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review 2018-06-02 03:19
Insightful, smart and funny!
Reviews by Cat Ellington - Cat Ellington

Cat Ellington's new book, Reviews by Cat Ellington: The Complete Anthology, Vol. 1, is a funny and entertaining read! Haha!!!!! I thoroughly enjoyed her insightful and sage reviews of a bunch of crazy characters who oftentimes find themselves in dangerous situations, sometimes by their own making.

And speaking of the unforgettable people depicted in many of the top rated books reviewed in her first volume, Cat Ellington's sharp humor also reveals itself as she nudges her reader towards the plot in which the characters are chasing after desires that prove to be elusive, if not worthless. Excellent read! So sit back and enjoy the ride with the one and only Cat Ellington.

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text 2018-05-14 20:34
Reviews by Cat Ellington: The Complete Anthology, Vol. 1
Reviews by Cat Ellington - Cat Ellington
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-04-30 18:20
Earl of Scandal - shallow fluff
Earl of Scandal - Mary Gillgannon

Disclosure - I acquired the Kindle edition of this book on 17 January 2013, when it was offered free on Amazon.  I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with her about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of historical romances and other genre novels.

 

This book was originally published by Zebra/Kensington in 2000 as A Rogue's Kiss under the pseudonym of Molly Marcourt.

 

I'm reading this for research.

 

SPOILERS ARE NOT HIDDEN.

 

The book is billed as your basic Regency romance, but it really doesn't hit the Regency tropes.  A few are thrown in -- the language, the fashions, the emphasis on nobility, etc. -- without actually making them an integral part of the story or even the atmosphere.

 

Most readers won't pay any attention to the holes I found in this story.  Most readers will swim blithely through it, enjoying the romance and the dangers and the misunderstandings and the happily ever after ending.  I'm not so generous.

 

At the halfway point, I seriously considered giving up on this.  I didn't like either of the main characters -- Christian Faraday, Earl of Bedlington, and Merissa Casswell, country parson's daughter.  Neither of them was believable.

 

Christian is a wealthy rogue who spends his days gambling and what-not, and his nights apparently wenching.  He makes no apology for this lifestyle; he entertains himself and that's all he needs to do.

 

How he acquires the funds to live like this isn't touched on.  One presumes he has a substantial estate to go with his title, but he doesn't seem to have much interest in it.  Toward the end of the book Christian makes an offer to solve a financial problem for Merissa to the tune of 20,000 pounds.  Based on this estimate of that value in current terms, that would be the equivalent of $1.6 million.  And he doesn't bat an eyelash.  So he is not just wealthy; he is very wealthy, and the source of that wealth is never explained.

 

Merissa is the younger daughter of the rector of a country church.  But the family lives on a farm.  But they do no farming.  And they aren't acquainted with the gentry of the neighborhood, said gentry including the Earl and Countess of Northrup. 

 

The ecclesiastical structure of the Church of England, at least as I understand it, would indeed allow for the rector of a financially independent parish, i.e. not supported by the noble who owns the "living" of that church, to live on a farm, but would it necessarily be his own/his family's farm, or one belonging to that specific church? This sort of historical research would be important to me . . . . and it seems it would have been important to the plot of this story.

 

Anyway, Christian discovers himself in bed with a friend's wife and escapes to the country to avoid scandal.  There's something going on behind the scenes with this, but the whole issue is pretty much dropped for the rest of the book until the tail end.  On his way to Darton Park, where his friend Devon, the Earl of Northrup, resides, Christian almost literally runs into Merissa.  She's a shrew, he's a rogue, what more could you want?

 

Well, I'd want believable characters.  Merissa seems to have reason to be a bit of a shrew, but wouldn't she have been brought up to at least have decent manners?

 

And Christian, true to his station, falls in insta-lust.  He forces kisses on Merissa even though he knows they aren't welcome.  Of course, he arouses her insta-lust, so I guess it's okay?  Um, no.

 

So then there's a ball, to which Merissa and her sister Elizabeth are invited.  Um, no.  They make over a couple of their (deceased?) mother's old gowns, but all I could think of was good ol' Carol Burnett and the green velvet curtains.  Of course their gowns are out of fashion, which is crucial to anything Regency.  And of course they're ridiculed.

