for something to read, and the cover caught my eye. As a general rule, I’m not a particular fan of Jane Austen fan fiction, but I was in a rush and needed something new to read.

What did I think? Well, it’s YA fiction, which I often enjoy, but it felt very…juvenile.

The book is loosely based on reality, in that Jane Austen did have a cousin named Jane Cooper who lived with the Austen family at Steventon for a time. Jane becomes Jenny, for ease of reference in the book. Otherwise, it is basically a mishmash of characters and plot lines from Austen’s books.  Jenny and Jane spend a lot of time doing teenaged girly things, talking about boys and family and what they want from their futures.  Jane’s not the most likable person, really, and Jenny is a bit of a twit, although they are both products of their time and social position.

I don’t know, it wasn’t terrible, as JA fan fiction goes.  Neither does it stand out as being particularly well-written or original.

Keep or pass on? Passing on.

Read this author again? I wouldn’t go out of my way to read her other books, assuming that she’s written any.

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SBD: A Murderous Procession

It’s time for SBD again…and I have something to talk about! It feels like ages since that’s happened!

Okay, first, I must say that the reading slump is on-going.  Very little appeals.  I’ve finished two books — two! — in the last two weeks.  That’s terrible!  Normally, it’s two or three a week.  I shouldn’t complain, I guess, since reading fewer books means buying fewer books, which is always better for my budget.  More for the vacation fund.

Finally finished the fourth mystery in the Adelia Aguilar series by Ariana Franklin, A Murderous Procession.

In 1176, King Henry II sends his ten-year-old daughter, Joanna, to Palermo to marry William II of Sicily. War on the Continent and outbreaks of plague make it an especially dangerous journey, so the king selects as his daughter’s companion the woman he trust most: Adelia Aguilar, his mistress of the art of death. As a medical doctor and native of Sicily, it will be Adelia’s job to travel with the princess and safeguard her health until the wedding.

Adelia wants to refuse – accompanying the royal procession means leaving behind her nine-year old daughter. Unfortunately, Henry has arranged for the girl to live at court, both as a royal ward and as a hostage to ensure that Adelia will return to the king’s service. So Adelia sets off for a yearlong royal procession. Accompanying her on the journey are her Arab companion, Mansur, her lover, Rowley, and an unusual newcomer: the Irish sea captain O’Donnell, who may prove more useful to Adelia than Rowley would like.

But another man has joined the procession – a murderer bent on the worst kind of revenge. When people in the princess’s household begin to die, Adelia and Rowley suspect that the killer is hiding in plain sight. Is his intended victim the princess . . . or Adelia herself?

I pre-ordered this book and it arrived on the release date. Sadly, it has taken me more than a month to read it. It’s not badly written or completely out of the normal style or voice established in the first three Adelia Aguilar books. It just…didn’t compel me to turn the pages consistently. It felt kind of episodic, starting and stopping in dribs and drabs, with the things happening in Aveyron not really mattering much to things that happened in Caen. Yes, yes, politically connected, but just not well-strung together. And, to be honest, a lot of the plot felt repetitive. Adelia and Rowley disagree because he withholds information and/or puts kingly duty above their relationship. She gives him the cold shoulder, but then regrets it when she learns the whys and wherefores. Separation followed by rescue at the last minute.  Where have we read that before?  Oh, right, in the earlier books of the series.

I think also, Adelia’s devotion to pure truth coupled with her brush-off of reality is beginning to frustrate me. Her precarious situation has been made clear in books past, between accusations of witch craft, her social situation being outside the nobility and the peasantry, and the physical threats and injuries she’s suffered. Her obstinate refusal to consider her own personal safety begins to feel a little blinkered and martyrish, verging on TSTL.

As usual, the blurb both reveals and misleads. Adelia’s daughter is not nine years old: the first book was set in 1171 and she wasn’t even conceived yet – how could she possibly be nine in 1176?  Also, the blurb implies that Adelia and Rowley work together to solve this mystery, which is not really the case. They spend the majority of the book separated, and while he suspects something, Adelia has her head buried in the sand about the possibility of someone seeking revenge against her.

The POV of the Big Bad…eh. It felt like too much.  Knowing after the last book that he was still around was creepy, but the POV crossed out of creepy and into deranged to the point that I found it hard to believe no one noticed his psychosis.  There may not have been psychiatrists in the 12th century, but certainly there was crazy back then, and  people would notice, no?

This sounds like I hated the book, but I didn’t – I finished it, after all, and I don’t begrudge paying the hardback price for it. The book is different from a lot of the current mystery offerings, a medieval forensic mystery, set in a locale that I find fascinating. I suppose it just feels not different enough from the first three books of the series.

One other reason I enjoy this series is the periodic cameo by Henry II. His unfortunate relationship with the Catholic Church and the murder of Thomas Becket aside, he was an amazing character, the father of English Common Law.  I may need to go watch The Lion in Winter, or maybe dig out some of Jean Plaidy’s Plantagenet books.


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