Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Hey, readers. I have decided to move my blog over to a new blog host, and have grabbed my own domain name. With the assistance of the amazing Ashley @ Creative Whim, the new site is up and running.

If you follow my blog on wordpress, you’ll automatically begin receiving updates once subscribers are moved. If you subscribe by email and want to continue receiving posts, you’ll need to visit the new blog and subscribe again.

My new home is: The Dead Writers Society. That blog will continue to focus on my adventures in reading (mostly) dead authors. I will remain active on Booklikes as well.

I hope to see you there!


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Whose Body

“Why can’t you marry and settle down and live quietly, doin’ something useful?” said the Duke, unappeased.

“Because that was a wash-out as you perfectly well know,” said Peter; “besides,” he added cheerfully, “I’m bein’ no end useful. You may come to want me yourself, you never know. When anybody comes blackmailin’ you, Gerald, or your first deserted wife turns up unexpectedly from the West Indies, you’ll realize the pull of havin’ a private detective in the family. ‘Delicate private business arranged with tact and discretion. Investigations undertaken. Divorce evidence a specialty. Every guarantee!”

Whose Body
is the first of the Lord Peter Wimsey series, written by Dorothy Sayers. Mrs. Sayers wrote ten Lord Peter novels, as well as short stories featuring her gentleman-detective between 1923 and 1937. Lord Peter ages in real-time with her stories, and they are contemporary mysteries set during the year in which they are written.

In 1998, Jill Paton Walsh took up Mrs. Sayers’ mantle and completed her unfinished last Lord Peter novel, called Thrones and Dominations. She has since published three more Lord Peter books, including The Attenbury Emeralds, which actually reaches back to 1921 and tells the story of Peter Wimsey’s first foray into detecting. The Attenbury Emeralds case is mentioned in Whose Body, but the story is not fully (or even partially) told.

I bought all of the original novels over the Christmas holidays this year, as they were all on sale. All of the Open Road editions of the Peter Wimsey books have similar covers, all featuring Peter’s monocle as part of the image. I find the covers both clever and appealing.

The mystery in Whose Body is quite grim, actually, although the treatment of it is lighthearted (as is so often the case with “Golden Age” mysteries). It is a classic upper crust mystery, although the murderer is quite frankly a sociopath who conveniently commits suicide at the end – this is another common feature of Golden Age mysteries. The murders often dispose of themselves to avoid the sticky and lower-class legal process that will result from their being caught-out by our amateur sleuth.

There is light satire of the British pre-WWII social conventions and the relationship between Lord Peter (aristocrat) and his valet (Bunter). In Whose Body, Lord Peter has a recurrence of “shell shock” from his experiences during WWI, and is cared for Bunter, who is obviously very close to Lord Peter. As a random aside, their relationship rather reminds me of the relationship between Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings, which was taken from Tolkien’s observations of the relationship between batman and officer in WWI. One of the great strengths of this book is the touching, affectionate and convincing relationship between Wimsey and Bunter.

Also, Bunter gets some of the best lines:

“Yes, Mr. Graves, it’s a hard life, valeting by day and developing by night—morning tea at any time from 6.30 to 11, and criminal investigation at all hours.”

The next book in the series is Clouds of Witness.

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cursed by cupid Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley.

This is really a novella – I think that the amazon page indicates that it is 50 pages long. Short book, short review:

I thought that this was adorable, and laughed out loud several times reading it. The MC, Tilly, has been romantically cursed for 3 years after breaking one of those annoying chain letters. She has had many terrible first dates, some of which are described to us in painful, humiliating, and hilarious detail.

She meets Bryant when she spills chocolate shake all over herself and his place of business. Things rapidly spiral out of control from there. Tilly is likeable, Bryant is handsome and persistent. It is a clean romance, appropriate for anyone who reads romance.

This book is pure, unadulterated cotton candy, seasonally suited to Valentine’s Day. I would absolutely read a full-length novel by Wendy Sparrow.

Thanks, Entangled Publishing. I really enjoyed this one.

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sinful folk

Cross-posted on Booklikes and amazon.

Disclosure: I won a free copy of this book from an author. It was a no-strings attached sort of a thing, and there was no agreement that I would review this book at all as a part of the giveaway. In addition, I was very excited about the release of this book because the author is someone I follow here on Booklikes, so I had read various excerpts from the book before getting my hands on it (digital hands, really) and it looked fantastic.

I was not disappointed.

I’m going to witter on for a bit about myself, to explain what kind of a reader I am. I have read a lot of historical fiction, including the grand dame of English historical fiction, Sharon Kay Penman, and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Both of these writers primarily write in a period that is quite a bit later than the period chosen by Mr. Hayes for his novel, but they – Penman in particular – are well known for the quality of their research and writing.

I am not tremendously knowledgable about the English Middle Ages and am definitely not reading as a scholar. However, I am pretty picky about obvious errors and I am quite picky about good writing, and I love a great story. Ned Hayes is one of those authors who is the total package.

Sinful Folk was, in a word, wonderful.

Most historical fiction focuses on the nobles not the vassals. This makes sense, as it is undoubtedly much easier to research how the royalty and the powerful members of the church and the wealthy lived. The peasantry are usually there, in the book, as an aside. They serve things, they (if they are male) are the cannon fodder for the foolish wars embarked upon by the powerful, or they (if they are female) are a sexual outlet – sometimes consenting, sometimes not so much – for the men of noble blood that they might encounter. Nonetheless, they are mostly interchangeble. Unnamed, unknown, unimportant.

