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review 2019-03-13 05:48
Thoughts: Etiquette & Espionage
Etiquette & Espionage - Gail Carriger

Etiquette & Espionage

by Gail Carriger
Book 1 of Finishing School

 

 

It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly.  It's quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time.  Welcome to Finishing School.


Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother.  Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners--and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy.  Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady.  So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped.  At Mademoiselle Geraldine's, young ladies learn to finish... everything.  Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage--in the politest possible ways, of course.  Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year's education.



This was an absurdly fun read with a lovely, humorous narration, as well as an interestingly created steampunk world!  I would totally count this towards my Reading Assignment challenge as well, except that I started reading it in February.  Darn...

I don't read a whole lot of steampunk, if only because I've never really had much exposure to them, but after this book, I might find myself exploring the genre more often.  Or at least, I know I'll be reading more from this particular series, and maybe even from this author.  I understand that Finishing School actually takes place in a world that Carriger created in another series, so I may pick up those books as well.

But meanwhile, I'm finding that Etiquette & Espionage stands out very well on it's own!

Sophronia wanted to say something about the prototype, but she knew when she was being dismissed.  She bobbed a curtsy.  "Thank you, my lady."

Lady Linette winced.  "Miss Temminneck, arrange after-hours lessons with Professor Braithwope, do.  We really must work on that curtsy of yours, dear."

"But I have advanced eyelash fluttering to practice, and a mathematics problem concerning how to order strychnine and a lamb dinner on a limited budget, and three chapters on court etiquette to read, and my handkerchief to starch, and the quadrille to memorize!"

"No one said learning etiquette and espionage would be easy, my dear."


While extremely entertaining as a whole, the book had started off a little slow, but that was to be expected considering all the introductions to the world, the finishing school, and to Sophronia, that needed to be made.  The first half of the book involved a lot of set-up, but fortunately, we even have a tiny mystery going on in the background, and some rather over-the-top comedic antics by almost all of our characters.

I had been expecting a darker setting, with the lessons on dealing death, and fighting vampires and werewolves, but the book kept to it's more comedic, nonsensical tone.  Supposing that this book is geared more towards a middle grade age, that makes a lot of sense, though I had expected a more mature voice until I remembered that Sophronia and friends are only around thirteen or fourteen years old.

And, my, what characters!  A little deliberate in execution, and somewhat more juvenile than I'd expected, as I mentioned, but I absolutely loved all the strange little quirks each character had.  I was only disappointed that some of the side characters weren't fleshed out just a little bit more, or that Sophronia's attempts at using the skills she's learned were less than graceful, to be frank.

There also appear to be a few loose ends here and there with a few of the side tangents.

And still, I had tons of fun reading this book and will certainly be moving onto the next book.  I'd just love to see more from the side characters such as Vieve, Soap, Pillover, and even Professor Braithwope.  I imagine we'll expand more on Sophronia's friendships as the series progresses?  Because that would be so very excellent.

 

 

Source: anicheungbookabyss.blogspot.com/2019/03/thoughts-etiquette-espionage.html
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review 2019-01-30 14:27
A solid reference book, easy to read and full of amusing information and anecdotes
What Would Mrs. Astor Do?: The Essential Guide to the Manners and Mores of the Gilded Age - Cecelia Tichi

Many thanks to NYU Press and Edelweiss for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I picked up this book because I was interested in the era, late XVIII and early XIX century, personally and also for research purposes, and although I had read fiction set in the period, I lacked a reference book that would provide me the data I needed and written in such a way that it could be read from cover to cover. I’m happy to say this book provides both, facts and amusing anecdotes, and it is easy to read.

Despite the title, the book does not focus excessively on Caroline Astor, although it is organised around her figure, and it follows her life, from birth to death. Caroline Astor was the glamorous centre of New York society in the Gilded Era, and there is much talk in the book about the four hundred, as that was supposed to be the number of select guests who were truly the movers and shakers of the time. But this is not an in-depth biography, far from it, and the true focus of the book is the social history of the period, as it pertains to the upper crust. Those were changing times, and new money was starting to push out the old but not-so-wealthy-any longer families, but money was not enough to gain Mrs Astor’s favour. Class, good breeding and good manners were fundamental.

