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review 2017-03-06 13:18
The Grand Sophy ★★★☆☆
The Grand Sophy - Georgette Heyer

I have to agree with pretty much all the male characters in this story: Sophie is a terrifying woman. Well-intentioned, but a sly and manipulative busybody. A number of her schemes depend on luck, especially her dangerous games with horses. Still, it’s a fun story, and I really enjoyed everyone getting their hearts’ desire in the end, even people who don’t deserve it.

 

I subtracted a star for the disgustingly bigoted portrayal of the Jewish moneylender. I try to judge books with respect to the social attitudes of the time in which they were written, but this was written as a historical romance in 1950, not 1590.

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review 2017-02-06 19:26
Cotillion
Cotillion - Georgette Heyer

Cotillion, appropriately enough, is a novel about four couples.  (The Cotillion is a period dance, with four couples, and was one of the ancestors of the American "square dance.")

 

Kitty Charing is in a pickle.  Her adoptive father, generally known as "Uncle Matthew," a penny-pinching miser of an old grouch, has decided that he shall leave his fortune to her - if she marries one of his great-nephews.  (I tell you, there really should have been a square for "Cousin Marriage" in the Romance Bingo.)  Otherwise, she will be left penniless, and he will leave his money to charity.

 

So he invites all five of these nephews down for the weekend, so Kitty can make up her mind. Four men attend: her slow-witted cousin Dolph (he is, however, an earl - but "only" an Irish one, and very much under his domineering mother's thumb), another who is a prim and prissy vicar, the vicar's older (and married) brother, George, and Freddy Stanton - a "Pink of the Ton" (read: fashionista) who neither needs Matthew's money, or wants to get married.  The two not attending are the one in the army, and Jack, Matthew's (and Kitty's) favorite, who is more than a bit of a rascal.

 

Dolph and the vicar promptly propose, and Kitty declines them.  She then proposes to Freddy - a fake engagement, and a very real trip to London.  (She has always dreamed of going to London, and her other plan is to make Jack jealous.  So that he will propose to her, of course.)

 

Down in London, she drags Freddy through almost every tourist trap in town, and leads all of the folks she meets, from Freddy's scatter-witted sister to her only living relative, Camille, on a very merry dance.  Luckily for all involved, Kitty has a good heart, and Freddy a lot of common sense.

 

Since this is one of Heyer's regency romances, there are happy endings all round, of course.

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text 2017-01-28 04:55
Heyer doesn't disappoint
Black Sheep - Georgette Heyer

Starting off the year with an easy read (actually a re-read!). Heyer never disappoints. While BLACK SHEEP is not one of my top 5 Georgette Heyer regencies, it's a delightful romp packed with very human characters playing out their lives in Heyer's usual exquisitly crafted setting of Regency England. Because this isn't one of my top favourites, I haven't re-read it so often and found little details that I'd forgotten or missed in previous reads. Abigail is a strong but compassionate heroine and, as Miles himself says, everyone loves a rake, & I'm no exception so Miles is a perfect match for Abby!

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review 2017-01-08 23:23
Books of 1916: Part Two
The Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka
Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher,Eden Ross Lipson,Kimberly Bulcken Root
Illustrated Adventures in Oz Vol IV: Rinkitink in Oz, the Lost Princess of Oz, and the Tin Woodman of Oz - L. Frank Baum,John R. Neill
Pilgrimage 2: The Tunnel and Interim - Dorothy M. Richardson
Pointed Roofs - Dorothy M. Richardson
Collected Works of Ouida - Maria Louise Ramé
Leatherface - Emmuska Orczy
The Scarlet Pimpernel - Emmuska Orczy
The Convenient Marriage - Georgette Heyer

Books of 1916: Part Two

 

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

 

Since childhood I’ve been familiar with the plot of this short novel; people talk about it all the time because it’s so compelling. I even had the first sentence memorized thanks to my older brother. Reciting it was a warm-up exercise in some sort of theater class he was in, except for some reason they added an extra word, making it: “When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from unpleasant dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin sofa.” And yet I had never even read one word of The Metamorphosis before now! It was so much more awesome than I was even expecting. So dark and weird and sad but a little bit funny.

 

Gregor realizes straightaway that he has become a monstrous vermin, but he’s mainly worried about how he will get to work on time and what would happen to his family if he lost his job. I was thinking, oh Gregor, you’re worried about the wrong thing, you just can’t face what your real problem is. But you know what? He absolutely was worried about the correct things. It’s becoming more and more clear that I’m the one who’s always worried about the wrong thing.

 

My wife wanted to know what does this story mean, on a metaphorical level. I never think about stuff like that. But I think it is a metaphor for being a lowly creature trapped living at home with your parents. Gregor is the ultimate back bedroom casualty. He literally can't leave his room after he transforms into a bug. Also it's about humanity, and the way we treat the Other, including non-human animals. Gregor is the one who is no longer a human, but his family are the ones who treat him so cruelly without sympathy or understanding, even his sister who started out being the caring one.