 

But Merissa gets trapped in a bedroom with Christian, whose baser desires have been inflamed by a veritable caricature of an Other Woman, Lady Diana Fortescue.  The image of this Other Woman "jiggling her breasts" to entice him was so ludicrous I nearly laughed aloud but it would have scared the dogs.  Though he escapes Diana's clutches, Christian can't control himself when he encounters Merissa a few moments later -- and neither can Merissa, the parson's daughter -- so he performs oral sex on her.  Then whisks her home without achieving any kind of sexual satisfaction for himself.

 

Um, no.

 

The next day, Merissa and her sister Elizabeth learn that their beloved brother Charles, who has disappeared into the evil world of London, is desperate to stay out of debtor's prison.  He has somehow managed to get himself 20,000 pounds in debt, and needs twenty pounds to cover the interest "for a few months." 

 

Um, no.

 

Merissa decides to sell her virginity to Christian for the 20,000, but he turns her down.  So she takes the fifty or so pounds Elizabeth has found and hies off to London alone to see if she can't get dear brother Charles out of the mess he's gotten himself into.  She fails at that, but nothing happens to her in London even though she's in the worst part of town and blithely goes hunting for the evil wizards who are threatening dear Charles. 

 

Never mind, though, because Christian comes to her rescue and gets the evil wizard to cancel Charles's debt, but gets himself challenged to a duel, until Merissa overhears that it's all a plot to murder him so his wicked uncle can inherit.  Duel is cancelled, apparently, and wicked uncle's plans are thwarted by Merissa seducing Christian so they can start producing an heir.  And then they get married and live happily ever after.

 

Nothing about this book is believable.  From Christian racing his priceless horses in the dark then leaving them unattended in the woods after an accident, I kept rolling my eyes at what an idiot he was.  Merissa's shifts from prim and proper hater of all things noble to writhing wanton were just silly.  But Christian's ignoring her rejection of him and -- and -- his dismissal of his own actions made me just dislike him.  ("I ate her out against her will but it's okay because she's still technically a virgin.")

 

I very nearly gave up on this at the halfway point and only kept going because it was for research.  Whether this Kindle edition is a transcription of the original Zebra version, I don't know.  The digital copy has a lot of minor typos that may have come from an OCR scan, though even that wouldn't account for the frequent missing words, especially "I" and "to."

 

There's no excuse for that kind of sloppiness, but I was more concerned with the actual quality of the text, which I found lacking. 

 

One of the big issues is this business of Merissa's believing she's been ruined as a result of her sexual encounter with Christian.  While it's quite possible she doesn't know a lot about other forms of sexual activity, she lives on a farm, for crying out loud.  She would know the basics of copulation, and should know she's not therefore been deflowered.  And if she then decides to sell herself for a single night to Christian in return for twenty thousand pounds, she knows full well she's still a virgin.  Can't have it both ways, kiddo.

 

She would also know that the price she's putting on herself is extraordinarily, outrageously, obscenely high. 

 

She also ruminates on her options.  She expects her older sister Elizabeth to eventually marry, leaving Merissa to care for their father.  Merissa has no plans to marry, in part because she doesn't like "the idea of being at a man's beck and call."  Um, no.  That is exactly what she'd have if she stayed behind to care for her father, and she'd also have the prospect of being too old for virtually any kind of marriage after his death. 

 

That's why the whole issue of the farm is important.  Is that an estate that will be left to her, or to Elizabeth, or to dear brother Charles?  What kind of income does it generate?  How is it tied to the church?

 

But when Merissa turns down Christian's offer to simply pay off Charles's enormous debt -- an offer he makes to save her reputation even though he really wants to take her to bed -- she flounces off because she thinks he's not attracted to her.  So we get a Big Misunderstanding . . . over nothing.

 

There are other absurdities, such as Caroline, Countess of Northrup, feeding her own toddler son and getting baby food all over everything.  Um, no.  She'd have a nurse to take care of feeding small children.  Such as driving back and forth between the farm and Darton Park, a distance of ten or twelve miles, as though it were a quick jaunt to the corner convenience store in 2018.  Um, no.

