The Legacy by Katherine Webb

legacy by katherine webb

I am a sucker for just about anything gothic. That word conjures different meanings for people and there are multiple genres that employ gothic tropes. There is Southern Gothic, Gothic Romance, and of course…. Straight-Up-Regular Gothic (?). Post-modern gothic? I don’t know. When you say gothic people might only think of the old 18th, 19th century genre, often written by English writers, the setting somewhere fabulous like the wilds of Italy or the depths of French forests and were often “historicals” when they were written. There are plenty of modern novels with touches of the gothic about them. Sometimes it’s all about mysterious houses, tragic heroines that need rescuing or has a paranormal element. Legacy by Katherine Webb is, to me, definitely gothic in nature, but it’s the past that does the haunting, not a ghoul or a goblin.

Here is the blurb and the link to Goodreads.

When they were children, Erica Calcott and her sister, Beth, spent their summer holidays at Storton Manor. Now, following the death of their grandmother, they have returned to the grand, imposing house in Wiltshire, England. Unable to stem the tide of childhood memories that arise as she sorts through her grandmother’s belongings, Erica thinks back to the summer her cousin Henry vanished mysteriously from the estate, an event that tore their family to pieces. It is time, she believes, to lay the past to rest, bring her sister some peace, and finally solve the mystery of her cousin’s disappearance.

But sifting through remnants of a bygone time is bringing a secret family history to light—one that stretches back over a century, to a beautiful society heiress in Oklahoma, a haunting, savage land across the ocean. And as past and present converge, Erica and Beth must come to terms with two shocking acts of betrayal . . . and the heartbreaking legacy they left behind.

One thing all gothic novels must have is a rich setting. As they so often say in the movies, the setting is like a living, breathing character. Storton Manor is just such a place. Much of the house is in disrepair, its former glory beneath layers of dust and decay. The sisters spent much of their youth there and the place is thick with old memories and as Erica discovers, secrets. Their cousin Henry disappeared and neither of them seems to remember exactly what happened. The longer they stay, the more Erica wants to get to the bottom of the mystery, and the more Beth wants to leave. It helps  Erica’s cause when Beth’s son comes to stay for the summer holiday. It doesn’t help when their old friend Denny reappears. Here is our romantic element. But is he? Erica always had a thing for him, but when they were girls, it was Beth Denny loved. The closer they become, the more Erica is convinced that Denny holds the key to unlocking her memories around Henry’s disappearance.

The doings at Storton Manor in the present isn’t the only setting. We get our mysterious, creepy house that is decidedly English, and then the faded old history set in a mysterious land running as a subplot. While we watch Erica try to get to the bottom of her sister’s depression and her cousin’s  disappearance, we watch their great-grandmother in her youth. The reader is left wondering how on earth did this American woman end up in England, marrying a Lord and becoming great-grandmother to these women? And how did the sweet, gentle thing we know have such an empty-hearted bitch of a daughter?

I hate the old nugget of writer-rule that says not to use flashbacks. Most of my favorite novels heavily employ flashbacks. When the author does their job, ie: tells us a damn story and tells it well, the reader doesn’t care. I did get impatient to get back to one or other of the story lines, but that was the work of clever cliffhangers. It’s the same thing that happens when you have a multi-point-of-view novel carefully constructed by the author to keep you turning those pages. No one says don’t employ multiple points of view.

I’ve got a lot to recommend here. Good pacing, a good, twisty-turny plot, great characters, rich setting, a touch historical, a touch gothic, even a touch coming-of-age. I’m definitely going to check out some of Katherine Webb’s other books.

The Darcy’s of Pemberly by Shannon Winslow

Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge for 2013**

Again, I am late on my Pride and Prejudice post. In celebration of two hundredth anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I’m taking part in the Austenprose Bicentenary Challenge for 2013. Here is the original blog post if you are interested. The idea is to pick a challenge level (Ie: how many Pride and Prejudice inspired books, be they prequels, sequels, non-fiction, fan-fiction, etc., or movies or miniseries) then post our review on your blog. This month’s review is The Darcy’s of Pemberly by Shannon Winslow. Below is the blurb and here is the link to Goodreads.

darcys of pemberly

A sequel true to Jane Austen’s beloved masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice.

Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy have been married for almost a year, and their heated arguments are a thing of the past. All that passion is now directed into more satisfying pursuits. But how long can the honeymoon last? The couple’s idyllic life together at Pemberley is jeopardized by secrets they begin keeping from each other, the troubles of their closest friends, and the threat of a villain in their midst. 

Layers of seemingly innocent deception are building between Darcy and Elizabeth, threatening their relationship. He is conducting some covert business dealings that he’s unwilling to share with his wife, and she likewise begins keeping things from him against her own better judgment. The couple also becomes embroiled in the tribulations of Mr. Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana, and his friend and cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. 

Fitzwilliam falls victim to their aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, as the object of her latest scheme to make a noble match for her daughter. Georgiana runs the gamut of emotions as she comes of age and learns the pain of unrequited love. Meanwhile, the menacing shadow of Mr. Darcy’s life-long nemesis, Mr. Wickham, looms ever larger.

