Tag Archives: heroine

Book Reviews: December 2015 Picture Book Roundup: THREE Five-Stars and Some Christmas Leftovers

Standard

Christmas Leftovers

9780399243202Spot’s Christmas by Eric Hill. Warne-Penguin Random, 2004. Ages: 0-3.

This was a fairly lackluster book, which really I probably ought to have expected as this is a holiday spin-off book. Spot, a popular character of his own book series and television series, performs some of the acts of celebration surrounding Christmas: decorating the tree, singing carols, baking cookies and cake, hanging stockings. He knows Santa came because the stockings are full in the morning. Other than being an adorable roly-poly puppy and fairly expressive, there was little story, no moral, and not much really to say.

***

9780553498394How to Catch a Santa by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish. Knopf-Penguin Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I didn’t realize that this was of the same series as How to Babysit a Grandpa, Grandma, and Surprise a Dad. As well as those first two especially have been selling, I have not read any of them, and I was not particularly thrilled by this one. There’s not a lot of story, but a lot of text. “Don’t you have a zillion questions?” A list of questions follows. “Maybe you have things you want to tell him?” A list of things that you might want to tell Santa follows. “And maybe you have things you want to give him?” A list of things to give him follows. “Okay, now you know what you want to do once you catch Santa. Now it’s time to figure out how to do it.” A list of some tips and suggestions follows. While there are some creative and sweet ideas here, I just don’t like the format—and it seems like it’s becoming more prevalent within picture books.

**1/2

The Critically Acclaimed

9780451469908Llama Llama Red Pajamas by Anna Dewdney. Viking-Penguin Random, 2005. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

This is a new classic and has sparked a whole series of books. Llama Llama in this first adventure is sent to bed, but he misses his mama, he’s nervous in the dark, he wants a glass of water, but mama’s downstairs on the phone and isn’t coming to answer Llama Llama’s pleas for her to come back to the bedroom. The story ends with the moral that mama always loves you even if she isn’t immediately available. The text is full of end rhymes and internal rhyme. It’s a good reminder of a parent’s love.

****

9780803736801Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. Dial-Penguin Random, 2012. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I could have been more impressed with this book. I thought what had thrown me off was the somewhat clunky progression of ideas that repeats itself, I feel, unnecessarily so that we have at least two very ardent warnings about spicy salsa—do we need two? The more I reflect on it, though, the more I think that what was even more off-putting was the questions asked of the dragons to which the dragons were never allowed to respond. The dragons are silent throughout this book, and that made the text feel clunky because why ask questions if you don’t want an answer? Why even have the dragons in the text until you need them there to offer proof of your previous declaratory statements about them loving tacos but hating spicy salsa? All of the hard t’s and d’s and p’s sounds were fun.

***

FIVE WHOLE STARS

y648

Little Penguin Gets the Hiccups by Tadgh Bentley. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This little book came sweeping up and stole my heart. The narrator is an adorably illustrated little penguin with the—hic!—hiccups. He pleads with the audience directly for their help. He’s tried everything to get rid of the hiccups that he developed after eating too much spicy chili last week, but nothing’s worked, so his friend Frederick has told the penguin that he would try to frighten the hiccups out of him. I was surprised that my audience was not as excited as I was for the opportunity to shout, “BOO!” The penguin forgets the audience to scold Frederick for frightening him so badly, but then realizes that his hiccups are gone and agrees to join Frederick for celebratory tacos, and—surprise, surprise—those spicy tacos give him another bout of—hic!—hiccups.

*****

stacks_image_17Part-Time Princess by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Cambria Evans. Disney-Hyperion, 2013.

In her sleep, this regular girl becomes a princess in beautiful dresses and crown, who fights dragonfire to save her kingdom, who lassos the dragon but invites him to tea instead of listening to the demands for the dragon’s death by her fearful subjects and realizes that he is a good dragon who is just upset that his crayons were melted. She meets a queen, and they play in the mud, and she takes a bath with bubbles, a high dive, and a dolphin. She isn’t scared of trolls either but dances with the head troll and shows her subjects that trolls are neither frightening or mean. There is a handsome prince, but she’s too busy saving the kingdom to marry now. She is tired in the morning, and there is glitter in her hair. There is glitter in her mother’s hair too; she is the queen. This is a good alternate princess narrative particularly for those girls who do want to marry princes and wear frilly dresses and eat three slice of pink cake for tea.