 

There's no meat to this story, so if you're looking for just something with which to while away your time, this may work, but there are better Regencies out there.

 

 

 

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text 2018-04-23 01:10
Frye on Dickens and Scott
The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures) - Northrop Frye

I'm enjoying this.  Because the contents are actually lectures given at Harvard, I'm wishing I could hear Frye's delivery.  I suspect there may be some significant sarcasm.  Some of his other lectures are available on YouTube, so I may try to find some time this coming week to watch them.

 

As expected, however, the hours on the rock saw this past week provoked serious response from my tendonitis.  Although I was able to do a tiny bit of work in the studio this morning, by noon I was all but paralyzed with the pain.  It's impossible even to hold a book, and any time at the keyboard is sporadic at best, punctuated by breaks to clutch a bag of frozen rice to my arm.

 

One passage in this book merited the extra effort to make note of it here:

 

[Sir Walter] Scott came finally to be regarded as too much of a romancer to be worthy of close study.  [Charles] Dickens fared rather better: he too was darkly suspected of being a mere entertainer, but he had obvious social concerns, and besides, he wrote Hard Times, a novel so dull that he must surely have had some worthy nonliterary motive for producing it.

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text 2018-04-19 19:42
I slept on it, and I think I'm more angry than disappointed.

A long, ranty follow-up to earlier post here regarding whether to be disappointed or angry.

 

And in part this is prompted also by Elentarri's comment to that earlier post, an excerpt from which I quote here:

 

. . . if someone was bright enough to get into university they were supposed to be intelligent enough to do a lot of self-study. The professor was only there to provide a few hours of entertainment in class every week and provide course material/mark exams, which was the proof the rest of the world required that the students were doing work.    (Elentarri's Book Blog)

 

In many respects, I completely concur; certainly my graduate classes were often like this, with little or no guidance from the professors, even though a couple of them did nothing much more than talk, talk, talk about nonsense unrelated to the course material.  One even refused to answer questions, and when I finally demanded that he at least address the reading we were doing and which we all agreed none of us understood, he laughed at me and said "Welcome to grad school!" before launching on another tangent.  He didn't like it when my evaluation of the course was highly critical of him.

 

Another prof in another graduate class lost complete control of the situation to the point that one student physically threatened me and I in turn accused the prof of encouraging the abuse.  I found out later he was terrified I would report the situation and he'd lose his job.  He admitted to me -- and to the rest of the class after I had walked out -- that he had let things go too far. . . because he found it entertaining.

 

But those were graduate classes, and they were "seminar" formats where there was supposed to be discussion and even debate as contrasted to more typical teaching formats where students did the assigned reading, then came to a class session where the professor led the instructive process.

 

My gripe is with the undergraduate experience, where professors failed to provide guidance and/or information that was specifically asked for.

 

I was expected to meet with my advisor for the honors thesis at least a few times during the six months or so I researched and then wrote the actual paper.  As I wrote in the earlier post, her area of specialization was women's history, not women's writing or literature or anything like that.  She pretty much admitted she knew nothing about my subject and was as much interested in learning what I had to say as she was in actually helping me write it.  She did recommend one book for me, and it provided some very useful information, but that was the sum total of her contribution. At one point prior to my actually writing the thesis, I gave her my bibliography.  She had few comments.

 

My other two readers were from the English department, but I only met with one of them once, to go over the basic premise of the project.  She, too, admitted to knowing absolutely nothing about romance fiction.  When I asked if she had any suggestions for areas I could add to my research, she offered nothing.  She did not ask many questions about what research I had already done or what references I had consulted.

 

All three of these full professors -- two were then or had been recently heads of their departments -- knew that I was very much a non-traditional student: In addition to being over 50, I had come back to college after a 25 year hiatus, I had a minimum of humanities background, and I had in fact taken exactly one literature course.

 

Everything I knew about literary criticism theory I had in fact learned on my own.  There had been absolutely none in that single class, which was titled Contemporary Women Authors (most of whose works we read in translation).  The focus in that class was on the woman's experience as depicted in the writing, and not on how it was written or where any of the individual novels/stories fit into the general literary landscape.  Whether the professor simply presumed we had already learned all that stuff in prior classes, I don't know.  The whole subject was one of those unknown unknowns as far as I was concerned: I didn't know enough about lit crit theory to know what I didn't know.

