smelling of april and may…

With June getting ready to bust a move, in the form of days getting hotter and more humid, I’ve realized that April and May really have flown by. Or they seem to have done so, in retrospect. While I was counting the days until leaving for home, in April, I thought that a snail could have moved faster. But now they’ve gone by, the summer months have truly arrived, the town pool is open, and I’m getting ready to really start looking for a job. You know, instead of looking halfheartedly.

During this time, I continue to work towards my total of 1oo books read for 2012, and since I’ve read almost fifty books, so far, I think I’m well on the way. Even when I was packing to visit Sydney or packing to leave for the U.S., I still managed to work my way through book after book, making sure to avoid the really heavy duty ones. I’m not generally daunted by the size of a book or the historical subject matter, but I knew I didn’t have the time to read The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton (a fairly large looking book), or the brain space to read any nonfiction. But my mom just finished it, so I will probably pick it up soon. She really liked it, which isn’t a surprise, considering how much we liked Morton’s The Forgotten Garden.

You can check my official book list, because I’m not going to go over ever one of the 19 books that I’ve read in the last two months, but I think there are some that are worth noting, before I forget about them entirely.

Of course, no list of my recent reading materials would ever be complete without the great Georgette Heyer. I’ve not only reread seven of her books, during April and May, but I’ve also gotten my hands on a biography of her, The Private World of Georgette Heyer, by Jane Aiken Hodge. No matter how many times I peruse her mysteries and historical romances, I never tire of them. And the biography was fascinating, as it showed how she went from being an outgoing woman to increasingly hiding from the public. She was not treated well by her reviewers, and she was somewhat bitter about it.

I’m afraid that because her books are labeled “romances”, she often got dissed over them being fluff, even as they may be today. But those people that discount her work for such a pitiful reason, they have no idea how much research went into her stories, how she worked hard to recreate the language that the people spoke to each other, in the Regency and Georgian periods. She was so good at making us feel like we were actually in that time period, that the entire romance genre can be attributed to her books, for every other romance wants to be her… and usually fails.

Between the mysteries and the romances, there are such a wide variety of amazing characters, every one of them fascinatingly detailed… even the minor characters. In A Blunt Instrument, a dour, religious policeman assists Detective Hannasyde and Sergeant Hemingway, keeping up the hilarity, at the conversations that occur between them, as PC Glass likes to speak in Biblical quotes.

In Powder and Patch, we see young Cleone send her “clodhopper” of a lover away, because she wants him to acquire polish and poise. Rebellious at first, he ends up in Paris, and dives headfirst in the world of wearing powder, patches, wigs, jewels (yes, this was before the Regency), and even high heeled shoes. Knowing how “prissy” they dressed back then, how can Georgette Heyer still make Philip Jettan to be a MAN, and not just a fop? I am not able to decipher that mystery, but she still achieves, amidst the various escapades as Philip, his amusing French servants, and the rest of his acquaintances go through the acceptable Society gyrations… looking for true love at the end.

I enjoyed reading The Merchant’s Daughter, by Melanie Dickerson, though it wouldn’t be the most memorable of my recent reads. A slight variation on the story of Beauty & the Beast, it’s set in the time of knights, lords, and castles, with young Annabel going to work for the lord of the manor. Wearing an eye patch and having some terrible scars, the villagers speak of rumors that he can change into a beast. But when Lord Ranulf finds out that his new servant can read Latin, he begins to have her read from his Bible, after dinner, night after night. Annabel finds that there’s more to this man than his appearance, as they both hunger to learn more from the Word of God.

The only serious history that I’ve read recently is Titanic: The Real Story of the Construction of the World’s Most Famous Ship, by Anton Gill. Not as interesting as I first thought it would be, it still gave me an amazing look into all the nuts and bolts that went into building the Titanic. I’ve never thought about how even the anchor would have taken days to arrive at the ship-in-progress. First, it had to be pulled on a wagon, by 8-12 horses, then put on the train, to finally reach the building dock. Page by page, this book details every aspect of the construction of the ship, and later, the furnishing process, before they were ready to set sail. And like any modern day cruise ship, just think of all the food they had to stock up on, just for a week at sea! Also, just like every treasure hunter on the planet, I found it fascinating to realize how many jewels and riches probably went down with the ship, locked away in the ship’s safe. Yes, I know the real tragedy is the loss of the people, but there’s so much to know about that ship, it’s a never-ending fascination.

Since I keep a close eye on whatever Regnery happens to be publishing, I was thrilled to find that Elizabeth Kantor had written a new book. Years ago, I really enjoyed her book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature. But now, with The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, she has a different bone to pick with a subject that most women find really important.

In these modern times, women are looking for love, but again and again, we go about it the wrong way, and end up like some of Austen’s characters, such as Maria Bertram (Mansfield Park) and Charlotte Lucas (Pride and Prejudice).  She explains how Jane Austen was not a believer in Romanticism, like the Bronte sisters, and only one of Austen’s characters started off with truly Romantic notions. Marianne Dashwood believed in throwing her emotions into everything, and never relying on sense, but she is unique amongst Austen’s heroines.

