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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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review 2018-04-07 14:16
A fascinating look into the past and a great source for writers and social history researchers
Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century - James Mallory

Thanks to Alex and the rest of the team at Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I am a big fan of Pen & Sword books and I have learned a lot on a variety of subjects thanks to their great selection, but I must admit to having a soft spot for social history. Although I love history books and have recently become keen on historical fiction, I think that social history helps us get a better sense of what life was like in the past, not only for the kings, aristocrats, and powerful people but also for the rest of the population. The everyday life of going around one’s usual business, talking to people, working, rarely makes it into the big books, but it is what life is truly about. And those are the details that bring the past to life. As I have mentioned in previous reviews, these books are also great to provide background to writers, filmmakers, and, in general, artists looking to create works set in a particular time in history, as it helps them gain a better understanding of what it would have been like to live then.

This particular volume is a delight. I have read a number of novels set in the era and watched uncountable movies and television series that take place in the XIX century as well, and although I thought I was familiar with the customs, social rules and mores of the time, I was surprised by how truly complicated following proper etiquette was. As the author often explains, rules were not set in stone and they changed throughout the century. What was a must at the beginning of the XIX century would have been out of fashion by the end, and rules were open to interpretation, as sometimes different sources offered completely different advice. Should you eat fish with a fork and bread, two forks, or a fork and a fish knife (the answer depends on at what point of the XIX century we were eating it)? Would it have been proper for you to introduce people you knew, or even greet people you met in the streets even if you had been introduced? What was the best time to go for a walk or to visit your acquaintances? What did it truly mean if somebody was ‘not at home’?

Such topics and many more are discussed in this short volume, and it makes for fascinating reading. The author is skilled at summarising the rules from a large variety of sources (there is a detailed bibliography at the end and footnotes to check where each point can be expanded on), and also at providing practical examples that help clarify matters like how would you address somebody you are introduced to, or in which order would guest enter the dining room. Her turn of phrase is particularly apt, as her own explanations and the quotes and references to texts blend seamlessly, and she manages to write clearly and engagingly in beautiful prose.

The tone of the book is light and there are funny moments, but there are also reminders of how different things were for those who had more serious concerns than following the rules of etiquette. The book includes 11 chapters that deal in a variety of topics, from rank, precedence and title, to what was considered good company, paying calls, dining, ballroom behaviour, conversation, and correspondence, how to treat the service, courtship, and it also offers hints for ladies and gentlemen. The book (I had access to the paperback copy but I know the pictures are available in the digital version as well) contains a number of plates that help illustrate the proper dress etiquette throughout the century for different occasions and there are also pictures of some of the fashion accessories of the period.

I had to share a couple of examples from the book, so you can get a feeling for the writing style and the type of advice it contains:

If a lady or gentleman was plagued by a person saluting them in the street who they did not like, who they did not want to call upon, and who they thought was taking a gross impertinence continually bowing to them, it was still better for the afflicted lady or gentleman to return the recognition. (For some reason, this brought to my mind the nodding bulldogs that used to grace the back windows of cars).

Talking about men’s fashion, the book has this to say:

Similarly, a gentleman would have been restrained in his use of personal ornamentation. After all, a gentleman was a gentleman, not a magpie hankering after shiny trinkets.

Although some of the rules contained in this book might seem too fussy and silly nowadays, there are some about listening to people and being respectful towards others, no matter what their social circumstances (in fact, being more polite and generous the more difficult things are for them) that will make readers nostalgic for those more gentile and kinder times. There are always things we can learn from the past and it is important to learn and remember.

Another great little volume from Pen & Sword and one that I particularly recommend to anybody interested in XIX century history, novels, movies set in the period, and to writers and creators looking for inspiration or researching that era. It is also a fun read for people that study social history or are interested in the origins of some of our customs and on how these have changed. Unmissable.

 

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review 2017-06-28 00:00
Etiquette & Espionage
Etiquette & Espionage - Gail Carriger,Moira Quirk 4.75 stars

Highly entertaining audio book. Full review to follow

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