But, of course, in the Middle Ages, as in any other period, those are the people who do most of the living and loving and hating and dying. This book gives them a voice in Mear, or Miriam. And it is a beautiful voice, utterly convincing.

“In the end, I listen to my fear. It keeps me awake, resounding through the frantic beating in my breast. It is there in the dry terror in my throat, in the pricking of the rats’ nervous feet in the darkness.

Christian has not come home all the night long.”

The book begins with the death of Mear’s son, Christian. He is burned to death in a terrible fire, along with four other boys. The men of the village, including Miriam, because she is living as a man, and a mute one, at that, take a pilgrimage in the dead of winter, seeking justice for their boys. The story is the story of their journey, and the life story of Miriam, who has secrets that are slowly revealed as the journey unfolds, picking up other travellers as they go. It is incredibly dangerous for peasants to be abroad on the road in winter, especially as they travel without the permission of their Lord. This is no light-hearted picaresque tale about villagers on a pleasure trip – the characters face real dangers, real hardship, and experience real terrors and injuries. It is winter, in the midst of a famine, and the world is a harsh and unforgiving place.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

(Poem by Christina Rosetti)

I don’t want to spoil the story, so I will stop here. Ned Hayes has a story-teller’s sense of timing and mystery, and a poet’s grasp of language. He could have been a bard in another time.

Rooks have clustered on either side of the long road. It is as if they line a grand parade route for our passage. Their black feathers are stark as soot against the White Road and the snow. They stab at the ground with their strange bare bills and unfeathered faces.”

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January 2014

Best of the month:

This is hard, because I read some great books this month!

The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann was a great historical fiction read, well-researched, fun to read, building to a ripping finish. I also loved And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard because she writes so beautifully, Emily Beam was a delightful character, and she wove the poems into the story with what appeared to be effortless proficiency. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis was a bit on the long side, but her treatment of the middle ages was fantastic. I had a love/hate relationship with Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. It was a shocking and intense read, and I am left bewildered and amazed at her skill as a writer. I cannot imagine how anyone could find Wuthering Heights romantic, but I know that I will never forget reading it.

Worst of the month:

Kaleidoscope by Kristen Ashley. For further discussion, you can read my review on booklikes, here.

Progress on Challenges:

Back to the Classics:

Category completed: A classic by a woman author – Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

The Bronte Project:

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

The Classics Club

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

The C.S. Lewis Project

Prince Caspian
Voyage of the Dawn Treader

A Century of Books:

1950 – A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie
1964 – A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie
1985 – Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys

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Les MiserablesSee my first post here.

It took me 15 months to finish Les Mis. I started it in September, 2012, read about 800 pages before setting it aside and coming back to it last week.

Where to begin to unpack this amazing, sweeping, epic, colorful, occasionally frustrating and digressing, often absorbing novel?

I want to start with one of the primary themes that I see running through Hugo’s narrative: justice. I see Hugo’s absolute commitment to justice as being central to the novel. Some people might say that this is a novel about redemption – but I disagree. No one who was “redeemed” required redemption – rather what appears to be redemption is, in my view, actually Hugo providing a form of justice to his character.

Let me begin with Jean Valjean, who is the central figure of the narrative. There are several turning points in his life, and Hugo leaves justice for Valjean until the last, lingering pages of this 1200 page tome. Because most of Valjean’s life is characterized by injustice, not justice. French society, Hugo says pointedly, was terribly unjust toward Valjean. His initial crime was one of such insignificance, of such a lack of importance, that the effects of it on his life represent the very heart of injustice and inequity. He – literally – stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving children, and while, yes, this does constitute a crime under French (and most other nations as well) law, the value of the item stolen is negligible, the impact on the victim nearly non-existent, and the amount of malice and criminality demonstrated by Valjean through the theft sparse, indeed. This was a crime that was perpetuated by a society of such injustice that children die for the want of a slice of bread, and men are villainized for the remainder of their lives – no matter what they do later – because of it.

Jean Valjean did not require redemption from French society. He “redeemed” himself, to the extent necessary, when he took the town in which he was mayor and he made society there more just, more functional, and more equitable. He did not require redemption for his soul – he received that from Bishop Myriel near the beginning of the book. What Valjean needed, and what he finally received, was a just acknowledgment that he was greater than his worst moment, and that there was more to him than the theft of a loaf of bread. This is what he gets, belatedly, at the end, from Marius and Fantine.

Now, I want to move to Fantine. Fantine is another character that is the victim of both terrible poverty, but also, of a terribly unjust world. Her conduct is no worse than that of the man who impregnated her, but he is undamaged. She is plunged into a world of want so terrible that Hugo’s descriptions of it are heartbreaking. There is no justice for Fantine in life, but Hugo ensures justice for her in death through her daughter, Cosette. Hugo has a bit of a habit of passing the wages of justice onto the next generation. Fantine is good, her daughter is rewarded.

Thenardier, on the other hand, passes the wages of his sins onto his children, to their ultimate demise. Gavroche and Eponine are both killed on the barricades, fighting for a more just society. Their father has no principles, so this is a bit of an ironic twist of fate. In spite of his utter moral bankruptcy, he accidentally raises children much better than he is, whose moral compass is not so irretrievably broken.

Hugo is melodramatic, and this book is huge. There is so much contained in it that it is impossible to pack it all into one reading, much less one post. I don’t know if I’ll come back to it or not after more time has passed, but I am not sorry that I read it. I shouldn’t have quit when I did, and I regret waiting as long as I did to complete it.

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2013 books

At least 133, although I didn’t keep as close a count as a should have for the last third of the year. The complete list here.

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