*****

9781452125329_350_4Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Meg Hunt. Chronicle, 2015.

It’s the story of Cinderella—set in space! This Cinderella fixes the household robots and machines but dreams of fixing fancy space ships. The family is invited to the royal parade, and Cinderella’s stepmother says that she can come if she can fix their broken space ship, but the stepsisters take Cinderella’s toolbox with them to the parade, leaving her stranded. Cinderella’s friend, the robot mouse Murgatroyd, sends an S.O.S. and summons Cinderella’s fairy godrobot, who magics Cinderella up some new tools: a sonic socket wrench (yeah, I saw that, Underwood), a blue space suit with jewels and pockets, and a power gem that will run out at midnight. Then it’s off to the parade, but the prince’s ship is smoking, and he doesn’t have a mechanic. Cinderella, masked behind the dome of her space suit, flies over and saves the prince’s ship. He invites her to the Gravity-Free Ball in thanks, and they talk for hours of space ships, but she has to run away before the clock strikes midnight. The sonic wrench falls out of her pocket. The prince goes searching for her, and brings a broken ship with him across the galaxy. The stepfamily tries to fix the ship, but can’t. The mouse helps Cinderella escape the attic into which her stepmother has locked her and left her tied up. Cinderella grabs her wrench back from the prince and fixes the ship. The prince asks her to marry him, and she thinks about it, but decides that she is too young. She offers to be his mechanic instead, and she goes to live at the palace, and fixes fancy space ships, just as she always dreamed she might do. Her fulfilled wish is a job that she loves in a field that here on earth is dominated by men.

This has all the elements of the classic fairy tale story, but the fairy tale ending is not one that includes marriage. My young audience was curious why she didn’t want to marry the prince. I’m not sure if I should be glad that I got to explain that not everyone’s dream is to get married and put that thought in their young minds or I’m sad that I had to explain. The handsome prince is a dark-skinned besides, though it’s never mentioned in the text, and we may have Hunt more than Underwood to thank for that.

There are a lot of larger words here, some of which I think went over the heads of my audience, but they didn’t seem phased by not knowing how to define a sprocket.

The text relied surprisingly heavily on the illustrations here. It almost seemed as if there were holes in the text itself, perhaps the text being limited by the rhyme, but the illustrations filled in those holes well, showing us why, for example, Cinderella would cry out for her toolbox. We had fun looking at the details of the illustrations: the robots, the aliens.

Now I have a question for fellow readers: The endpapers show Cinderella’s tools, all nicely labeled. One of the spaces is empty. Has anyone found that tool? Maybe in one of the book’s illustrations? Why is it missing?

*****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

 

Book Review: The Thirteenth House Is the Least of The Twelve Houses

Standard

Sharon Shinn’s stellar writing, wonderful world-building, and charismatic characters have secured her Twelve Houses series a place on my list of favorite series. Of the five books, my least favorite is the second, The Thirteenth House. The first four of these sword and sorceries each revolve around the romances of one or more of the six main characters (the fifth revolves around a minor character from the first four). The Thirteenth House is the story of Kirra Danalustrous, a shiftling (a mystic with the ability to change the shape of herself and of objects that she touches) and serramarra (daughter) of one of the twelve main houses between which the country of Gillengaria is feudally divided. I like this story least frankly because Kirra disappoints me and frightens me. This time, reading the book, I realized that Kirra and I are the same age, and it worries me that someone my age (albeit that I’m sure the life expectancy is lower in medieval-esque Gillengaria and characters mature more quickly as a consequence) could make the poor choices that Kirra does. Each romance in this series is an unlikely pairing but the other matches are unlikely because of class distinctions or cultural differences, Kirra’s romance is a likely match a few years too late that is now just an unhealthy affair, so while all the elements of a romance novel are there, there can be no happy ending for all, and that’s also unsettling, another reason that this novel is my least favorite. Kirra grows a great deal through the story, and that is heartwarming, but her growth comes at the cost of a lot of heartache for herself and others. This is more bildungsroman than it is romance in the sense of genre. I’d have liked Kirra to make better decisions.

