Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Victorian”

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #89: Tempting the Bride by Sherry Thomas

This is technically the third book in the Fitzhugh-trilogy, where each Fitzhugh sibling gets their own book. This book stands fine on its own (and frankly, I wasn’t overly fond of the other two books – hence no reviews), though there may be spoilers for the two other books in the series.

What if you could have a second chance to make a first impression? David Hillsborough, Viscount Hastings, has loved Helena Fitzhugh since they were both fourteen years old. Her older sister Venetia is the legendary beauty of her generation, yet Hastings only ever had eyes for Helena, since he first laid eyes on her. Afraid of rejection, he wasn’t about to admit his infatuation, and instead, as is the wont of teenage boys, acted like an idiot and insulted her instead. She insulted him right back, and from her side, instant loathing was born. As David is Helena’s brother’s best friend, their paths crossed frequently up through the years, and at every encounter, barbs flew from either side.

Now Helena is a businesswoman who runs her own publishing company. Her sister is a Duchess and her brother is an Earl. So she really should know better than to court scandal by meeting a married man in secret. Hastings discovers that she’s been spending time in the bedroom of her childhood sweetheart, Mr. Andrew Martin, and promptly reveals her foolish actions to her family. Despite them keeping her under near constant supervision, Helena is determined not to be thwarted, and she’s certainly not inclined to listen to the dire warnings of Hastings, even though the result of her affair becoming public would utterly ruin her reputation, and possibly that of her siblings.

When Helena receives a telegram that she believes is from Mr. Martin, she sneaks away from the servants her sister and brother have escorting her, to meet him at a hotel. She has no idea that the telegram is, in fact, sent by Mr. Martin’s interfering sister-in-law, determined to catch him in the act. Hastings discovers the plot and rushes to the hotel in the nick of time, so that when Mr. Martin’s mother and sister-in-law burst into the hotel room, they find Helena and Hastings in a heated embrace, with the explanation that the couple just eloped.

Naturally, the news spreads like wildfire, and Helena has no choice but to accept Hastings’ hand in marriage. Before they can actually be wed, however, Helena is nearly run over by a carriage, and lies comatose for three days. When she wakes up, she has no recollection of anything that happened after her fourteenth birthday, and is shocked to see her siblings not only grown, but married, and herself apparently married to a man she’s never met. Hastings is now given the wonderful opportunity of letting Helena see the real man behind all the insults, scorn and reprehensible behaviour he’s shown her for their entire acquaintance. Is it possible that he can make her love him as much as he loves her? But what will happen when her memory eventually returns?

Before the Fitzhugh trilogy, I had generally been very taken with Sherry Thomas’ earlier romances. She  writes estranged couples and the less idyllic sides of romantic love very well. Yet I didn’t really like Beguiling the Beauty (Helena’s sister Venetia’s book) or Ravishing the Heiress (about Helena’s brother and sister-in-law) all that much. They were well written, because Thomas is truly a master of description and writing, but I just didn’t warm that much to the characters. Helena and Hastings obviously appear in those books, and their antagonistic relationship is very obvious.

However, upon discovering that an amnesia story line was central to the plot of Tempting the Bride, my curiosity won me over, and I’m very glad that I gave her another chance, because this was a very enjoyable read.

Hastings is a talented painter and illustrator, a capable landowner, and a deeply affectionate father to his illegitimate daughter (who’s not like normal kids, and quite possibly borderline Aspergic, from the descriptions of her in this book). He is, however, a complete and utter fool where Helena is concerned.  Her entire family have known about his feelings for years, yet he’s stuck in a destructive pattern every time he sees her. Hoping to provoke lustful feelings in her, he writes an erotic manuscripts and asks her to publish it. Unbeknownst to Helena, he also writes and illustrates children’s stories, that he’s also sent her publishing company under an assumed name. He sees that her affair with Martin is going to end badly, and while it would mean that he could finally marry her, he tries to offer her advice and warns her to stop courting scandal.