The Darcys of Pemberley is the tale of two romances: the continuation of Darcy and Elizabeth’s story, and the courtship of Miss Georgiana. For those who didn’t want Pride and Prejudice to end, this novel gives the opportunity to learn what happens after the wedding, to revisit old friends and foes, and to share the next chapter of their lives.

Well. That blurb might have taken some of the wind out of my review sails, as it pretty much tells you the whole story. So I will give you my impressions.

I really enjoyed this – and like most of the people I would recommend it to, I’m a HUGE fan of the original book and others of its time. Ms. Winslow successfully mimics that pace – slow, gentle, lots of visiting, dinners, letter writing and polite greetings. Ah, politeness. Decorum must be maintained at all times – even when you would prefer to take the nearest silver turreen from the sideboard and bash the visitor in the head with it. This is something I love, and wish was more common in historicals, which so often take on the modern pace rather than following the real-and-for-true Regency romance as it was written back in th’ day. Old school, if you will. The author seems to know her stuff where social behavior is concerned – which is refreshing The only place I think it strays is when a gentleman visits a woman in a sick room, which I do not believe would ever happen. But let us not pick nits.

Where it strays from the formula of the old novel, and in a good way, is the obvious affection and good-sex vibes from our main characters. Elizabeth and Darcy are an affectionate and passionate couple – behind closed doors as is proper (ie: not in front of the servants), and just as we would have them be. Please note, there are no sex scenes, just obvious randiness is clearly taking place between the principles “off page”. The author avoids excess of sap, which I appreciate, and the Darcy’s do have little spats, as two people of such different character should be prone to.

All our old friends are here and behave just as they should – even the odious Mr. Wickham and his dipstick wife. Lady Catherine resides over her court and ever gives advice that is not wanted. Mrs. Bennet is in full flutter at all times and Mr. Bennet is as droll as ever.

Please don’t think that things don’t happen. There is plenty of diversion on hand: Georgianna’s coming out, babies being born and as we approach the end (where all the good stuff always happened in those good old novels) larceny, kidnap, revenge! It’s great! If you didn’t want Pride and Prejudice to end, I would strongly recommend this one.

Billy and the Gargoyles by Heather Gregson


I am sorry it’s been quiet on the review front – I have been experiencing Henri-Le-Chat-Noir levels of ennui lately. (If you don’t get that reference, get thee  to Youtube and get educated.) Rest assured, I have been reading like crazy and I will be posting several reviews this week. Again, my Pride and Prejudice related book review is late – I have yet to even read it – but this is a long weekend and I got nothin’ planned. On to today’s review.

I want to talk about this book. I often feel that way when about to do a review but this time I thought I would, rather than just get right into the review. I do not usually review kids books, I believe this one is classified “mid-grade”, but I read a lot as a child, probably for the same reason I do as an adult. Part of it is “to get away from it all” (imagine your reviewer with the back of one hand dramatically applied to her forehead)  and partly (ok, mostly) to have adventures in my head. To go to new places. To revel in the fantasy that “real life” sadly lacks. I just loved it. There was nothing like alone time with a book…. there still is nothing like a book, but I believe that feeling was planted in my head as a kid.

I strongly connected with the kid in this book. I liked that he wasn’t your typical hero (if there really is a typical kid-hero.) Let me give you the blurb, and the link to Goodreads.

Angry over his parents’ divorce, and moving to New York City, ten-year-old Billy looks around his new room in despair. His mother’s only concern is her dream job and he has lost contact with his absent father. Outside his bedroom windows are two stone gargoyles. At first Billy doesn’t like the silent sentries, but in his loneliness he confides in the gargoyles, waking them from their stone sleep. With members of their own family missing, they understand Billy’s loss and together the three form a new “family”. When they discover the missing gargoyles were not destroyed but moved, the trio set off to find their lost family and Billy learns there are times when letting go is best.

Billy isn’t exactly your shiny-happy kid. He slams doors. Sasses his mom and her boyfriend. As a matter of fact, mom isn’t such a treat, either. She’s more wrapped up in her job and work than her kid and the stress he is going through. Think about it. Moving to a new city, leaving your friends and your jerk dad behind (yeah, he’s a jerk, too, but he’s Billy’s dad). Billy feels like he doesn’t have a friend in the world, and I’m sorry to say, he really  doesn’t. This isn’t like much of the mid-grade I read as a kid. The parents were usually great, the kids were kind of sassy sometimes, but there was always that  judgemental tone behind the author’s words as he sat wearing a monocle and a smoking jacket, probably, that suggested “Maybe if you weren’t such a  sassbox, your life with your awesome parents would be better.” That kind of thing doesn’t ring true anymore. Kids of today are much more sophisticated what with the internet and the video games. If we want kids to continue to read, I think you have to give them stories that ring true to today’s world. I think this one does.

Oh, and did I mention THERE ARE GARGOYLES? And they come alive and Billy goes on adventures with them?! I almost wish I was a kid so I could have read this and have it to look back on. The ones your memory winks at you with – the ones that come up in conversations about childhood books like “Remember that one with the bunny who was a vampire?” That kind of thing. Billy has no friends and a crap family life (luckily for him, his mom’s boyfriend is actually a nice guy) but he makes friends with the gargoyles outside his window. I read a book when I was a kid about gargoyles, but it had a terrible ending. The gargoyles came to life, but in the end, they tried to make their heroine their queen – which sounds great, except for the whole “being locked for all time into a stone shape” part. The heroine wasn’t so hot on that. It was almost as if that be-monacled author was saying “See, if you just were satisfied with your normal life, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. Now get a job and pay your taxes.”