Alongside the whirlwind affair, Shinn presents a country on the brink of turmoil. Amid swirling gowns and in grand ballrooms, beside talk of marriage alliances, every character discusses war and whom they might side with. The king’s regent, Romar Brendyn, comes under attack, is rescued, and despite continued threats to his person proceeds to attend secret negotiations and politically fraught parties with lesser lords, collectively known as the Thirteenth House. Meanwhile a plague sweeps through the country that cannot be cured except by breaking the unwritten laws that curb magic.

These many plots are fairly well woven together by Shinn.

I admire Shinn’s world-building particularly. There are several religious factions among the people of Gillengaria and each goddess has a unique sphere of influence and unique abilities that they can grant the mystics under their particular care. I really do think that a strong and unique religion can add a great deal to any story.

For being my least favorite, this is more than a bridge book, and it has merit in its own right.

As one wise reviewer on Goodreads has said, I won’t condemn the book for the adultery of its protagonists.  I won’t cheer their choices, but I choose to see this as a bildungsroman rather than a romance.  So just don’t expect the fairy tale ending; it’s not a fairy tale for all that her lover is painted by Kirra as a white knight or a Prince Charming.  Kirra is not the princess.

****

Shinn, Sharon. The Twelve Houses, Book Two: The Thirteenth House. New York: Ace-Berkley-Penguin, 2007.  First published 2006.

This review is not endorsed by Sharon Shinn, Ace Book, Berkley Publishing Group, or Penguin Group, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Tooth and Claw Tears Into Social Conventions

Standard

Some spoilers.

I first read Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw for a graduate class in children’s literature entitled Men, Women, and Dragons: Gender and Identity in Fantasy Literature.  I raved about it then to anyone who would listen, including the professor’s wife.  This January I reread it I’m pretty sure for at least the second time.  It has safely wedged itself in among some of my favorite books.  It won’t ever offer me the thrill of Riordan’s books nor the fandom and life experiences of Rowling’s, but it might find very good company among Sharon Shinn’s Twelve Houses series.

Jane Yolen describes Tooth and Claw as Pride and Prejudice with dragons, though I have been corrected to think of it as Trollope with dragons (in her author’s note Walton cites Framley Parsonage) and have, since being corrected, longed to settle down with an inexpensive and not too lengthy book of Trollope’s but have yet to have the pleasure.

So I can’t compare Tooth and Claw to Trollope, but I can compare it to Pride and Prejudice and odds are that more of you will understand that comparison better anyway, Austen being more often assigned and having been made into more mainstream movies than Trollope.  Tooth and Claw holds all of the romance of an Austen novel with quirky heroines who aim to find themselves a comfortable home with a man whom they love and who loves them back and run into difficulty because of their social statuses and the finicky framework of their society.  The heroines find heroes of a higher social class and excellent character.  They are exposed along the way to men of less excellent character, even an annoying parson very like Mr. Collins.  Like Austen, the story explores gender inequality, social convention and faux pas, and the differences between the upper echelons and the country estates and parsonages.  Where the story strays from Austen is in the exploration of the fixture of servitude and classism within the society, the theater of the court system, the fallibility of a church, and race relations, and in the inherent violence of dragons.  Victorian-like rules rein in the violence and supposedly give pomp and ritual to it, but Austen explored very few duels, murders, or ritual cannibalism and euthanasia.

The story ends “And there […] we shall leave them to take refuge in the comfort of gentle hypocrisy” (292).  [SPOILER] It ends with all who deserve to getting a happier ending than they could have foretold and the most villainous dragon being defeated. [END SPOILER]  It was exactly the type of novel I needed to restore me when my once romantic silliness is slipping towards cynicism (it may not have been able to rescue me entirely from reality, but it made a good case for chivalry and the existence true love and companionship).

The well-written and –composed book plays host to a complex world of politics, religion, and social conventions both mirroring and deviating from our own and accounting for the differing biologies of men and dragons (which Walton expands by creating a biological meaning to the coloration of dragon scales).  It is not a fast-paced adventure, and if the reader is seeking such, she might seek elsewhere, but it is does not read at a snail’s pace to me, the text being clipped enough and enough adventures puncturing through the tête-à-têtes to keep the story rolling pleasantly at least at the pace of Pride and Prejudice if not faster.

