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review 2016-12-27 00:42
#CBR8 Book 125: Greven av Monte Christo (The Count of Monte Cristo) by Alexandre Dumas
The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

Young sailor Edmond Dantés is well-meaning, kind and really rather naive, wanting nothing more than to make enough money to take care of his elderly father and marry his beloved Mercedes. There are other, less well-meaning people in his life who want what he has and are prepared to frame Dantés for treason to get these things. While celebrating his engagement to Mercedes, Dantés is arrested, charged with aiding in a plot to restore the exiled Napoleon to the throne. The anonymous scheming may have come to nought, except a letter in Dantés' possession frames the father of the judge who hears his case, and said man decides that the best thing to do is burn the letter, and lock Dantés away, before the precious judge is implicated in the scandal. So thanks to a drunken, malicious prank and an unscrupulous judge, Dantés is locked up away in a dark dungeon for fourteen years, where he nearly goes mad, while his father dies alone and destitute and his Mercedes marries another.

Dantés probably would have lost his mind if not for the friendship with another prisoner, the Abbot Feria, who, when trying to dig an escape tunnel, instead ends up in Dantés' cell. The two strike up a friendship and Feria, a very learned man, teaches the fairly inexperienced sailor everything he knows. He listens patiently to Dantés' story of how he ended up being imprisoned, and explains exactly how he will have ended up being framed, turning Dantés' thoughts immediately to escape and revenge. Initially, the two are planning to escape the prison together. But the Abbott is old and sick and dies before they have a chance to get out. He tells Dantés of a great treasure, hidden away on the island of Monte Cristo. Once Dantés escapes, he goes there, and discovers riches beyond his wildest dreams. After fourteen years, with everyone who ever knew him believing him long dead, Dantés can start truly plotting his revenge.

Ten years after the escape, the mysterious and brooding Count of Monte Cristo appears in Paris and soon the lives of three prosperous and successful gentlemen start falling apart completely.

I'm convinced that it is more than twenty years since I first read this book, when I was still young and patient and felt that the longer the book, the better, frankly (this was back when I also happily read my mother's three volume edition of Les Misérables in about four days while stuck at my gran's in the west of Norway, a book I only got about a third of the way through once I tried re-reading it a few years back. To be fair, this was a time long before wifi and smart phones, the only thing to do when in the west of Norway was to read. What else was I going to do, hang out with my douchy cousins, or worse yet, my little brother?) When the Cannonball Book Club poll for Classics ended up picking the LONGEST book of all of the ones nominated (I want to point out that I picked The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton - at a neat 350 pages), it wasn't like I had a choice but to read the book, and I certainly wasn't going to opt for some abridged version. That would be cheating. This is also why this book will now forever be known to me as the book that ate November.

I actually started it in mid-October, but it became really obvious that as long as I was allowing myself to read other books as well, I was just never going to get through the nearly thousand pages of 19th Century French adventure fiction. Hence the only books I finished in November except this, were the ones I listened to in audio. In the end, I completed the book on November 30th, the day before our book club discussion. The Norwegian translation I read was done in the 1950s, but was thankfully not too difficult to get into, once I got used to some of the more old-fashioned terms. The first third or so, until Dantés finally escapes prison and goes to the island to find the treasure, moves along at a fair clip and is quite exciting. The problem came when he returns after ten years, and Dumas spends a lot of time re-establishing all the characters (who obviously no longer go by the same names they did at the beginning of the book, that would be far too easy) and setting the stage for Dantés' truly masterful revenge scenario. Once the book really gets going on that, it's all pretty thrilling, right up until the end.

It's not for nothing that this is known as one of the great revenge stories of all time. It was also, obviously written in a time when books like this, sold in instalments, were the big network entertainments of their day. Over the course of eighteen months, people would only get sixty pages at a time. That's a long time to wait to see how Dantés deals out righteous vengeance on the guys who did him wrong and made themselves rich and successful thanks in part to his misfortune. I wish I could say that I read it, considering where the instalment breaks would have been and fully aware of how the entertainments of our day have changed (all points covered in our excellent book club discussion), but I totally didn't. I mainly just forced myself through it, in between correcting a LOT of essays and audio book listening, wanting to get through the early Paris sections, where I had to use Wikipedia to help me keep track of the names of all the various parties, their many family members and how exactly they were soap operaishly connected to one another through double dealing, scheming and adultery, so I could understand everything fully once the Count's plan really kicked into gear.

While I don't love it as much as I did when I was a teenager, it's still a great book and for a book written in the mid-19th Century, it has an interestingly varied portrayal of both male and female characters. I was especially excited to see that Dumas apparently thought nothing of having Eugénie Danglars, the daughter of one of the men who wronged Dantés, escape the whole sorry revenge plot by running off with her companion on what I'm assuming will be one heck of a lesbian bohemian adventure. Valentine Villefort, one of the other prominent ladies, is so good and kind and true she makes your teeth hurt, but a lot of the other ladies, not least Mercedes, Dantés' lost love, are very impressive in their own right, this is not just a book about dudes.