If you have a kid that likes to read and has a fantastical turn of mind, get them this one. I do not believe their time in this imaginary world will have been wasted.

Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange

Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge for 2013**

I am sorry I am late on my Pride and Prejudice post. I’ve been terribly lazy about my online responsibilities lately. In celebration of two hundredth anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I’m taking part in the Austenprose Bicentenary Challenge for 2013. Here is the original blog post if you are interested. The idea is to pick a challenge level (Ie: how many Pride and Prejudice inspired books, be they prequels, sequels, non-fiction, fan-fiction, etc., or movies or miniseries) then post our review on your blog. This month’s review is Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange.


Here is the link to Goodreads and here is the blurb:

Monday 9th September
“I left London today and met Bingley at Netherfield Park. I had forgotten what good company he is; always ready to be pleased and always cheerful. After my difficult summer, it is good to be with him again. …”

The only place Darcy could share his innermost feelings was in the private pages of his diary…

Torn between his sense of duty to his family name and his growing passion for Elizabeth Bennet, all he can do is struggle not to fall in love.

Mr. Darcy’s Diary presents the story of the unlikely courtship of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Darcy’s point of view. This graceful imagining and sequel to Pride and Prejudice explains Darcy’s moodiness and the difficulties of his reluctant relationship as he struggles to avoid falling in love with Miss Bennet. Though seemingly stiff and stubborn at times, Darcy’s words prove him also to be quite devoted and endearing – qualities that eventually win over Miss Bennet’s heart. This continuation of a classic romantic novel is charming and elegant, much like Darcy himself.

Pride and Prejudice has inspired a large number of modern day sequels, the most successful of which focus on the rich, proud Mr. Darcy.

This was a great read, like sliding your foot into a fuzzy slipper. Despite the familiarity of the situations, the characters, etc., this view of things from Darcy’s point of view shows us the other side of Pride and Prejudice. It is faithful to the original book as far as what happens, the behavior of the characters, but shows us more of what happened regarding Georgiana’s brush with Wickham and how things went during Darcy and Caroline’s deceitful removal of Bingley from Netherfield.

We also see Darcy at his most arrogant. In Austen’s original, he is an enigma. We see his actions and hear his words, but not his thoughts. He is most often silent. Now we are privy to his own opinion of himself and it is pretty high. He makes constant reference to all he has to offer and how he is courted by the debutantes. It rubs you the wrong way, but then he does say how it is simply the plain truth and much of it is stated as a matter of fact. He believes this, but you realize that he doesn’t equate it with himself – his own worth as a person, but as what Pemberley has to offer. Then you realize it is not conceit – arrogance, perhaps, but he doesn’t mince words when it comes to the truth. Which leads us to the unfortunate proposal.

It’s one of the most famous in all literature – and yet poor Darcy completely fudges it. He begins so beautifully, but then he begins to tell the truth  – as he sees it – and much of this is only described by Austen. However, Grange tells us everything he said, and she did it beautifully. Everything he said was in keeping with Darcy’s own voice and beliefs. And he doesn’t hold back a single thing. Very cringeworthy.

I was supposed to put this up last month but life got in the way. I should have read the book for the August review, but sadly, that one I did not like at all and I couldn’t get through it. So I decided to review this book instead, but had to re-read this to write up the review. I enjoyed it just as much the second time.

Carniepunk Anthology

I would like to apologize for the quiet on the blog. I have been reading – mostly a re-read of Sherlock Holmes from front to back, which is my comfort read. I’ve been struggling with my own writing and output and anxiety and blah blah blah, I even missed my Pride and Prejudice challenge on 7/1 – I will be back with a new Pride and Prejudice continuation review on, or shortly after, 8/1. Now let’s talk about what we’re here to talk about – which is this incredible anthology right hee-yah.


I got this as an ARC – and I wish, oh I wish I could quote it, but you can’t quote an ARC….I wish I could, because there is some delicious stuff in here. This Anthology of Urban Fantasy stories set in and around carnivals grew in the deep, dark recesses of the Twitter… A couple of authors, allowed out without their handlers, had a conversation. Threats were made. Demons were summoned. I don’t know exactly what happened. All I know was that in order to keep the evil ones at bay, 14 authors banded together to write spells in the form of stories, some of them possibly true stories set in the guise of fiction… I don’t know. I could be endangering my life telling you this. Here. Let this blurb tell you what I am loathe to reveal. And here is the link to Goodreads.

A star-studded urban fantasy anthology featuring bestselling authors Rachel Caine, Rob Thurman, Seanan McGuire, Jennifer Estep, and Kevin Hearne, whose stories explore the creepy, mysterious, and, yes, sometimes magical world of traveling carnivals.

The traveling carnival is a leftover of a bygone era, a curiosity lurking on the outskirts of town. It is a place of contradictions—the bright lights mask the peeling paint; a carnie in greasy overalls slinks away from the direction of the Barker’s seductive call. It is a place of illusion—is that woman’s beard real? How can she live locked in that watery box?