*****

Walton, Jo.  Tooth and Claw.  New York: Tor, 2003.

This review is not endorsed by Jo Walton or Tor Doherty Associates, LLC.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

The latest editions of the book are published by Orb Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers.

Book Review: The Art of the Con: A Drowned Maiden’s Hair Magically Maintains My Interest

Standard

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, excepts, videos, downloads, and author's bio.

Spoilers.

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama is a historical fiction with elements of magical realism by Laura Amy Schlitz and is outside of my usually indulged fantasy genre.  I bought it for a graduate course, quit the class, then read and finished the book despite.  That in itself is a pretty good review.

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair is written from the point of view of Maud Flynn, an orphan adopted by three spinster sisters, the Hawthornes, who hold séances for rich patrons to maintain their lifestyle.  Maud lives as a “secret child” with the sisters and is asked to take part in their séances, acting the role of one particular child, Caroline Lambert.  Sneaking out the house, Maud meets Mrs. Lambert, Caroline’s grieving mother, whom she begins to like despite herself, and whom she begins to feel guilty for conning.

During a séance, an accidental fire destroys the Hawthorne’ house.  The Hawthornes and Mrs. Lambert flee, leaving Maud locked in a cabinet behind.  Maud escapes and stumbles away from the burning house, and in exchange for her honesty, is helped by the owner of a carousel that both Caroline and now Maud have become fond of riding.

At first Mrs. Lambert despises Maud along with the sisters who have conned her but Mrs. Lambert comes to realize that Maud has reminded her of her daughter, Caroline, and Mrs. Lambert forgives Maud and offers Maud the loving home that she has so desperately wanted.

This is the external plot, but its morals are of discerning truth and untruth and appearances from reality; the true plot is Maud’s confusion about whom to trust and whom to distrust and what to keep secret and what to reveal.  Perhaps as a result, the adults in the tale who are manipulating or using Maud seem significantly more interesting than Maud herself, and Maud, though she acts and acts against the orders of the adults in charge of her, seems more catalyst for their reactions and a foggy lens for the reader than she does a heroine who acts throughout the story.  Though she was nice enough, Maud didn’t leave that much of an impression upon me, and I think that I remained with her to see whether or not Mrs. Lambert would be tricked and then to ensure that the sisters got their comeuppance.

The class for which this book was an assignment is called Giving Voice to the Voiceless.  Maud is forced by the Hawthorne sisters to maintain her silence and hide her identity, not through fear of physical violence as with Sarah Byrnes in Chris Crutcher’s Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes but through fear of rejection, out of a belief that by behaving and doing all that the sisters tell her to do Maud can win love.  Maud’s voicelessness is what the Hawthornes require and desire, and it is a boon to them.  Her voicelessness hurts Mrs. Lambert.  Whether or not it is a boon or harm to Maud is difficult to say without a lengthy discussion.  Her singing voice first wins her the Hawthornes’ attention and they take her away from the orphanage where she’s been living.  Her voicelessness ensures her continued situation with the Hawthornes, where she is provided with better food and more elegant clothes than she has ever been allowed and more personal attention, though whether she is more genuinely loved by the orphanage’s staff than by the Hawthornes is again up for debate.  By remaining voiceless as the Hawthornes implore her to be, Maud distances Mrs. Lambert, who could provide her with an even better living situation and genuine love in addition.

Along with Maud’s enforced voicelessness, the Hawthornes employ a mute servant, whom they call Muffet.  Maud befriends Muffet and begins to teach her the words for objects and later to read.  Muffet and Maud together make the journey from voicelessness into a voiced and into a loving home.  Schlitz seems to be very firmly of the opinion that voice and truth and honesty are virtues.

Maud’s is a supremely innocent close third voice, but I think I’d have liked her better if more of her impertinence had come forward in her voice as well as in her dialogue rather than being most prominently displayed in the labels of adults.

***1/2

Schlitz, Laura Amy.  A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama.  Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2006.

This review is not endorsed by Laura Amy Schlitz or Candlewick Press.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: The Unforeseen Trial of a Woman in Man’s Armor (903 words)

Standard

I am a thief!  I stole this line from Gwen of Apprentice, Never Master.  Her original piece, “Run Away,” can be found on her blog now.  I actually did have this one ready yesterday, but then WordPress was acting up, I went out to enjoy friends’ company, and I came back exhausted after midnight.  So this is the legal theft that ought to have gone up Thursday, September 26.