Instead, Kantor points out how we can look for love and happiness while still considering things rationally. If you believe in love at first sight and think that you should follow your heart, even when your brain tells you that the man you love is a loser, then maybe this isn’t for you. But for any lover of Jane Austen’s writing, Elizabeth Kantor makes a great argument for Austen being as relevant today as she was in her own time, and even though Jane Austen never married, she knew very well what people are like when it comes to love, courtship, and marriage. I really enjoyed this book, both for the aforementioned subject AND because I felt like I came out of it having a better understanding of many of the characters in Austen’s books. Even if my favorite Austen hero (Henry Tilney) didn’t get a huge mention.  : )

Somewhere in the middle of April, I downloaded a freebie onto my Kindle, and began to read Ruby, by Lauraine Snelling. Part of the Dakotah Treasures series, this Christian fiction novel follows two sisters as they go west to find their father. His letter tells them of their inheritance, but when they arrive, it’s the last thing they expect. Ruby and Opal Torvald must adjust to life in the west, learn about both the good and the bad, and figure out how they will survive.

I know well enough that I enjoy Christian fiction, but some of it definitely better than others. My favorite authors will have an excellent grounding in history, and won’t  throw a blue eyed cowboy at you, right from the start. Not that I have anything against romance, but I love reading about the main characters’ trials and tribulations, just as much, without having a romantic love triangle start from the first sentence. And Lauraine Snelling’s books live up to my expectations, with plenty of history, lots of well-written character, and an ability to carry the story without depending on the someone falling in love every two minutes. Since I just finished reading Opal (Dakotah Treasures #3), a couple of minutes ago, all this is fresh in my mind.

The last two months were finished with some contrasting books. I’ve been rereading Jane Lindskold’s Firekeeper series, so I just finished Wolf’s Head, Wolf’s Heart, sometime last week. I find it fascinating how she keeps the politics of two kingdoms so interesting, though having interesting names for the varying families helps. The landbound Hawk Haven tends to have titles named after birds (Earl Kestrel, Duke Gyrfalcon), while the kingdom of Bright Bay leans towards seaside names, for both titles and first names. For example, Duchess Seastar Seagleam.

Any other story that mentions the internal politics of several kingdoms, I would probably lose interest, quickly. But while coming back to this subject now and then, the story really revolves around Firekeeper, as she learns more and more about what it is to be human, and not just a “hairless wolf”. But even as she finds both pros and cons to being a girl, she and her wolf companion, Blind Seer, are summoned back to wilds, and take on a quest for the leaders of the animals. In a country which is fearful of magic, the animals have longer memories, and even more reason to fear it. Can a human wolf achieve what the other animals can not, and keep the corruption of magic from taking hold on them, once more?

Finally, I downloaded another book onto my new Kindle Fire (I can’t tell you how much I love this Kindle!). Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Becton, tells us what became of the girl we once knew as Charlotte Lucas, friend to Elizabeth Bennet. I can be extremely leery of these sequels, though, and won’t download just any of them, even if they’re free, without doing some research. The followups to P&P tend to follow them into the bedroom and I find this extremely objectionable.

Some of my favorite authors, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Georgette Heyer, all wrote of a similar time period, while none of them needed to enter the privacy of the bedchamber to hold their readers’ interest. And many reviews on Amazon and other websites do NOT mention in their reviews whether these new books go that far, too. I would suggest to any author who writes a PG-rated followup that they should mention that in the blurb about the book.

What little I found told me that Charlotte Collins was of the clean variety, and so, I began to read. Beginning with the funeral of the Reverend Collins, we find Charlotte several years older and wiser than she was in the original book. She has seen what it’s like to live in a loveless marriage, especially one where (I know, big shock) you like your husband even less than at the beginning. She has also been able to observe the love and happiness that Jane and Elizabeth have found in their marriages, and is finally willing to even consider the subject of love. But for now, the sudden death of Mr. Collins (she’s sure he would have preferred to be run over by a high-perch phaeton, rather than a low-class mule wagon), she only looks forward to the quietude and freedom of having her own small cottage. But when her sister Maria comes to stay, life takes many more interesting turns.

I know this has been long, but I hope you’ll forgive me, as I’ve been way behind on posting anything lately. I hope that as my health continues to improve and I look harder for a job, I’ll have more of interest to share with you. Until then, I hope you enjoy trying out some of the above-mentioned books.

4 thoughts on “smelling of april and may…

  1. Hello Rachel:
    I have just read your last three posts and enjoyed them! How can I sign up to receive them via e-mail? Found you from your review of Elizabeth Kantor’s book, Jane Austen a Guide to Happily Ever Afer.
    Thanks for an early reply.
    Barbara Kidder

    • Ok, I had to look that up, because my blog layout doesn’t have any sidebars, so I don’t have a widget. If you have a WP account, you can click on Follow, at the top of the screen, and you should receive e-mail notifications. If you don’t have a WP account, then there should be a little “Follow” box or button floating in the bottom right of the screen. If you click on that, it should ask you what e-mail address you want to have blog posts sent to.

      I’m so sorry if this was difficult! One of my old layouts had a widget at the bottom, but I’m loath to change my widescreen format. Let me know if it doesn’t work, we’ll try again! 🙂 Thanks for coming by, and I’m so glad you enjoyed my latest posts!

      -Rachel

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