I liked Helena a lot better after she lost her memory, when she was no longer so sharp and disregarding of those around her. It’s understandable that she would be unpleasant to Hastings, of course, and even when he’s at his most lecherous and douchy towards her, she gives as good as she gets. I can also understand that it would be hurtful to her that her childhood sweetheart married another for convenience rather than love, but that she persists in foolish and headstrong behaviour for years when it’s quite clear both that she’s risking not only her own reputation, but that of her family, annoyed me. Especially because it’s so obvious that Mr. Martin’s a weak-willed, spineless man, wholly undeserving of her.

The description of the days when Helena is comatose, and generally the insight into Hastings’ emotions, is rather heartbreaking. His unrequited love is so strong and passionate, and he knows that he’s being a jerk, but just can’t help himself. When he’s given a new chance to woo the woman he loves, you can’t help but cheer him on, and I was impressed at how well Thomas managed the whole amnesia subplot, that could have turned so hokey and cliched, but instead played out very enjoyably indeed. Both strong and passionate people, Helena and Hastings are clearly made for each other, and I enjoyed seeing them find their happy ending.

Sherry Thomas has also published the manuscript that Hastings wrote to Helena as an erotic novella, which is available as its own story, both in paper and e-book form. It’s a very steamy, but also extremely well-written little story, which naturally compliments Tempting the Bride excellently.

Cross posted, as always, on my blog.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #50 The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett

I think I should start by saying that this is not a book I would ever pick up for myself.  I own it because an acquaintance gave me the entire trilogy.  Having spent my childhood and teens obsessed with 19th century English novels (either ones that were written in that century or set in it), I am very very particular about fictions which attempt to create a fantasy version of either the Regency or Victorian eras.  Any mistakes made in recreating either the language or the complex social interactions will completely prevent me from deriving any enjoyment from reading the book.  When an author does this well, I’m absurdly grateful and pleased (I am thinking specifically of Naomi Novik and Susannah Clark); when she does it less well, I become very very cranky.  Imagine my reaction, then, when I read this on the flyleaf of this novel:

What if there were a fantastical cause underlying the social constraints and limited choices confronting a heroine in a novel by Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë?

Jane Austen lived most of her life in the 18th century and died during the Regency of George IV.  She was a Georgian writer.  Charlotte Brontë was born the year before Jane Austen died.  She was a Victorian writer.  Not only do they come from different eras, they also come from different social and educational backgrounds.  Moreover, their writing styles are VERY VERY different.  To conflate Jane Austen with Charlotte Bronte simply because they are both English women writers from the 19th century would be almost as bad as to conflate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn with Mikhail Bulgakov simply because they are both Russian male writers who lived in the 20th century.  Of course, you can explore any similarities between two writers as a way of discussing common themes across their works, but to merge them into the same category as one another?  No.

See?  I haven’t even started talking about the book and ALREADY I am cranky.

With this novel, Beckett actually proves that Austen and Brontë do not sit comfortably together in the same narrative.  In the first part of the novel, Beckett attempts to write like Jane Austen.  The first two hundred pages of the book are a socially conscious romantic comedy in which the heroine, Ivy, a middle-class girl, falls in love with Mr. Rafferdy, who is an aristocrat.  As much as possible, Beckett apes Jane Austen’s prose style and I found it extremely grating.  Then, abruptly, circumstances change for the heroine and she moves to a lonely house on the moors.  The writing style shifts from third-person omniscient pseudo-Austen to first-person pseudo-Brontë.  Ivy is introduced to a new romantic interest who bears more than a passing resemblance to Jane Eyre‘s Mr. Rochester.  Suddenly, instead of existing inside a romantic comedy, we are now in a gothic mystery.  It reminds me of what China Miéville said (to Naomi Novik, in fact) about mashing up genres:

“Just because you add ‘awesome’ to ‘awesome,’ doesn’t mean you’re going to get something twice as awesome. Sometimes you get an abomination.”