While I was initially despairing, as it felt like that my November was pretty much this and correction work, I'm very glad that the Book Club pick did end up being this book, so that I got a chance to finally re-read it. I'd kept telling myself I was going to, and then never getting round to it, because it's sooo long. I also have plans to watch the TV adaptation starring Richard Chamberlain (clearly the go-to actor for Dumas adaptations in the 1970s - as well as playing Dantés, he was Aramis in the Musketeers movies directed by Richard Lester and he also starred in the dual role in The Man with the Iron Mask), but as New Year's is rapidly approaching, I needed to get these reviews completed - no time to watch movies before I blog. I honestly don't know what the abridged versions of the novel leave out, it seemed to me that once you with hindsight can see what is being set up, even the parts of the novel that dragged while reading them were really quite important. I would therefore recommend that you allow yourself the time to read the full version if you try the book. It's worth the effort, I promise.

Judging a book by its cover: For years and years and years, I've been a member of what is called the Norwegian Book Club, which is more of a subscription service for books than an actual club where people get together to read the same book every month and discuss it. It should also be noted that because a) Norwegian hardback books are terribly expensive and b) I barely ever read Norwegian books, I automatically cancel the books of the month every single time. I get the e-mail, I go to the website, I cancel the books. Very occasionally, i use the accompanying website to buy presents for people. All of this is to explain that my two volume edition of Greven av Monte Christo (which is the Norwegian name for the book) is one that I got when I became a member many many years ago, and the cover is nothing very exciting. A silhouette of a man. The background on volume one is dark blue, the background on volume two is golden yellow. Apart from that, they are identical.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-125-greven-av-monte-christo.html
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quote 2015-08-03 19:46
They wept because they were friends; and because they were kind; and because they, who had been friends since childhood, were concerned with such a mean subject--money; and because their youth was gone ... But for both of them they were pleasant tears ...
War and Peace - Larissa Volokhonsky,Richard Pevear,Leo Tolstoy

Impoverished widow Anna Mikhailovna accepts 700 roubles from her dear friend Countess Rostov so she can purchase her son's military uniform. 

 

War and Peace, Part One, Chapter XIV 

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review 2015-01-19 22:58
#CBR7 Book 1: Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne
Rogue Spy - Joanna Bourne

This is the fifth book in Joanna Bourne's Spymasters series, but as the books are written out of chronological order historically speaking, and some overlap (for those who HAVE read the previous books in the series, there's a really interesting blog post here explaining where the various books fit into the historical time line), it's not actually that big a deal what order you read them in. If you haven't read any of the others, Bourne herself has suggested that readers will enjoy it more if they've at least read The Black Hawk, where you are given useful back story for the hero of this novel (it's also an amazing historical romance).

 

From the author's website:

Ten years ago he was a boy, given the name Thomas Paxton and sent by Revolutionary France to infiltrate the British Intelligence Service. Now his sense of honour brings him back to London, alone and unarmed, to confess. But instead of facing the gallows, he's given one last impossible assignment to prove his loyalty.


Lovely, lying, former French spy Camille Leyland is dragged from her safe rural obscurity by threats and blackmail. Dusting off her spy skills, she sets out to track down a ruthless French fanatic and rescue the innocent victim he's holding - only to find an old colleague already on the case. Pax.


Old friendships turn to new love and Pax and Camille's dark secrets loom up from the past. Pax is left with the choice - go rogue from the service or lose Camille forever. 

 

So Thomas Paxton, known to most of his friends as Pax, is a high ranking spy for the British Secret Service, but was actually trained as a child to be a deep cover spy for the French. The French trained dozens of Cachés, orphaned children and teens, indoctrinating them into following the ideals of the Revolution, and becoming secret agents, assuming the identity of dead (or murdered) British children so as to spread their agents throughout Britain. As many of the other Cachés, Pax hated the French agents who trained him, and did his best to escape the influence of his French masters quickly, by giving them irrelevant information and then disposing of his handler. At the beginning of this book, he has just confessed to his superiors in the Secret Service that he's a French spy and a traitor, and is expecting them to dispose of him.

 

Of course, Pax has proven himself an excellent spy for Britain, and his bosses don't really want to kill off such a useful asset. They do need him to prove himself loyal without question though, which could prove difficult as Pax recognises one of the faces from his past, another Caché agent, trained to assume the identity of Camille Leyland, niece of the two spinsters responsible for creating Britain's ciphers and cracking the codes of foreign correspondence. Camille has grown to love "the aunts" and when she is blackmailed, she goes to London to hopefully outwit and possibly murder whomever's responsible, to make sure they stay safe. Once she realises that the blackmailer actually has the real Camille Leyland and won't hesitate to kill the woman if Cami (or Verité as the Cachés named her) doesn't agree to his demands, she is forced to reevaluate her plans to make sure the Misses Layland get their real niece back safely.