The book is divided into a number of topics: millionaires’ row (about their houses and their servants), convenience or contraption  (about new inventions, such as elevators or the telephone), competitive consumption (shopping), best dressed (clothing), well behaved (etiquette), dinner is served (food and restaurants), the social set (with quite a few subdivisions, mostly about leisure time, including theatre, opera, riding and promenades, summer houses…), the sporting life (sports), getting there (transport), money talks (including popular and unpopular advice, Wall Street, schools and newspapers), the whiff of a scandal (you’ll easily guess this one: from divorce to famous scandals of the era), on the scene (about theatre figures of the era), muckrakers (investigative journalism of the time), and funerals. There are also illustrations (quite a few, although as mine was an ARC copy and not the final version, I am sure there will be even more available to readers of the published book), and a lengthy bibliography that will be helpful for those interesting in checking out the original sources.

The author often relies on sources of the period, including articles, books on etiquette and general advice, and also fiction writers of the era (Edith Wharton, who was related to Mrs Astor figures prominently), and uses their words to illustrate the topics, and that contributes to making us feel as we were there, experiencing the fabulous and incredibly excessive world of those people.

As I said before, the book is divided into topics, and I am sure everybody will be able to find something they are interested in. I was fascinated by many of the anecdotes and by the way this set of very powerful and wealthy individuals affected the world around them. Rich women went shopping but due to etiquette rules could not go to a restaurant unaccompanied by a man, and therefore the new department stores started having their own restaurants (soda fountains to begin with) catering to women, and that spread. As they liked to travel in luxurious surroundings, yachts and train compartments would be built to their standards, no matter the price. Their parties would cost the equivalent of millions of dollars today, and they could result in having a full hunting party inside of a restaurant, horses and all.  

I was also surprised to learn about things like the importance of Elisha Graves Otis’s invention of a “safety hoister” that allowed for the creation of safe elevators, and with them, skyscrapers (and know I know who the Otis I see in the elevators was), about the newspaper wars in New York, about the different electricity companies and how they helped shape today’s world, the history of the Panama hat (which comes from Ecuador), and although I knew about the fashion for using bird feathers (and sometimes whole birds) to adorn women’s hats, I was horrified to learn that some five million birds were estimated to have been killed just for that purpose. Oh, and the fact that electric cars were recommended for women drivers, as they were easier to start (no crank) and more reliable. What happened there? (I guess oil companies’ interests have a lot to respond for).  There is also mention of philanthropic endeavours, although they all came with strings attached.

In sum, this is a solid reference book, easy to read and full of amusing information and anecdotes. I’m not sure it will break new ground for those already familiar with the topic, but it works well as a reference book for the era, and as a good starting point for further research.  A glimpse into a fascinating and at the same time horrifying era of excessive consumption, glamour, and the cult of influence. Although there are lessons to be learned, the book is not intended as a criticism or a warning tale, and that’s left to the readers’ own opinion.

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review 2018-10-11 09:05
A Lady's Guide To Etiquette And Murder (Countess of Harleigh Mystery, #1)
A Lady's Guide To Etiquette And Murder - Dianne Freeman

I bought this book at Barnes and Noble, just before going to Bouchercon, where Kensington was giving away free, signed copies, and the author was speaking on several panels.  Doh.  As luck would have it, I enjoyed the story enough that I don't begrudge the royalties the author earned from my lack of foresight in the least.

 

Lady Harleigh is just coming out of her one year's mourning following the death of her husband, the Earl who exchanged his title for her American fortune.  Throwing off the widow's weeds and fleeing from the in-laws who intend to bleed her dry of her private fortune, she settles in London with her daughter.  But someone has sent an anonymous letter to the police claiming she killed her husband, and a string of small jewel thefts from the ton put her on a different suspect list after she finds one of the stolen pieces in her purse after a party.