And while many are tricked by sleight of hand, there are hints of something truly magical going on. One must remain alert and learn quickly the unwritten rules of this dark show. To beat the carnival, one had better have either a whole lot of luck or a whole lot of guns—or maybe some magic of one’s own.

Featuring stories grotesque and comical, outrageous and action-packed, Carniepunk is the first anthology to channel the energy and attitude of urban fantasy into the bizarre world of creaking machinery, twisted myths, and vivid new magic.

I don’t always like anthologies with a running theme. After a while it can feel like you are reading what amounts to stories stamped out by cookie cutters. This anthology managed to avoid that. Some are original stand-alones, some are set in already established worlds. I was excited to read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid story – but my two other favorites,  Hillary Jacques and Seanan McGuire, wrote originals set in new worlds I’d like to read more of.

I also discovered a few new authors I intend to track down and read. The most haunting and original and “make you go oooooh” story for me was The Cold Girl by Rachel Caine. The humans we start the story with are scary enough. Teenagers!! Sixteen year old Kiley’s boyfriend is a jerk. Then we find out he is so much worse than a jerk! He’s murderous, and in the middle of the carnival, he realizes she’s learned his ugly secret. Kiley is all set to become his next victim, but then there is the Cold Girl – one of the mysterious stars of the midway. I was unsure what sort of entity this creature is – is she a ghost? A vampire? Whatever she is, she has the power to let Kiley seek vengeance despite her semi-murdered state. However -this sort of thing always comes with a price. Is she willing to pay it?  Is vengeance worth an eternity of pain and cold?

Parlor Tricks by Jennifer Estep is an Elemental Assassin story. I have not read the novels – but I may have to! The main characters are sisters who go to the carnival to look for a missing girl, and end up going missing themselves! The magic is element based and it turns out the purveyors of the carnival are perverting magic for their own gain. It was a kick-ass story with some strong female characters and good writing.

I really enjoyed this anthology all the way through. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes urban fantasy or paranormal type stuff – or anyone who has caught a glimpse behind the plywood facade of the carnival and knows it’s not all brightly spun sugar and deep fried delectables… who has caught the jaundiced eye of the creature in the freak show that looks a little too real…or for anyone who wants to.

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll

Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge for 2013**

In celebration of two hundredth anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I’m taking part in the Austenprose Bicentenary Challenge for 2013. Here is the original blog post if you are interested. The idea is to pick a challenge level (Ie: how many Pride and Prejudice inspired books, be they prequels, sequels, non-fiction, fan-fiction, etc., or movies or miniseries) then post our review on your blog. This month’s review is Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife by Linda Berdoll. Here is the link to Goodreads and below is the blurb.

mr darcy takes a wife

What readers are saying
“Whoa, Darcy!”
“Some parts are hilarious and some a walk on the wild side for Austen characters. Curl up and enjoy!”
“Tells the tale I always wanted to hear…how the Darcys lived happily ever after…”
“The only fault I found with this book was that it ended.”
Every woman wants to be Elizabeth Bennet Darcy-beautiful, gracious, universally admired, strong, daring and outspoken-a thoroughly modern woman in crinolines.
And every woman will fall madly in love with Mr. Darcy-tall, dark and handsome, a nobleman and a heartthrob whose virility is matched only by his utter devotion to his wife.
Their passion is consuming and idyllic-essentially, they can’t keep their hands off each other-through a sweeping tale of adventure and misadventure, human folly and numerous mysteries of parentage.
Hold on to your bonnets! This sexy, epic, hilarious, poignant and romantic sequel to Pride and Prejudice goes far beyond Jane Austen.

Let’s just get this out of the way.

Mr. and Mrs. Darcy like to do it.

A lot.

It’s what we all hope for, isn’t it? I so rarely read romances with married folk in it. The author does go back a bit and tell us a little of Darcy’s sexual history and the lead-up to the marriage. I found the beginning of this a little uneven. Rather than being really sexy… it was really awkward. Focused way too much on the unfortunate aspects of sex (She knows nothing about sex and little of a man’s anatomy. It’s messy. Or at least the Darcy sex is incredibly messy. Do we really have to “see” him wiping away his leavings? Really? I don’t think we do.) I was also distressed that the author used that age old trope of giving our hero the penis of a small Shetland pony. The member is of such girth and magnificence that Mrs. Darcy was not sufficiently devirginized the first few times and continued to experience pain. Oh, she was gifted the aperture of a grape seed. The author-ial gift of size, you see… it abounds.

Ok, enough of my grousing. It does take awhile (8% according to the Kindle) for things to get past awkward, messy sex and for a story that does not include the Darcy’s sexual explorings to emerge. The author does a great job of sticking to the characters as put forth in Pride and Prejudice and weaves in new ones, friends and foes. In the beginning, the tone is almost farcical and overly wordy, but it smoothes out and finds its own voice. The plot also grows and expands.