Thankfully, Beckett only continues this pseudo-Brontëist writing going for another hundred and fifty pages and finally, finally, just writes the rest of the novel.  The second and third books of the series are written in a third person omniscient neutral voice that I wish Beckett had applied to the first half of the first book as well.  Obviously, trying to write like two of the most famous writers in English, while an interesting exercise, is almost calculated to draw unflattering comparisons between your prose and that of the justly more celebrated novelists you are stylistically copying.

Aside from the above issues, all of which were a constant source of annoyance while reading the book, I was mildly entertained by the narrative.  I was interested enough to keep on reading but was never really enthralled by magical world which Beckett has created.  In fact, I was made uneasy with the fact that Beckett turned sexual differences (male and female, homosexual and heterosexual) into limits on ways the characters could use magic.  Women were witches (they could never perform spells, no matter how hard they tried to), men were magicians (unable to perform the “natural” magic that women can do, but able to use spells), gay men were illusionists (able neither to connect to the natural world like women nor to speak spells like men but able to trick the eye with illusions).  Simplifying your magical system along sexual lines is … problematic for me.  In fact, I would say that regardless of authorial intent, the world and the book seem MORE sexist than the real conditions under which Austen and Brontë wrote.  I will give the book credit for keeping me reading (I don’t automatically finish any book just because I’ve started it) but that is almost the only thing I can give it credit for.  The writing style was, well, let us say it failed in its narrative and stylistic objectives; the characters were two-dimensional and often annoying; and the world-building was shallow. I am quite thankful I’m finally writing this review so I can get this book off my desktop and donate it to the local Goodwill.  Perhaps someone else will get more pleasure out of it.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #81: Riveted by Meljean Brook

Annika has grown up in a small secluded village in Iceland, populated entirely by women, who have kept it well-hidden through stories of witches and trolls in the area. She’s been travelling for four years, trying to find her sister, who took the blame for Annika’s nearly revealing the location of the town to the outside world, had a massive row with the elders, and left.

David Kentewess is a vulcanologist desperate to find the village Annika is from, as his mother’s dying words was that he bury an heirloom necklace by the sacred mountain close to where she was born. When he meets Annika, he recognises her accent, and tries desperately to share her secrets. While drawn to David, Annika can’t reveal the secrets of her home and the women there, whether threatened or cajoled. And before long, both Annika and David have much more to worry about than their growing attraction to each other and whatever promises they made to their families.

I will say this for Meljean Brook, after The Iron Duke and Heart of Steel, I thought I knew a little bit of what to expect. I was wrong. Well, I expected clever writing and interesting world building, and multi-faceted characters who I’d enjoy reading about, and I got all that. But story wise, this was completely different from the other two Iron Seas novels, and the start of the novel gave me absolutely no hints of where the story was going to end up. Suffice to say, Annika and David are absolutely nothing like the protagonists of the previous two novels Brook has written in her alternate history, pseudo-Victorian Steampunk world.

Annika has been raised purely by women, in a community where women either go off to get pregnant (some stay with their baby daddies if they have sons), or bring home foundling girls from other places. Same sex relationships are very common, to the point where Annika clearly feels slightly sad that she hasn’t seemed to find a romantic relationship with any of the girls she grew up with. Nick-named “Rabbit” growing up, she still finds the tremendous courage to go off into the wider world to find her sister, visiting a number of new places on the airship where she serves as an engineer, and David is both amused and baffled by her lack of self-insight when he sees her many acts of self-sacrifice and bravery throughout the story.

David lost an arm and both his legs, and sustained a fair amount of facial scarring, in a horrible accident as a child, and his mother died to save him. He now has a mechanical eye-piece over part of his face, and mechanical limbs to replace the ones he lost. Most people naturally have trouble seeing past his artificial additions, and women especially seem either repulsed by him or excessively pity him. So when Annika, unused to men in general, treats him with kindness and openness, he’s drawn to her even before he recognises her accent to be the same as his mother’s. In no way an alpha male, David is deeply reluctant to pursue Annika, because of his previous bad luck around women.