 

Camille isn't aware that the man who is blackmailing her is a very dangerous Frenchman long believed dead. Pax recognises him and as their pasts are intertwined, much like Pax and Camille's, he vows to stop the Merchant once and for all, even if it means risking his future with the Service by disobeying direct orders. Working together with Camille for the first time since they were children, Pax discovers that he is developing feelings for his old companion, and will do anything to keep her safe.

 

I actually re-read The Black Hawk to remind myself of what happened with Pax and his revelations to his superiors about being a French double agent. The action of this book actually overlaps with the latter half of Bourne's first book in the series, The Spymaster's Lady as well. Hawker, hero of The Black Hawk and scene-stealing supporting character is all of the other Bourne Spymaster books, including this one, insists on helping his old friend, despite under orders to stay off active duty due to a recent gunshot wound. It's always fun to see Hawker from the many different points of view he's presented with in these books. Sadly, Pax is a bit bland in comparison. I never really cared about him as a supporting character in the other books, and while he was perfectly fine here, he didn't really wow me, so to speak. 

 

Camille was a fun heroine, though. Bourne always writes very interesting women, who are just as capable as secret agents, if not more so, than the men. Unlike Annique, Maggie and Justine, who worked actively as spies for at least a while, Camille has not really ever actively worked in the field. She was placed in the Leyland household while she was still a child, and managed to escape the control of her French masters relatively quickly. She's lived a quiet life, using her intelligence to help her "aunts" create and crack codes, but has never been able to forget that hers is a stolen existence and one day it will be time to pay. She's willing to do what she has to in order to keep her loved ones safe, and is completely flummoxed by meeting Pax again and falling in love with him. During their joint quest to bring down the Merchant, Camille/Verité also reconnects with family she believed was lost forever. Instead of being a friendless orphan facing a possible treason charge, she has an extensive family in London, ready to fiercely stand for her.

 

While Pax wasn't the most charismatic of heroes, I always enjoy Bourne's stories and her beautiful way with language. She conveys foreign languages excellently, even when everyone on the page is speaking English. It was entertaining to see the established cast of spies, Doyle and Hawker included on a new adventure. As far as I can tell from Bourne's website, her next book is about Justine's little sister, who has seemed very intriguing in previous books.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2015/01/cbr7-book-1-rogue-spy-by-joanna-bourne.html
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text 2014-11-10 16:39
Wartime Nurse: Romances featuring Nurses during Wartime
The Vacant Chair - Kaylea Cross
At His Command - Brenda Coulter
The Second Chance Hero: A Forever Love Story - Jeannie Moon
Dancing In The Moonlight - RaeAnne Thayne
Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
In Perfect Time - Sarah Sundin
Heroic Measures - Jo-Ann Power
Honor's Bride - Gayle Wilson
Coming Home for Christmas: A Christmas in ParadiseO Christmas TreeNo Crib for a Bed - Carla Kelly
Gift from the Sea - Anna Schmidt

Tomorrow is Veteran's Day. Let's start by honoring the nurses that have served so bravely.

 

Here are some wonderful Romances that feature nurses in wartime. My lists are never in any particular order. 

 

1. At His Command by Brenda Coulter Army Nurse in the Middle East

2. Dancing in the Moonlight  by RaeAnne Thayne  Army Nurse in Afghanistan 

3. Outlander: A Novel by Diana Gabaldon  WWII Nurse

4. In Perfect Time by Sarah Sundin WWII Flight Nurse

5. Gift from the Sea by Anna Schmidt WWI Nurse

6. Coming Home for Christmas by Carla Kelly Crimean War Nurse

7. Honor's Bride by Gayle Wilson Napoleonic Wars Nurse

8. Heroic Measures by Jo-Ann Power WWI Nurse

9. The Second Chance Hero by Jeannie Moon Nurse in Middle East Wars

10. The Vacant Chair by Kaylea Cross Civil War Nurse 

11. A Soldier's Heart by Kathleen Korbel Vietnam War Nurse 

 

Did I miss your favorite Wartime Nurse? Let me know!

 

To vote from the best of the best, go to my Goodreads list: Wartime Nurse: Romances featuring Nurses during Wartime. 

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review 2014-07-01 02:23
#CBR6 Book 64: The Seduction of the Crimson Rose by Lauren Willig
The Seduction of the Crimson Rose - Lauren Willig

This is the fourth book in the series, and as such, not the best place to start reading. This review will also contain some spoilers for book 3, The Deception of the Emerald Ring, so skip this review if you're not up to date. 