Darcy’s first sexual conquest was a very willing maid, who had the bad manners to brag that she had seduced the master’s son. Darcy didn’t know that his rival to Abigail’s affection was none other than Wickham. Well someone (imagine who?) spread the word to Darcy’s father that his son was bedding a housemaid and she was not being quiet about it. Not wanting a scandal, the elder Darcy sends Abigail away and makes sure only women of a rotund appearance work above stairs. When next we see Abigail, she’s in dire straights and has had more than a few other dalliances. She has several children, including a tall, good-looking son named John who has witnessed his mother go from servant to prostitute to wife of a sailor who abuses her and her children. They have to flee London because he is coming back from sea, and she is more than halfgone with another man’s child. She returns to the land near Pemberly seeking work. For the first time, her son learns that he was conceived in the great mansion. He heaps all the blame for his mother’s unfortunate life on the head of whoever sired him. So…there’s that…

There is also the man responsible for Abigail’s flight from London, Tom Reed. He takes off for Pemberley as well, for different reasons. He’s heard from his brother (a footman in the Darcy’s employ) that it’s an amazing place. He thinks jewelry and silver will be for the taking and probably the living is easy. His brother’s word gets him a job. Reed is a horrible man – a brute, thief, and all-around jerk. He gets caught abusing a horse and sent packing by Darcy. But not before he’s got a serious thing for Elizabeth. He was hoping that if he stuck around long enough, his crass ugly face might grow familiar enough… I don’t know. I don’t know how this monster ever thought he’d get in mi’lady’s knickers, but he had his mind set on her. He doesn’t go far – and his return to Pemberley has dire circumstances.

I’m not even done. There are other villains out there – these are familiar to us in the persons of Lady Catherine and the perfidious Wickham! These four people descend on Pemberley and through various deeds and disasters weave our story. I can’t remember gasping out loud more during a book – also wanting to throw it. Not for bad reasons, you understand. Well, some things are bad but the story isn’t.  It is a bit long… I wondered how much more the author was going to do to me before I was done. But I give this very high marks. There’s a lot of tragedy, the deaths really pile up and you wonder if the hits will stop coming. But the love of the Darcys and their trials and tribulations are really enjoyable. And really painful. And really worth wading through the less than sexy sex in the beginning.

I understand there is a sequel. I’d like to get it!

The Book of Lost Tales Vol 1. by J.R.R. Tolkien

Sorry for the silence on the book blog, my friends. I’ve been working very hard on my own manuscript, editing it to get it to betas and working on reading some friend’s manuscripts. I haven’t been reading much. This may continue for a few weeks, as I have two books to beta for friends and I’m far from finishing my edit. Please be patient with me. I’ve got so many great books to read!

book of lost tales 1

My last read was The Book of Lost Tales. Here is the link to Goodreads, and below is the blurb.

The Book of Lost Tales stands at the beginning of the entire conception of Middle-earth and Valinor, for the Tales were the first form of the myths and legends that came to be called The Simarillion. Embedded in English legend and English association, they are set in the narritive frame of a great westward voyage over the Ocean by a mariner named Eriol (or AElfwine) to Tol Eressëa, the Lonely Isle, where Elves dwelt; from them he learned their true history, the Lost Tales of Elfinesse. In the Tales are found the earlies accounts and original ideas of Gods and Elves, Dwarves, Balrogs and Orcs; of the Silmarils and the Two Trees of Valinor; of Nargothrond and Gondolin; of the geography and cosmology of the invented world.

I’m sorry. I’m starting with a major rant. After a few of the tales, I quit reading the notes. As usual with these Lord of the Ring Prequels, the editors and compilers  abandoned their  job for a painful obsession with minutiae. Christopher Tolkien treats Middle Earth like a history subject instead of a world filled with stories. I hate to tell him this, but his father, besides being a professor and creator of an amazing world was a STORYTELLER. Christopher Tolkien doesn’t give a flying frak about storytelling. He interrupts the beginning and middle spot between tales to tell us how they were connected, what kind of a notebook they were written in and all abut the original form of the story before J.R.R. Tolkien revised them – known as the first draft, and totally unnecessary to present to the reader. At the end of each story, he gives an endless list of name changes the characters went through during the story revision process (in paragraph form). He also compares the stories you just read with stories you know nothing about (stories that come later and the tales or the Silmarillion, which I have read but have not memorized.) It. Is. Painful. The tales should have been edited, given forth as they were in their final edited form, with MAYBE a footnote here and there to say “If you’ve read the Silmarillion you will realize that A and B have changed after revision.” In the case of multiple versions, they should have chosen a fricking version and stuck with it, rather than giving us  multiple paragraphs written in multiple  ways. I mean, he has footnotes to make note of changes to sentences. He does the same thing with poems – in one case listing three different versions of the same poem.