The development of their friendship and later romance is a wonderful, slow and gradual process (frankly, both characters were almost too convinced of the other’s disinterest and so reluctant to approach the other that I wanted to reach into the book and shake them both). Yet I’d rather the character have time to get to know each other properly before they declare they madly love each other than fall into instant lust and/or love.

As I’ve come to expect in Brook’s novels, the world building is excellent, and while the first third of the story is very slow and sets up Annika and David’s relationship and gives us their back stories, once the plot takes a sharp turn, it’s frankly action and adventure and unexpected plot twists until the end. As in the other two Iron Seas novels, there are several breath taking action sequences that kept me at the edge of my seat, and once the story got going, I really didn’t want to put the book down. While Heart of Steel is still my absolute favourite, this is a decent second, and I can’t wait to see what Meljean Brook is going to give us next.

Also published on my blog, and Goodreads.

Malin’s #CBR4 Reviews #70-74: Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost, Timeless by Gail Carriger, Grave Memory by Kalayna Price, The Thief and The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

More of my backlog being cleared, here are five more reviews:

Book 70: Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost. First book in new series of paranormal fantasy books, where a girl who channels electricity and can read the history of objects, and the vampireVlad Tepesh (who hates being called Dracula) fall in lust and get into hijinx. 4 stars.

Book 71: Timeless by Gail Carriger. Fifth and final novel in the Parasol Protectorate series. Fluffy fun. 3 stars.

Book 72: Grave Memory by Kalayna Price. Third book in a well-written paranormal series I discovered through Felicia Day. 3 1/2 stars.

Book 73: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. I wasn’t very impressed with this book the first time I read it, and nearly stopped reading half the way through. Boy, am I glad I stuck with it. Essential young adult literature. 4 stars.

Book 74: The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. I loved this one the first time I read it, and even more on a second reading, when I really knew how clever and wonderful it was. Everyone should read this book. 5 stars.

Malin’s #CBR4 Reviews #66-69: Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin, Becoming Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase

So I did a fair bit of reading over the summer, even though I actually spent 15 days while in Iowa not so much as thinking about opening a book (which may be the first time in my adult life I can remember that happening). I did fall dreadfully behind on my reviews, and I’m not even blogging everything I read anymore. You can therefore expect several bulk posts from me in the coming weeks.

Book 66: Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin.  Beginning of a very enjoyable paranormal fantasy series. The covers are particularly awful, even by the standards of the genre. Please don’t let that put you off if you like light-hearted adventure fantasy. 4 stars.

Book 67: Becoming Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty. Extremely well-written young adult novel with a protagonist it’s difficult to like at first. More teenagers should discover these books, they’re an absolute delight to read, and a million times better than most YA fiction out there. 4 stars

Book 68: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I break my own rules for the first time in three years of reviewing for CBR. I’ve read this book four times now, but it’s one of my absolute favourites, and when Mrs. Julien and a bunch of others were reading it, I had to revisit it as well. 5 stars

Book 69: Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase. One of her weakest efforts, but still quite entertaining. Worth checking out if you like this sort of thing. 3 stars.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #24: She Tempts the Duke by Lorraine Heath

When Sebastian Easton was fourteen, he, his twin and their younger brother were locked in a tower by their evil uncle shortly after their father, the Duke of Keswick’s, funeral. They’re planning their escape when rescued by Lady Mary Wynne-Jones, Sebastian’s best friend and daughter of the neighbouring Earl. She overheard their uncle ordering them killed, and knocks out a guard to unlock the tower. The boys thank her, and promise to return in ten years to reclaim their heritage.