Danneel looked down at the knife in her hands and the long, thin blade made her stomach twist.  When she had taken up her charade, she had thought only of the thunder of Sunflash’s hooves beneath her and the weight of the lance in her arms, the thrum of the wood as it struck its target, and the prizes that a victory would win her.  While a victory would have pleased her, it would have surprised her too, and she had hoped only to remain unhorsed, not to unhorse veteran knights.  Certainly she had not thought to wound any of them and certainly not enough that the knife would be put in her hands by his squire.

Perhaps Kellin had really been too old to joust.  Perhaps he had never fought against such a small knight (unlikely in a man of so many famous battles and bouts) and hadn’t been able to adjust his balance to counter the hit of her lance against his shield.  A small voice in the back of Danneel’s mind whispered, Sabotage, but she ignored it.  If a felony had been committed, it was not for her to suss out.

Kellin’s foot had caught in the stirrup as he fell, and the horse, spooked perhaps by the clanking of the armor or the sudden unexpected weight, had bolted.  The gray had gone perhaps seven good, long strides, Kellin’s head striking the ground with each stretch of the horse’s legs, before the weight had ultimately unbalanced the horse.  The gray had crashed down onto Kellin, who had been trod upon too while the horse struggled to rid itself of Kellin’s weight and right itself.  It was while the horse struggled that the squire and two of the watching and waiting knights had freed Kellin.  The gray had gone as far as Danneel knew, taking the knight’s saddlery and heraldic caparison with it to flaunt the knight’s defeat.

Kellin’s helmet had maybe saved him from immediate death, but he had been slow to come around.  The chest plate was badly dented from the horse’s hooves.  At least one dent may have been caused when the horse had put its weight upon the knight’s chest in trying to stand again.

“Do it,” the fallen Kellin croaked at Danneel.  Another spittle of blood boiled out of his lips on the command.

“You—”  Danneel cleared her throat, pitched her voice lower to better match a man’s tone.  “You could live.  With a surgeon’s help.”

Kellin jostled his head and winced.  “No,” he groaned.

“Do it,” the squire parroted.

“You’ll have to, my lord.”

This was her own squire, Dickie, whom she had taken into her confidence.  Of them all only he knew her secret.  At least only he would think less well of women for her hesitation.  But Dickie looked at her with pity now.  Danneel had a half-mad thought to hand the knife to Dickie to do the deed, but that would be seen as the greatest insult to Kellin and to all watching.

Danneel shut her eyes, took a breath, and knelt down beside Kellin.

Another mad thought crossed her mind, to lift her visor enough to kiss Kellin and at least let him leave the world with a woman’s kiss on his lips—as no doubt he would have liked to have gone if he could not have gone in war.  But with that kiss, he would take too the knowledge of his defeat by a woman’s lance.  It was a favor she could not bestow without bestowing too great embarrassment upon the knight.  She instead said, not bothering to mask her voice overly much in the whisper, “Would you like to watch, or shall I shut your visor again, Sir?”

“I will watch.”

Kellin was too proud.

“I will be quick,” Danneel promised.  “Remove his plate, squire,” she said to Kellin’s boy.

The squire was beside her quickly with his knees too in the dirt.  His fingers shook as he fumbled with the straps.  Danneel looked away to spare him the shame of having his fear spotted and to hide what little of her face was left exposed by the helmet too.

When the boy had done, Danneel said to him so that Kellin would hear, “You bring your master’s arms to his family.  The horse too if it can be caught.  He returns home with all that he brought with him.”

The squire nodded and backed away, holding the chest plate like a shield before him, as if it could protect him from the death about to come for his master.

Kellin’s chest exposed, Danneel took another deep breath and poised the knife above a weak point between two ribs.  It would still take two hands to drive the dagger down to his heart.

She whispered the ceremonial farewell, “Ride well in the sky, Sir Kellin,” and pushed with both hands.

Kellin had time only for a quick gasp before the loosed blood of his pierced heart drowned his life’s fire and blocked the light from his eyes.

She drew the blade out.  It emerged bloody.

And she dropped it in the dirt to cover her face with her shaking hands.