 

First things first - those who enjoy historical accuracy should avoid this book.  Not that the author didn't do her research; I don't know if she did or didn't as I'm not well versed enough in 1899 England to spot inaccuracies, but the narrative has a distinctly contemporary voice.  I also remember that Freeman was on an historical fiction panel I attended and she was not one of the sticklers for historical accuracy (I remember her sort of falling in the middle of the spectrum).  

 

But my historical ignorance was bliss in this case.  I just enjoyed the story for what it was: a fun mystery with strong female characters, a likeable romantic interest, and few, if any, TSTL moments.  it was also a very, very clever plot.

 

For those that like Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness, this series has a similar feel, though a slightly more mature MC and less charming narrative.  It's a great start to what could be a very fun series.

 

I read this for my last square in Halloween Bingo: Darkest London.  Blackout!  

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review 2018-08-10 19:57
Short and packed with useful advice. Because being polite has never hurt anyone.
The Little Blue Book for Authors: Essential Manners for the Modern Author - Gisela Hausmann

I have read and reviewed two of Gisela Hausmann’s books from her little books collection before and enjoyed enormously her no-nonsense attitude and the easy-to-use format. These are books that, as the author explains, should take a short time to read (she aims for less than 90 minutes, and I don’t think I’ve gone over 30 minutes for any of them), and the advice offered should be easy to implement, so that anybody who’ve just read one of them could apply what they’ve learned, rather than having to go through a lengthy process, take a course, or make a huge investment. (With regards to this last issue, that does not mean there is no cost involved at all, as in this book she emphasises the importance of finding an editor and states that is much more useful investing your hard-earned cash on that than spending money on things like tools to automatize marketing or on exchanging reviews with other authors).

This book will be appreciated by authors and reviewers alike. I had to smile at her examples of some of the e-mails she has received asking for book reviews. As a book reviewer, I’ve had similar experiences (authors sending an unsolicited copy of the book, without even bothering to find your name, and stating they read your blog, although you’ve never seen them there and from the content of the letter is evident they haven’t) and I can’t but agree with her recommendations to authors. (Although I am an author, other than in my own books and the blog, I rarely approach reviewers directly, but I’ll try and make sure I remember her advice in the future). I really liked her suggestion that we should try to introduce our book as if we were preparing the book for a date, making sure to try and choose the right partner and find the points of connection between our book and the possible date (reviewer). As she puts it:

A creative, exciting, funny, and unique “dating profile” will attract “matching” readers to start a relationship made in “book heaven.”

The author covers etiquette as pertains to various social media as well (Facebook and Twitter) and the etiquette of blogging. Her advice might not suit everybody and I suspect some of her tips might be more or less useful depending on the readership and genre of the author, but I have personally concluded that we must remain true to ourselves, and not just adopt passing fashions because they seem to work for somebody else, and I am with her on the importance of adhering to proper etiquette. (It might seem unnecessary to some people, but I can’t imagine many people will take offence to being treated politely).

This is another solid offering in a series of books for authors that has become one of my favourites, and I recommend it to authors with little time to waste (all of them, I guess) who prefer realistic advice to pie-in-the-sky promises, and who don’t mind some straight-talking (or writing). If you check the sample of the book and like what you read, it is worth following the author as she runs regular promotions and offers of her back catalogue.

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review 2018-07-17 23:25
Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger (audiobook)
Etiquette & Espionage - Gail Carriger,Moira Quirk

Series: Finishing School #1

 

This was a kind of cute young-adult steampunk story about a tomboy in possibly Victorian times (there's talk of a telegraph device and gas lighting) who gets packed off to finishing school to try to polish off her rougher edges. As it turns out, however, the finishing school in question is only teaching the finer aspects of moving about in society in order to create expert intelligence agents, which is much more to Sophronia's liking. She can get behind fashion choices when they're used for camouflage, basically.

 

So the concept is kind of cute and silly but also somewhat entertaining. Sophronia reminds me a little of Flavia de Luce although she's a bit older. I think I'll see if my library has the next one in the series.

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