It takes twelve years, and they’ve been missing so long that their uncle is petitioning Parliament to have them declared dead, so he can claim the ducal title, when the three brothers make quite a dramatic entrance during one of their uncle’s balls. Sebastian’s been a soldier, and has horrible facial scars (and an eye patch!) after the Crimean war. His twin, Tristan, is now a successful captain, and their younger brother Rafe owns a gambling establishment in London. Their return naturally causes quite a stir, but no one is happier to see them than Lady Mary, who was sent to a convent after their disappearance (because her father wanted her out of trouble). She’s determined to do whatever she can to help them back into society, heedless of the dangers to her reputation and what it may do to her engagement.

It’s obvious that Mary loves Sebastian and has never forgotten him. He, of course, is scarred both physically and emotionally, and refuses to acknowledge that he may love her too, and keeps trying to push her away, even as she defies popular convention to assist him. Can the lost Lords of Pembrook prove their uncle tried to steal their inheritance, and get their revenge? Can Mary make Sebastian love her, and accept that she doesn’t find him repulsive despite his scars?

While I really did like Mary, and especially the depiction of her relationship with her cousin and aunt (who is awesome and clearly wants Mary happy no matter what scandals it may lead to), and I liked Sebastian’s relationship with his brothers a lot, the main romance in this book left a lot to be desired. Sebastian is just too caught up in his broodiness and conviction that his facial scarring makes him repulsive to everyone else. He keeps comparing himself to Tristan, who’s obviously still very handsome, and it gets old really fast. While it’s obvious that Mary’s first fiancee is wrong for her, I’m not sure she was better off with “oh woe is me” Sebastian either. He does of course change his mind in the end, but still seems like a bit of a gloomy stick in the mud. I’m much more looking forward to Tristan and Rafe’s romances, they both seem more promising.

Originally posted on my blog:

Samantha’s #CBR4 Review #1: The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, by Charles Dickens

And so we meet again, Cannonballers! Happy New Year,  happy new books, and all that jazz. Before I get started, I’d like to offer up a challenge: read more Dickens. 2012 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest novelists ever (February 7th, to be precise), so if you’ve been waiting for an occasion to get into Mr. Dickens, now is the time! The works of “Boz” have become something of a soap box for me; mainly because I only started reading him a few years ago, and discovered that he really is pretty much awesome. Here’s the problem, as I see it. We all know Dickens is serious canon, right? And as such, the average school curriculum feels the need to include him. However, because the powers that be figure nobody actually enjoys Dickens (that would be silly), they decide to include only one of his novels, so then they’re left trying to figure out which one is the best so that they can ram it into impressionable young minds. They decide on Great Expectations, which I would venture to say really is the best novel, but it comes with a caveat: I don’t think anyone under the age of at least twenty can really read/appreciate it. We all stagger through, probably don’t actually finish, and then swear we’re never reading Dickens again. And this is sad. And so, back to my challenge. I challenge you, if you have not already had the pleasure, of attempting to read some Charles Dickens. I do not, however, suggest that you start with Great Expectations, unless you’re feeling particularly ambitious. Start with Oliver Twist, which is familiar and a good length and really, really funny. Or A Tale of Two Cities, if you’re  in the mood some romantic drama. But seriously: READ SOME DICKENS! You won’t regret it.