It wouldn’t be seemly for a man to cry on his knees in the jousting arena.  A woman who had just had to kill a great knight, an idol of her childhood, might be forgiven for it.

Book Review: Wolf Tower: Ahead of the Pack

Standard

Click to visit the Amazon page, for links to order, reviews, and a preview.

Claidi is an unlikely, “plain” girl trapped in a love triangle.  On the one hand, there’s the golden prince, Nemian, with whom she is instantly, on sight in love.  Though he can be short with her, he always comes back and apologizes and assures her that he needs her.  On the other, there’s Argul, the leader of a “family” of bandits, of whom she is at first terrified.  He comes to her rescue, but she then has rather little interaction with him because he is busy looking after everyone in his train till during a celebration in a city of clockwork and colored glass he spends the whole night dancing with her.  She respects him.  He is a true leader, but she has promised to follow Nemian.

Now, that sounds like the plot of Twilight and all its hoard, but Tanith Lee wrote Wolf Tower and The Claidi Journals before Stephanie Meyer published a word and while Claidi may fall quickly and mushily for Nemian and while I think I would prefer the story if Claidi relied less upon her men (she really could have probably executed her escape from the City without Argul, though certainly it was convenient for him to provide the horse and to be about so that they could ride off together into the figurative sunset), there’s still much here to appreciate.

Wolf Tower is a journey book.  It begins with a disruption of Claidi’s life of drudgery and structure, which leads to her escape from that life, and then the majority of the novel is spent in Claidi’s discovery of the various cultures and wonders of the world beyond the House in which she grew up.  Lee paints vivid pictures of some of the places: Peshamba and the Rain Gardens.  Her cultures are varied and fairly well formed for the short amount of time that we get to spend with most of them.  All this too Lee paints while still having Claidi believably in the dark as to the people’s languages, picking up only slowly on the language of the Hulta, Argul’s train with whom she spends the most time.

Color might be the word of the novel, color and vitality.

Here, the epistolary format (journal) is done, I hope, to underscore Claidi’s disregard for rules, as foreshadowing for the rules that she will break.  It also helps to show the passage of time as sometimes Claidi simply puts “NTW” (nothing to write) (6) before her life becomes exciting.  Even in the Waste, some entries simply state “Depressed.  /  Have now been here eight days, also depressed.  /  Depressed” (77).

The epistolary form here is not too jarring or awkward, though Claidi’s frequently describes her current emotional or physical state before saying that she had better leap back and tell it from the beginning because we, her imaginary reader, would probably prefer that.  By referring to the imagined reader, Claidi draws the reader into her story.

My impression Wolf Tower is rather colored by the recommendation that I received from my friend at Building a Door, whose writing has, I think, been pretty heavily influenced by this childhood love of hers.  I enjoyed the game of drawing parallel’s between my friend’s writing and Lee’s.

Wolf Tower left me initially wanting just a little more resolution.

***1/2

Lee, Tanith.  The Claidi Collection, Book One: Wolf Tower.  New York: Dutton-Penguin, 2003.

Wolf Tower first published 1998.  British title, Law of the Wolf Tower.

This review is not endorsed by Tanith Lee, Dutton Children’s Books or Penguin Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Fickle Feelings Towards Mistress of My Fate

Standard

Click to visit the publisher's site, for links to order, summary, about the author, reviews, and an excerpt.

Spoilers ahead!

I was expecting a Regency romance when I began Mistress of My Fate, the first in The Confessions of Henrietta Lightfoot, by Hallie Rubenhold, the intimate first person narrative and beautiful, detailed prose of which caught me one night.  What I got instead was a Regency tragedy: the ruination of a young girl gently raised but always separated by birth from the upper echelons.  The romance died within the first 200 pages and the story only returned to its romantic beginnings in the last four pages of the book.

The heroic gentleman to which Henrietta is exposed is more flawed than the gallant Lord Orville of Evelina’s acquaintance.  Lord Orville is a hero with whom I can fall in love, a veritable knight in tails.  Lord Allenham, who seemed on his way to being Henrietta’s Lord Orville, broke my heart by compromising Henrietta’s virtue, though I understand his reasoning; it is much like Willoughby’s reason for snubbing Marianne.  But Willoughby left Marianne heartbroken but uncompromised, leaving Marianne able to go on to have her happily ever after with the wealthier and more steadfastly in love Colonel Brandon, which makes Lord Allenham a bigger jerk than Willoughby and more like Wickham without a Darcy to force him back onto a more righteous track.