Sorry. Rant over. On the tales themselves. We meet our main character, Eriol, who is traveling in Tol Erresea, the land of the elves. Did you know Tolkien originally called them gnomes? Eriol comes across the Cottage of Lost Play – the singular best name ever given to a house. Even better the Wellinghome (Treebeard’s house) or even “the last homely house east of the sea” – which is more of a description than the actual name, but Imladris or Rivendell might be a better name… anyway. He meets all kinds of magical folk and hears the stories of the creation of the Ainur, a few of whom  became known as the Valar (who became like gods) when they went to Valinor (kind of the garden of Eden) on Earth (our planet) after Iluvatar (THE God) creates it. The gods bop around for awhile, mucking around with the raw materials Iluvatar has left them, and trying to overcome the treacheries of Melko (a fallen Ainur who is pretty much like Satan) Then come the awakening of the elves, and long after, men. After awhile, staying among the elves and hearing their stories, Eriol wants to drink the magic drink, limpe and stay with them forever. He is told to be patient, to wait; that he has not been among them long enough to make that decision. Because once he drinks the limpe, he cannot leave. He needs to hear the long sad tale of the darkening of Valinor and the decline of the elves.

It is a sad story. And a bit of a confusing one, as the story kept changing and Christopher Tolkien keeps pointing it out. In short, Melko, who is like Satan with a little Loki thrown in, is jealous of the elves. Especially when they start making pretty stuff out of twinkle-light and the mists off the water, and the light dripping from the magical trees. He pretends  he wants no part of it, but in his jealousy, he wants to make the elves unhappy. He tells them they are being kept captive by the Valinor, and peppers in some lies and half-truths about the outside world. He even teaches them some things that only the gods should know, which lessens their happiness. Some of them listen, some don’t. Then some of the elves decide to go to the big god, Manwe, and ask him for permission to leave. Melko knows this is going to come back on him, as the elves aren’t supposed to know some of the things Melko has taught them. So Melko goes to Manwe first and tells him that the elves question his rule and judgement, and that they have been saying they should be held equal to the Valar, being first of Iluvatar’s beings awoken on the earth. Manwe, who should know better in my opinion, is not in the mood to listen to the elves when they come. The elves go away with their bums stinging from a paddling, and their discontent continues to grow.

The story gets sadder from there. For all their beauty and ability, the elves are doomed, as we know from Lord of the Rings. The coming of men only muddies the waters further. There is more treachery, kinslaying, jewel-stealing, love, death, etc. I really enjoyed the tales, but I strongly suggest you either don’t read the notes after the stories, or just skim them. Reading them is like trying to learn German while hearing nothing but French. And you only speak English.

Mr. Darcy’s Obsession by Abigail Reynolds

Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge for 2013**

In celebration of two hundredth anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I’m taking part in the Austenprose Bicentenary Challenge for 2013. Here is the original blog post if you are interested. The idea is to pick a challenge level (Ie: how many Pride and Prejudice inspired books, be they prequels, sequels, non-fiction, fan-fiction, etc., or movies or miniseries) then post our review on your blog. This month’s review is Mr. Darcy’s Obsession by Abigail Reynolds. Here is the link to Goodreads, and below is the blurb:

m darcy's obsession

The more he tries to stay away from her, the more his obsession grows…

What if … Elizabeth Bennet was more unsuitable for Mr. Darcy than ever.

Mr. Darcy is determined to find a more suitable bride. But then he learns that Elizabeth is living in London in reduced circumstances after her father’s death robs her of her family home.

What if … Mr. Darcy can’t stop himself from seeking her out.

He just wants to make sure she’s alright. But once he’s seen her, he feels compelled to talk to her, and from there he’s unable to fight the overwhelming desire to be near her, or the ever-growing mutual attraction that is between them.

In this re-telling, the unfolding of events hits a snag. Elizabeth’s visit to Rosings is cut short when Mr. Bennet falls ill and dies. Mrs. Bennet’s worst fears have come to pass and they are homeless. We pick up the story after this point – Elizabeth has had to go and live with her mother’s brother and wife, the Gardiner’s, in Cheapside. She is essentially the governess to their children. As lowering as this may be in the eyes of society, she knows she has the better deal of all the sisters. Jane has been married to a shopkeeper, just so that she may have a home, and Mrs. Bennnet, Lydia and Kitty are living in Aunt Philip’s crowded dwelling in Meryton. I think Mary went to go live with another relative. So Mr. Darcy never got to make his ill-fated proposal and never wrote his beautiful letter. Lizzy does not know the truth of Wickham’s lies.

When we join Darcy and Bingley two years later, Bingley is still smarting from missing his chance at marrying Jane. He has learned of his sister’s deception, of not telling him she was in London. He has never gotten over her. Bingley tells Darcy he has seen Elizabeth and learned of the family’s unfortunate circumstances. This puts a bug in Darcy’s ear and he just can’t ignore it. He goes to London, convincing himself he is not going to see her, just to make sure she is in comfortable surroundings. He pays an urchin to bring him intelligence of her… which includes that she takes walks in the park. And so begins our story.

Ms. Reynold’s does a wonderful job with setting and tone. She doesn’t bother trying to sound like Jane, she writes in a nice, straightforward style and has a good understanding of the regency period. She widens the character base to include Darcy’s really horrible family. Jane Austen never wrote a scene that was just a conversation between gentleman – she claims she had no idea what such a scene would entail, having never experienced it. I hate to think they were so crass and vulgar, but you know what, they probably were. There is a scene where Darcy’s Uncle, his cousin Fitzwilliam’s father, is talking about Georgiana getting married (bear in mind she is only seventeen and not even out yet) that left me fuming. The treatment of women of the lower classes by the aristocracy is accurate, just upsetting. I know it happened, but I don’t like to read about it. I found it a bit jarring, because most Regencies I read are soft, gentle things, and that is what I like about them. They are a kind of fantasy of their own, where we ignore the horrors of the lower classes (for the most part) and go to fancy parties and wear poofy dresses and visit manor homes. Judge me if you will. Don’t get me wrong – the plot is amazing, I just wasn’t quite ready or expecting these subjects in a Jane inspired story. It is still very excellent. Georgiana plays a much bigger part in the story this time. And I loved Aunt Augustine. She’s a treat.