 

Despite being one of the acclaimed beauties of the ton, Miss Mary Alsworthy is facing her third season. The only actual marriage proposals she's received were from unsuitable candidates, and her attempt to secure a rich husband failed spectacularly when her intended accidentally compromised her younger sister instead and had to marry her. So now her former suitor is her brother-in-law and disgustingly happy with her little sister. Mary refuses to show them how much their domestic felicity bothers her, and she's certainly not happy with the idea that her next season will have to be sponsored by her new brother-in-law.

 

So when the cynical and wealthy Lord Sebastian Vaughn approaches her with an alternative, she doesn't hesitate for long. Lord Vaughn is working with the Pink Carnation (although Mary doesn't know that part) and trying to locate the elusive French spy, the Black Tulip. As the spy seems to only recruit tall, pale-skinned, dark-haired beauties as his agents, Lord Vaughn suggests that Mary help him tempt the Black Tulip out of hiding. Yup, Mary is described with raven locks and ivory skin, so I have NO idea who the lady on the cover of this book is. I keep wondering if the marketing department have any idea what's actually in the books when they design the covers? The woman on this cover doesn't fit the description of anyone in the book. Sigh. Anyway, back to the plot. In return for Mary basically acting as bait, Lord Vaughn will fund her new season and she won't have to take charity from her former admirer. As the two start working closely together, they are surprised to discover that they may have found a perfect match in each other. But there are a number of obstacles in their way, including the deadly Black Tulip. 

 

In the present, Eloise is finally going on a date with Colin Selwick and can barely contain her happiness. When researching the Vaughn archives, she also makes the acquaintance of another history buff who seems very interested in the identity of the Pink Carnation. Possibly because she's not quite so whiny in this book, the cuts back to Eloise's story line felt a lot less intrusive than in the previous two books and I didn't actually mind reading about her all that much.

 

Looking at various review sites, Goodreads in particular, it's clear that not all the fans of the series were too fond of this book because both the protagonists are much more unpleasant than the heroes and heroines in the previous three instalments. Mary's thoughts about the characters in previous books are none too pleasant, she's cynical, ambitious and all her plans came to nothing when her elopement plot failed. Now she's an object of either spiteful gossip or pity, and she doesn't like it. So of course, a lot of her thoughts are filled with bitterness and spite. Frankly, the couples in the previous three books were all such good, worthy and noble people. They do risk their lives to save England from the French, after all. Having a heroine who's bitter, cynical, quite mean on occasion and maybe a bit too conceited because she's been told about her great beauty and her good prospects all her life was actually rather refreshing.

 

Besides, the hero of the novel is Lord Vaughn, who in the previous two books stole pretty much every scene he was in. He's tall, dark, extremely wealthy, has an impeccable dress sense and doesn't suffer fools, even a little bit. There are all manner of rumours surrounding him, with suspicions that he may have murdered his wife. Some suspect he may be a French agent, and Mary certainly wonders if he himself might be the Black Tulip when he enlists her aid in finding the spy. Vaughn has experienced most things there are to experience, and he's frankly bored and jaded. He's entirely unconcerned about his reputation and the rumours that exist about him. He's not really swayed by Mary's beauty, but cannot help but be impressed with her ruthless ambition, her candidness and her determination to secure the best possible future for herself. He understands her bitterness and her cynicism and finds a kindred spirit in her. 

 

I think the reason I like Vaughn so much is because he reminds me of one of my favourite romance heroes, the Duke of Falconbridge from Julie Anne Long's What I Did for a DukeAs this book came out several years before Julie Anne Long's romance, I would be very surprised if Falconbridge wasn't at a little bit inspired by Lord Vaughn. And he's a Sebastian! So many awesome romance heroes out there share that name, but I laughed out loud when his first name was revealed in this book.

 

Because the main couple were a lot more ruthless and cynical than those in the previous three books, which I found amusing, and the Eloise bits were actually rather sweet, instead of making me want to reach into the pages of the book and slap her silly, this is by far my favourite of the Pink Carnation books. Noble heroes are all well and good, but I understand why Mary and Vaughn might find them a bit exasperating too. The fact that Mary and Vaughn continue to be cynical and scathing, even after they succumb to their mutual attraction and admit their feelings for one another is one of the things I appreciate. It would have been awful if they suddenly went all gooey and sweet. 

 

The reason I can't rate this a full five stars or even 4.5 is because of the way the story develops in the last half. Issues and individuals from Vaughn's dark past come back and complicate the plot in a way that had me rolling my eyes, and the true identity of the Black Tulip and resolution of that plot was frankly preposterous. I can only suspend my disbelief so much. I do hope Willig will allow me the occasional jaded rake as a hero in future books too, because this was such a fun book. 

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.com/2014/07/cbr6-book-64-seduction-of-crimson-rose.html
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