My first book (and maybe first Dickens) of the year was The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. It was actually Dickens’ first novel, published in serial format in 1836. It’s not so much a novel with an predominant story arc as it is a collection of chronologically-ordered stories about a group of friends who wander around England getting into scrapes. The main character is Mr. Samuel Pickwick, a gentleman of middle age who is accompanied on his adventures by his younger friends Mr. Tupman, Mr. Snodgrass, and Mr. Winkle, and later his trusted man-servant, Samuel Weller. The gentlemen travel about, ostensibly to study human nature, but really, they’re just engaging in one gigantic pub crawl. My favorite thing about Dickens is his very sly sense of sarcasm, and it’s in great evidence here. Mr. Pickwick fancies himself a most erudite and worldly individual, but he’s really rather naive and clueless. Mr. Snodgrass is a poet who doesn’t ever produce poetry, and Mr. Winkle is a “great sportsman” who doesn’t know which end of a horse is the front end. Their scrapes are sometimes romantic, sometimes pugilistic, sometimes legal in nature, and always entertaining.  Despite the almost shallow nature of the story as a whole, the reader finds himself wholly invested in these charming characters, and will follow along eagerly to find out how a particular adventure ends. The ultimate ending satisfactorily closes the book on our heroes, and leaves one with a general sense of enjoyment and well-being. There’s not a lot to be “learned” or “understood” from Mr. Pickwick and company … it’s just all in good fun. It is interesting to look at Pickwick from a perspective of it being Dickens’ first major undertaking; the sarcasm, the satire, and the power of description are all there already, and one can sort of look forward to the honing of those skills throughout his later works.

I’ll stop with the wannabe English professor speak now, and just say that though long, this book is a lot of fun, particularly if you’re already a fan of Dickens or of the Victorian period in general. If you’ve already got some Dickens under your belt, and haven’t yet tackled Pickwick, then I return to my challenge and recommend that you follow my lead. You know, if you’re already ahead in your Cannonball count and can afford to only read one book this month.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #1: “Trial by Desire” by Courtney Milan

This is book is a sequel of sorts to Milan’s debut novel Proof by Seduction, but can be read without any prior knowledge to events in the last book.

Lady Kathleen “Kate” Carhart had barely been married to her husband for three months when he left her to go to China to prove to the world he can be responsible. In his absence, she managed as best she could, fending off unwanted attention from louts wanting to seduce her, and secretly spiriting away abused wives from their cruel husbands. She’s just managed to save another, when her husband returns unexpectedly. Can she trust him with her secrets? Surely she can’t count on his support, when the last wife she “stole” is married to one of his oldest friends?

Ned Carhart suffers from bouts of depression, and went to China in part to figure out a way to control himself. When he returns, he believes that he can finally avoid the worst lows, but he is determined that no one learn of his terrible weakness, least of all his extremely capable wife. He’s also faced with the arrival of his old friend, who wants his help in locating his wife and newborn heir. Ned needs to figure out why his wife is acting so strangely, and how he can win her trust, and possibly even her heart, all the while hiding his depression from her.

Things I liked: Kate is a great heroine. She’s brave, independent, intelligent and caring. Unsatisfied with her pampered existence as a duke’s daughter, she wanted to help others, and has been aiding abused women since she was sixteen. She hasn’t been able to tell anyone about it, as in the male dominated society she lives in, she’s be unlikely to get any support. She marries a man she barely knows, and he abandons her before she has a chance to really get to know him. Yet she’s determined to make her marriage work, even when her husband does things that make little to no sense to her. She’s calmly stands up to threats from her friend’s abusive husband, and even takes a beating rather than reveal the location of the woman she spirited away.

Courtney Milan clearly likes her heroes to be a bit damaged. A romance hero with depression is an unusual thing. I like her trying to do something different.

What I didn’t like:
Ned is pretty much a prize idiot. I get why he was so determined to gain control over himself and try to tackle his depression all by his lonesome. But it’s a moronic thing to do. Kate keeps reaching out to him, making romantic and seductive gestures, and he mostly pushes her away. He keeps telling her that he wants her to trust him and lean on him, but refuses to actually tell her how he really feels or what he fears, and for much of the book I just really wanted to slap him silly. I myself have suffered depression, and I’m married to a man who struggles with depression much worse than what Ned is described as having, and this made much of the book difficult to really enjoy for me. A romance pretty much fails when you feel the heroine could do better and should pick someone else.

Despite that, Milan is a very capable writer, and the overall plot of the book and the heroine is enough that I don’t regret reading it. It’s no Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever (Julia Quinn), so it’s got that going for it.

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