 

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield

 

I can’t even remember when I first read this; presumably as a child. I think it deserves a much greater reputation as a children’s classic than it has. It’s about a little orphan girl, Elizabeth Ann, who is being raised by her two overprotective, uptight, city-dwelling aunts. Poor Elizabeth Ann is frail and vaguely sickly and afraid of everything, just like her aunties who “understand” her and smother her with love. When a family illness means she must be sent away to stay with another branch of the family who live way out in the country, she is terrified. But she blossoms as she encounters nature, animals, having responsibilities, doing things for herself, and especially her brusque but kind, plain-spoken new family. Elizabeth Ann (now Betsy) begins attending a one-room school house that amazingly seems exactly like a Montessori school, and she makes friends for the first time. The part where Betsy is left behind at the Fair, and the ending where Betsy must choose where she is going to live, elevate this book into a masterpiece.

 

Rinkitink in Oz by Frank L. Baum

 

I love the Oz books. Rinkitink is a jolly king with a talking goat who has to go on a dangerous journey with young Prince Inga. As a matter of fact, they’re not in Oz but in a nearby fantastical land. Prince Inga has three magical pearls that guide him, and he tries to hide two of them in the pointy toes of his shoes. But the shoes get thrown away and then they’re really in trouble. You think you won’t see Dorothy but at the last minute she and the Wizard and Ozma show up to save the day.

 

Usually you can count on the Oz books to leave out the racist garbage that is so prevalent in the books of this time period, but there was a horrible bit at the end of this one that I had forgotten which involves transforming the talking goat back into Prince Bobo of Boboland, and there’s even an illustration. If I were reading this book out loud to a young child I would skip over that part.

 

Unfortunately there aren’t that many Oz books left as L. Frank Baum is due to die in 1919. Do you think I should keep on reading the sequels by Ruth Plumly Thompson, who took over the series after Baum’s death? I have a couple years to make up my mind.

 

Backwater by Dorothy Richardson

 

The second in Richardson’s modernist, stream-of-consciousness novels about an English girl who has to become a teacher because her family has fallen on hard times. There are thirteen of these books and the series is called Pilgrimage. Last time she was working at a German boarding school, and this time she is at an English school. I love the way the main character Miriam’s mind works. Her romantic mooniness is so real and relatable. The most touching part was when she discovers a lending library where she can read the complete works of Ouida, which have always been forbidden to her because they’re too smutty. This novel really shows how when you have a rich inner life you will find splendor and meaning somewhere, even in the most depressing or banal surroundings. Unfortunately there’s a section when she’s on holiday at the seaside and there are some musicians who are described with the n-word repeatedly.

 

Leatherface by Emma Orczy

 

Just like last year, the Baroness is the only one who takes the horrors of war head on. Again it is historical fiction, set in Belgium (who wouldn’t feel for brave little Belgium in 1916?) during the Spanish Inquisition. A dashing hero known only as Leatherface because of the mask he wears has been protecting the Prince of Orange and doing other brave deeds for the cause. Fans of Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel series won’t be surprised to learn that it is the lazy, good-natured, tavern-loving man about town character who is actually Leatherface, or that the female protagonist is torn between her family duty to unmask Leatherface and her love for him.

 

A bit of altar diplomacy has brought Leatherface and this beautiful Spanish lady together into a marriage in name only, but it turns out to be one of those things where they fall in love after they are married. (I asked my brother if there was a name for this trope, and he suggested A Convenient Marriage since Georgette Heyer wrote at least four novels on this theme and one of them was called A Convenient Marriage.) I ate all this intrigue up with a spoon. But the bulk of the novel is about the horrors of war and people getting killed, killed, killed.

 

In the end, the town of Ghent escapes complete annihilation but the people allow Spanish supervillain the Duke of Alva to go free. “Perhaps they had suffered too much to thirst for active revenge,” is the book’s closing line, which I found unexpectedly pacifistic and moving. Also hats off to Emma Orczy for FINALLY laying off the anti-Semitism for one entire book except for a single one-liner.

 

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review 2016-12-13 00:00
These Old Shades
These Old Shades - Georgette Heyer I've heard somewhere that the romance genre is less demanding as to the plot, characterization, and writing quality. Though I still cannot understand why.
This one demonstrates it all too clearly. It starts out well enough, with the absolutely brilliant protagonist who can do no wrong even if frequently described as evil, no, Evil (which probably consists in some love intrigues and duels while conveniently letting you preserve the honour intact). He has some witty lines, at first more, then less and less.
But the heroine is 100% cliche, incredibly beautiful and of course redheaded, obviously of noble birth in spite of a common upbringing, easily putting aside her enforced boyishness (which isn't saying things like "bah", but should go quite a bit deeper, at 19 years old!!), winning everyone's heart with some twinkling and dimpling (yeah, that's what it says), and then even more nobly sacrificing herself for love.
The piece about older man falling in love with a young girl is realistic enough. 40 years, middle-age crisis, all that. But to depict him as Reforming for Love's Sake and Rejecting Her Because He Isn't Worthy - no. Just no.
And finally about the writing quality. In a scene designed to be a climax, the nervous tension is created by having the protagonist's friends sit around saying that they're real nervous and tense, and that he has created such a tense atmosphere that their nerves are on edge. That's right, we wouldn't have known else. The absolute pinnacle is reached when in the middle of his monologue, which should reveal shocking things and make a criminal confess, one of the people in the audience whispers to another: "I wonder how he manages to hold his audience so still."
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