I held with Lord Allenham even through his forbidden feelings for Henrietta and his decision to marry her cousin in order to provide Henrietta with a loving home in which to live out her spinsterhood.  And while he swept me from my feet again during the last four pages, I blame him for her ruination, and so cannot praise his virtue as I can Orville’s or even Darcy’s and know I should not love him as I feel I can safely love and admire the other two.

Allenham’s decision to make Henrietta his lover without ever intending to make her his wife jolted me out of the romance that I expect from this sort of Regency novel, but it was Lord Stavourley’s earlier confession that Henrietta is his bastard that ought to have informed me that I was reading a tragedy not a romance.  From then, the story became, it seemed, almost a soap drama, with Hetty falling prey to every ill that can befall a gently raised young lady of her time.

Until I had recovered my senses from that jolt, I actively disliked the book.  Once I had reconfigured my expectations, I was able to read through the middle of the book but without much joy.  Hetty’s is a hard life, and Rubenhold does not tidy it but instead gives all the gritty details of Hetty’s life as a kept woman.  A reader ought to know that and be prepared for it going in.  Here are affronts, rapes, unwanted pregnancies, and abortions.

The final four pages of the book, where the romance sweeps the grime from the previous pages, tease me to read the sequel.  The mystery of Allenham’s abrupt disappearance remains unsolved, though I have guesses, and what I have are like carrots before my face.  Well done, Miss Rubenhold.  Whether those carrots will remain fresh enough to be tempting when the sequel comes to print is doubtful, but it might be worth a trip to the library.

**1/2

Rubenhold, Hallie.  The Confessions of Henrietta Lightfoot, Book One: Mistress of My Fate.  New York: Grand Central-Hachette, 2011.

This review is not endorsed by Hallie Rubenhold, Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group, or the original UK publisher Transworld Publishers.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.  The review is of an uncorrected proof sent to Barnes & Noble by the publishers.

Book Review: A Feminine Feminist for Dealing with Dragons

Standard

Click to visit the amazon site, to purchase, for first pages, author info, and reviews.

Some spoilers ahead.

Why did I not remember the beautiful subversion of gender stereotypes in Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons when I was seeking a paper topic two summers ago?

Having reread this book after I couldn’t tell you how many years, I’m so glad that our local librarian placed this series into my hands when I was a young girl, and I hope that librarians, booksellers, teachers and parents are still putting it into the hands of young girls today.

Cimorene is easily bored by her proper princess lessons and sets up lessons for herself in fencing, magic, Latin, and cooking, each class ending when her parents find out about the infraction.  Knowing not what else to do with their daughter, the king and queen determine to marry her to a prince who boasts of battlefield prowess but displays little of this or any other admirable quality.

Cimorene takes the advice of a frog and finds herself in a cave full of dragons for whom she volunteers to act as a princess.  While her cherries jubilee and title greatly help her secure the position, the dragon Kazul is also glad of her ability to translate Latin.  Cimorene’s princess duties are mostly cleaning and organizing, stereotypically feminine activities, but with Kazul’s encouragement and knowledge and her own cleverness and initiative, Cimorene ultimately becomes a hero, saving a prince and at least one princess while wielding buckets of soapy water.

Her guides in this new life are also wise women.  There’s not a wise man in sight (yet), and sadly all of the villains are male.

Cimorene doesn’t spurn the entirety of her femininity even as she seeks masculine lessons and freedom, still engaging in such “feminine” work as cleaning, organizing, and cooking, choosing as her ultimate weapon a bucket of soapy water rather than the magic sword she briefly wields.  She never reneges the title of Princess.  She is not marked by her impressive physical prowess.  She does not have to be masculinized to become the hero, and I think it’s important that such role models be presented to our children.

Now, it might be that I am forcing some meaning where Wrede never intended it.  Because Cimorene does remain so feminine in her heroic role, it is possible that Cimorene’s true complaint about being a proper princess is less about the gender role forced upon her and more about the entitlement that others think ought to prevent her partaking in lessons that prepare her for a role as a household servant or advisor.  While cooking, cleaning, and organizing are all stereotyped feminine roles, they are also those assigned to a lower class than Princess.