There are, of course, misunderstandings, long separations, letters, visits… all the good stuff of a regency romance. The only misstep I feel was at the very end. I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. There was a very public scene where some very horrible family secrets were thrown around inside a church. It never would have happened. No one would so forget themselves, especially not a member of the aristocracy. However, the ending is more than fabulous and well deserved after many twists and turns. I would gladly read other books by this author.

Happy Birthday, Harper Lee!

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.

to kill a mockingbir

Above is one of my favorite passages from my favorite book. Sunday is Harper Lee’s birthday. In case you live under an illiterate rock, Ms. Lee is the author of one of the finest novels ever written in the English language, To Kill a Mockingbird. I am no journalist, I do not have to be impartial. I am only a writer, and I have to tell the truth. Sometimes, critics and professor’s claim a book is a “must-read” or a “pivotal point in literature,” and after picking up that book I want to hunt down that critic and punch that professor in the face. This time, however, I have made my own conclusion, after having read many books written in English, and I stand by what I said. I loved this the first time I read it, in high school, and I love it even more as an adult. Here is the link and below is the blurb:

“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel–a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with rich humor and unswerving honesty the irrationality of adult attitudes toward race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence, and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina and quiet heroism of one man’s struggle for justice–but the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

One of the best-loved classics of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has earned many distinctions since its original publication in 1960. It has won the Pulitzer Prize, been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than forty million copies worldwide, and been made into an enormously popular movie. It was also named the best novel of the twentieth century by librarians across the country (Library Journal).

I find the story behind the writing of the book as fascinating as the book itself. Harper Lee moved to New York in 1949 at the age of 23. She worked as a ticket agent for an airline and wrote stories. She managed to find an agent for her short stories (you could still do that back then) and reunited with her childhood friend, Truman Capote, who had begun his rise to fame. He was the inspiration for the character Charles Baker Harris, or Dill, the child from a broken home that was shuttled from relative to relative and who famously said “I’m little, but I’m old.”  She also made friends with a broadway composer Michael Brown and his wife, Joy. Having just come into some money, the Brown’s wanted to help her and gave her a year’s salary with the note that said “You have one year off from your job to write what you please. Merry Christmas.” And so it began. It took her a year to write the first draft.

another to kill a mockingbird

The book started off as a series of short stories, but with a further two years of editing, along with guidance from Tay Hohoff, an editor, she sculpted it into the creature it is now. Something of the short story remains within the pages, especially at the beginning. We meet up with Scout, the main character, and her brother, Jem, being raised by their widowed father. Scout is a precocious tomboy, who seems to have learned to read through osmosis. We join this brother and sister just before their age difference (at 6 and 11) really becomes apparent. Enter Dill, who proposes to Scout almost right away, then runs off with her brother to do boy things, and you’ve got an interesting triangle. Despite their differences, and Jem’s dignity, they manage to have plenty of adventures. And of course, much of that has to do with Boo Radley.

The Radley place fascinated Dill. In spite of our warnings and explanations it drew him as the moon draws water, but drew him no nearer than the light pole on the corner, a safe distance from the Radley gate.

Reading this is almost like two stories. I once made an aunt angry because I was reading it out loud to some young kids. However, the beginning is far more child friendly than the middle and end – and there was no way we would come to anything of an adult nature in a single afternoon. The really meaty plot deals with the deep seated racism of the old south. Tom Robinson, a black man, is accused of raping a white girl. This nearly tears the town of Maycomb in two. Decent folks are glad to see the Atticus Finch, Scout’s father, is trying to do right by him. Others are angry that he is doing his job, rather than just brushing the whole thing under the carpet and simply making him plead guilty. It doesn’t matter much that the accuser’s family lives in filth at the edge of the dump and lives off the county. In normal circumstances, everyone thinks less of them than the dirt between their toes. However, the decent people aren’t exactly standing up to be counted or shouting down the old guard who want to intimidate Atticus into dropping the case. When Scout confronts her father about this, he gives her an eloquent answer.

“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong…” (Scout)

“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions,” said Atticus, “but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” 

Boo Radley is the other plotline. In some ways, I think he is the spectre of white privilege: a boy who did some terrible things running wild with his friends, and yet rather than be held accountable, his father is allowed to decide what is to be done with him. He brings Boo home and according to Scout, he is never seen again. There, he descends into boogeyman status. If he wasn’t mad before he was shut up by his ultra-conservative, religious parents, he was driven there.

Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom. People said he existed, but Jem and I had never seen him. People said he went out at night when the moon was down, and peeped in windows. When people’s azaleas froze in a cold snap, it was because he had breathed on them. Any stealthy, small crimes committed in Maycomb were his work. Once the town was terrorized by a series of morbid nocturnal events: people’s chickens and household pets were found mutilated; although the culprit was Crazy Addie, who eventually drowned himself in Barker’s Eddy, people still looked at the Radley place, unwilling  to discard their initial suspicions.

This book has it all. A study of morals. The painful steps between childhood and adolescence. A boogeyman. A hero. A villain. High, courtroom drama. Beautiful language, wrapped up in Southern Gothic twang as thick as honey and butter between two halves of a buttermilk biscuit. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’d love to hear what you think of it in the comments.

Happy Birthday, Charlotte Bronte

I have been a bit remiss. I’ve tried to put up a new review every 3 or 4 days, but the combination of working really hard on editing one of my own manuscripts, doing a blogging challenge and reading a book that’s very slow has kept me from it this week. I’m not sure if the book I’m reading will make it on the blog or not. I’ve got several great library books I’m looking forward to.

jane eyre

As I said when I began this blog, I wanted to celebrate my favorite author’s birthdays. And today is the birthday of Charlotte Bronte. She was the eldest of the literary sisters, which also included Emily Bronte, author of Wuthering Heights and Anne Bronte, author of Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Charlotte is best known for her excellent novel, Jane Eyre. Critics argue that Anne’s Agnes Grey is much more representative of a governess’ life than Jane Eyre. Read it if you want to learn more about being a governess during the life of the Bronte’s, but I warn you – it is a trifle dull. If you want excitement, an almost modern heroine and gothic chills, pick up Eyre.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. 

She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed. 

With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte’s innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.

The Bronte’s all stirred up the narrow-minded, somewhat elitist critics over their respective novels. Anne’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall drew ire for its depiction of drunkenness and the audacity of a woman to live on her own when married. Emily’s Wuthering Heights was  condemned for it’s “amoral passion” and a female character who preferred to run wild on the moors rather than do needlework. And then there is Jane Eyre. The title character is an orphan left in the care of her aunt (by marriage), Mrs. Reed. Jane is willful, unconventional, with an artistic mind. Jane will not lay down under the tyranny of her Aunt and cousin, John, but curses Mrs. Reed when she accuses her of being a liar to a school administrator. After he goes away, Jane gives her aunt what-for.

“I am not deceitful: if I were, I should say I loved you; but I declare I do not love you: I dislike you the worst of anybody in the world except John Reed; and this book about the liar, you may to your girl, Georgiana, for it is she who tells lies, and not I.”

Every time I read that I fist-punch the air! But sadly, our heroine is sent off to this awful school, branded a liar, and made to stand on a stool with a placard proclaiming her such. Despite the cruelty, the horrible food provided and the unkind treatment, Jane stays long enough to get her education and see the school purged of its greedy administrators. She remains there as a teacher, until a desire to see more of the world inspires her to advertise for a position as a governess. And this is where our story really gets interesting.

She is hired at Thornfield Hall to teach a gentleman’s ward – allegedly a daughter from the other side of the blanket, as they said in those times. At first, she does not expect to meet the gentleman himself, as it is said he is rarely at home. She has her pupil, Adele, and Mrs. Fairfax the housekeeper for company. And though she is happy and has more freedom and lives in a gorgeous mansion, she feels the house and her position closing in around her. She wishes, that like a man, she could have action in her life. And of course, what sort of book would it be if the mysterious, haunted Mr. Rochester did not make an appearance? He is intrigued by the direct, no-nonsense governess he finds attending to Adele. A woman of intelligence, who answers his impertinent questions with impertinence and who doesn’t back down, either from his surly tone or aristocratic privilege, which he doesn’t even try to keep in check – but of course he doesn’t. He’s privileged. He doesn’t have to.

Besides the strange attraction of Mr. Rochester, there is the giggling in the night. The mysterious fire set in Mr. Rochester’s rooms. Jane saves him from that one – and this part is very genteelly played. She wakes, having heard a sound in the hall. She opens her door and finds a burning candle, and Mr. Rochester’s door is open. She smells smoke, and runs inside to find his bed hangings on fire.  She wakes him and they put out the fire, but instead of rousing the house and finding out what has happened, he asks her to stay in his room and waits for him to return. He goes upstairs and is gone awhile. When he returns, she wishes to go. She’s tired, she’s had a fright, of course she wants to go. He tells her she may, and then stops her. He asks how she can leave him after saving his life. He wants to shake hands, to thank her, and she insists there is no need. His voice is strange, he doesn’t speak with his usual surety. He asks her, a couple of time, if she will go… to me it seems he is almost asking her to stay. In his room. At night. You get what I’m saying? Though Jane doesn’t acknowledge this, she has just been propositioned. But being young and chaste, Jane has no intention of being seduced. It’s the sexiest part of of the whole book. Well. One of them. They have many intellectual wrangles and heartfelt interchanges that bristle with all sorts of things unsaid.

Jane Eyre has everything I love. Romance. A strong heroine who is also an orphan. I seem to like classic tales of orphans. An old, gothic house with a mystery. A brooding Englishman. It just gets better every time I read it. The Bronte’s had their own share of tragedy and gothic horrors in their lives. They all died too young, but they left behind treasures that are well worth reading.