 

So I went ahead and wrote the thesis.  I gave the first "final" version to my advisor for review.  She had virtually no comments, criticisms, or suggestions.  I then distributed copies to the other members of my committee, and prepared for my defense.

 

I knew, of course, that I was defending more than just the paper I had written: I was really defending the entire genre of romance fiction as it had been defined -- or redefined -- as a powerful segment of popular fiction, of feminist literature, of women's financial empowerment.  I had laid out some of that in the paper itself, and I already had a traditional publisher interested in a book-length version.  So I went into the conference room probably over-prepared for the defense.

 

Well, probably didn't come close to describing it.  I'm pretty sure all three of them had actually read the thing, but their questions about the paper led me to believe they hadn't understood any of what I had written.  I remember one question in particular was about the difference between a romance novel and a television soap opera.  The simple answer, of course, was that one ends at "The End" and the other never ends, but that didn't seem to be enough.  "Happily Ever After" is guaranteed in a romance novel; there is no "ever after" in a soap opera.  And on and on, until I realized the question was actually intended to confirm the bias that romance novels are the same as soap operas, and that both serve to entertain poorly educated women who don't work outside the home and have nothing better to do with their lives.

 

But the thesis was ultimately accepted as written with a few minor adjustments.  I got my degree with honors, and the following fall I started the graduate program.  The book length version of Half Heaven, Half Heartache got put on hold for a whole lot of reasons (not least among which was my own lack of confidence in it).  A few years later, Pamela Regis came out with her The Natural History of the Romance Novel and I set HH-HH aside more or less permanently.  I couldn't afford to buy Regis's book, but I figured it said everything I had intended to say anyway.

 

When I finally did acquire a copy a few years ago, I discovered quite the opposite.  I also discovered how incomplete certain aspects of my own original research had been.  I went back to Christopher Vogler's book, I went back to his co-written work Memo from the Story Department, then I began with the Joseph Campbell source material for those two books.  What I wasn't finding was the basic theory of Story that I wanted, and that was essentially missing also from HH-HH.

 

In what I read of Regis, I found no references to Campbell or Vogler, but I did find some to Northrop Frye.  I was vaguely familiar with the name, but that was it.  Quick research informed me that Campbell's work had predated Frye's, so I continued to expect my reading of Campbell to provide that bedrock.

 

It wasn't there.  And though I eventually gave up on both of the Campbell works to which I had access, I didn't retain any expectation that they contained it.

 

In amongst this, and because my time was constrained by art shows and so on, I began rereading Stephen King's On Writing.  I enjoyed the memoir part, the struggles with poverty, the family issues, the shock of sudden financial success, and so on.  I still haven't finished all the actual text on writing.  But something in there, something in the respect King gave to his own popular fiction writing, kept the other fires flickering in the back of my brain.

 

So I picked up the first of the two Frye books I had purchased (used) from Amazon.

 

And there, in the first few pages, was a theory of Story. 

 

I returned to my research on Frye.  And that's what aroused my disappointment first and now real anger.

 

Frye is often considered one of the leading literary theorists of the twentieth century. Not one single professor with whom I discussed HH-HH ever mentioned him.  None of his works were in my bibliography.  He's not referenced in the text.

 

It is one thing, as Elentarri states, for professors to grant their students freedom for self-directed study.  None of the professors I consulted with during the six months or so that I spent on the thesis really had enough information to be able to help me find specific research material; many of the works I did use were unfamiliar to them.  And certainly none of them had ever read a romance novel.

 

But I had specifically asked for help.  I knew I was in uncharted waters, and I made no secret of my ignorance.  I trusted those individuals to at least steer me in the right direction.  Instead, they simply let me drift.

 

What might have happened if just one of those professors suggested I look at the literary theories of Northrop Frye (a Canadian)?  What if just one of them had suggested I look at the literary theories of F. R. Leavis (an Englishman who was mentored by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who also mentored Daphne DuMaurier)?

 

I feel almost as if I'm starting over, from scratch.  That's a disappointment.  The feeling that I shouldn't have had to is what makes me angry.

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