But the dragons’ traditions makes me think that Wrede meant to comment on gender more than social roles.  The dragons always have a King and Queen (sadly, Kazul complains that the “feminine” role of Queen is dreadfully boring, an unnecessary slight perhaps or meant to align with Cimorene’s court experience), but these roles are not gender specific.  Kazul, a female dragon, wins the title of King for the remainder of the series.

Dragons are also able to choose their gender and this choice alters their physical makeup.  There’s much that could be explored there, but it is mentioned only once briefly in the novel.

*****

Wrede, Patricia C.  The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Book One: Dealing with Dragons.  San Diego: Jane Yolen-Harcourt Brace, 1990.

This review is not endorsed by Patricia C. Wrede, Jane Yolen, Jane Yolen Books, or Harcourt Brace & Company.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

If you’re thinking of purchasing an e-reader copy of this book, why not support me and buy through Bookgrail?

Book Review: A Long, Fatal Love Chase: Enjoyable but Sensational

Standard

My roommate and I stumbled across Louisa May Alcott’s A Long, Fatal Love Chase in our local Tattered Pages Bookshop, squeed, and it inevitably had to come home with us.  Both of us are fans of Little Women, she from her childhood and I having come across it at our all-women’s liberal arts college, which happens to have a renowned children’s literature graduate program.

In our “head canon,” this book is the manuscript that Mr. Bhaer made Jo destroy.  Its history rather fits.  Written before Little Women, it was rejected by Alcott’s publisher for being too sensational, and so, in financial straits, Alcott turned to the more wholesome Little Women instead.  A Long, Fatal Love Chase lay forgotten, dead to the world, in a university library till uncovered by an Alcott enthusiast, who deciphered Alcott’s handwriting, returned to its original form (free of the edits that Alcott made to try and make the story publishable) and got permission to publish it.

Would Alcott approve?  Well, we’ll probably never know.  I hope so; I think so.  I was always angry with Jo for destroying her work.  Louisa obviously didn’t set flames to this manuscript.

A Long, Fatal Love Chase tells the story of Rosamond Vivian, a vivacious, young girl who gets swept away in the romance and excitement of Phillip Tempest’s extravagant life—and by his yacht and his schemes.  [SPOILERS]  Tempest lures her into a false marriage, which she discovers by accident, having lived as his wife for some time.  Believing her continued relationship with Tempest sinful and distrusting and hating him now for deceiving her, she spends the remainder of the novel trying to escape Tempest as he follows her across Europe, finding her everywhere, and accidentally killing her in his jealous machinations against her priestly would-be-lover.  [END SPOILERS]

This book is in some ways supremely predictable and in many ways ridiculous.  My low expectations of the book (I entered it with the mindset, frankly, of a Harlequin romance, and was pleasantly surprised by its use of literary techniques and the quality of its construction) allowed me to just laugh away and roll with the improbability of the unexpected (by Rosamond; I quickly came to expect the unlikely) appearances of Tempest and his right-hand Baptiste.  These appearances required more than the suspension of disbelief that is part and parcel to fiction.  I could not suspend my disbelief to accept them as probable in the course of the fictional world and scenario built by Alcott.  I could only choose to allow them to be and continue on with the novel.

Backstories for many of the characters are well-developed if many seem caricatural for their exaggerated representations.  Rosamond if anything benefits from her inflated qualities.  Many critics paint her a feminist model, extolling her unquenchable desire for independence; her independent, drastic actions to frustrate a man’s desires; her wit and intelligence in her schemes to allude Tempest; and her femininity through all of these independent actions.  Rosamond is difficult to dislike.  I’m not sure that I saw her as the beacon of feminism that some critics do—but as I’ve said before, I was reading for pure pleasure not expecting merit, and that might alter my impression of her.

In sum, this was, as I expected, an enjoyable book but sensationalist.

***

Alcott, Louisa May.  A Long, Fatal Love Chase.  Ed. Kent Bicknell.  New York: Dell-Bantam Doubleday Dell-Random House, 1995.

This review is not endorsed by Louisa May Alcott, her estate, Kent Bicknell, Dell Publishing, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc, or Random House.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.