Fiction: “Otherwise Engaged” by Amanda Quick

otherwise engagedIn January, I went to the Library and left with about six books – three of which were hardcover romance novels by authors I’ve either read before, or seen my mother read, so I figured they were pretty good. Also, since they were hardcover, their covers weren’t as racy as what I usually get from the Wal-Mart Book Aisle, and therefore, appropriate to read at work on my lunch break.

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I mean, look at that cover – it’s so demure, compared to other things I could be reading. I mean, could you imagine Janice From Accounting’s face when she sees me reading, oh, I don’t know – how about Getting Off, a pulp novel by Lawrence Block? Something tells me that that cover will actually make her give a fuuuck.

So this was my first Amanda Quick novel. Amanda Quick is one of the pen names of Jayne Ann Krentz, and so this was also my first Jayne Ann Krentz novel. And I … I was sorely disappointed. And I’m not sure how that’s possible, considering my only expectation for the book was that the plotline and characters would keep me interested in reading towards its conclusion.

Eight-ish months later, and I know that I didn’t really like it. Sadly, I never took down any notes (and I could swear that I had at least taken some pictures of quotes, but apparently not), so I’m gonna crib from GoodReads a lot.

The star of this novel is Miss Amity Doncaster, a single lady who writes about travel for a London newspaper. At the beginning of the novel, she is somewhere in the West Indies, and comes across Benedict Stanbridge in a darkened alley. But don’t worry, he’d just been shot, so he’s not a threat. She manages to get him back on board their cruise ship (I guess they had those in the 1890s?) and nurses him back to health. Except a good portion of that nursing occurs in Benedict’s stateroom, and though no hanky-panky occurs, Amity’s reputation does suffer slightly on her return to London.

Benedict disembarks in New York and then travels to California, where he’s researching … something. I think this MacGuffin may be an automatic rifle of some sort? I remember it’s some form of advanced weaponry. But whatever – he doesn’t write to her, so she starts pouting and then moves on with her life.

… Right into a carriage that is then hijacked by a serial killer known as The Bridegroom! Look, I can’t remember the motivation behind why he attacked Amity – I think it was something about how it looked like she rejected Benedict and he was avenging the rights of Man or whatever – it doesn’t matter. All you need to know is a) she defended herself adequately, because the fan that she always carries around is actually a tessen, which is a Japanese war fan, and b) Benedict ends up hearing about her abduction and races to her aid.

And his aid is: let’s pretend to be engaged! That will save your reputation and I’ll be able to protect you from any other strangers who may want to attack you!

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But her sister, Penny, convinces her that it’s a necessary step, so she goes along with it.

And of course, all the parties involved want to figure out who the Bridegroom is, and also, Benedict is a spy for the War Office or something and he’s trying to figure out who may have stolen a notebook or whatever, and so he and Amity and this police detective whose name escapes me and Amity’s sister Penny all become detectives and it’s all whatever and also boring and repetitive.

Because when someone comes up with a great idea, everyone else has to comment on its brilliance. “Oh, brilliant Penny!” “Yes indeed, Miss Doncaster, very brilliant indeed!” and so you have to listen to each character go in a Round Robin until the compliments are over, and then they begin again with the next brilliant idea another character has.

I’m not sure what else I can say about this book at this point. I mean, the characters were all fairly bland? When an author gives every character the same verbal tic, no character sounds distinct enough to stand out. It’s a romance novel – of course the “fake engaged” trope is going to work out in the hero/heroine’s favor! (And in this instance, you end up with a double happy ending, because Penny and the detective also fall in love and get together before the end of the novel.)

It was very … blah. Nondescript. There was never any urgency to the plot, or any weight given to the characters and their wants. Overall, I am very glad I did not pay for this book, as I would definitely be asking for a refund.

The one star grade is for the use of a Japanese war fan as a weapon – that was a new thing for me.

Grade for Otherwise Engaged: 1 star

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Fiction: “The Heiress Effect” by Courtney Milan

heiress effectSpoiler Alert!: I only read romance novels this past winter. No, I’m not kidding. (And yes, I am including A Murder in Time in that description.) So if romance novels aren’t your jam, tune in sometime near December when I finally get around to reviewing the books I read in March.

Come on. You know I’m right.

So The Heiress Effect is the second book in Courtney Milan’s “Brothers Sinister” series, following The Duchess War. The “brother” in this story is Oliver Marshall, the bastard son of a duke who was raised by his mother and her husband (not his real father) in humble circumstances. He has used his circumstances to be a member of the House of Lords (I think – it may be the House of Commons, but I’m also not going to search through the book to find out which one it is. Not just because I’m incredibly lazy, but mostly because I read this on my Kindle app) and now Oliver wants to pass a voting reform bill (or something – it’s a MacGuffin, y’all, it doesn’t matter) and his mentor, the Marquess of Bradenton, is determined to undermine him at every turn.

Enter Jane Fairfield.

Jane is the titular Heiress, sitting on a fortune of over 100,000 pounds. Her uncle is pushing her to marry because that’s not a thing that has ever changed in over four hundred years of human civilization. Jane doesn’t really want to marry – or, at least, not until her younger sister, Emily, reaches her majority.

See, Emily has epilepsy. Except in the context of the story – and again, I can’t remember what year this is supposed to take place – there hasn’t been a medication program discovered for epilepsy, so Emily and Jane’s uncle keeps bringing all these quack doctors to the house, hoping to cure Emily so she also can be marketable as a future wife.

“So let me understand. You are proposing to deliver as many electric shocks as you like to my sister, for an indeterminate amount of time, on a theory for which you have no evidence other than a wild guess.”

“That hardly seems fair!” he squawked. “I haven’t even had a chance –”

“Oh, no,” Emily said, speaking up at last. “He’s demonstrated that he can cause a convulsion in me with his current. I told him that it wasn’t the same kind of fit that I have. It doesn’t feel the same at all. But it is, after all, only my body. What do I know?”

Jane couldn’t speak for the black rage that filled her. She’d wanted to protect Emily. Why did her uncle have to bring in these fools?

“Exactly,” the charlatan said. “I am the expert on galvanics. What would she know?” [Chapter 6, p. 65]

Ha ha ha nothing has changed when it comes to women’s health care and also women’s autonomy over their own bodies!

If Jane gets married, she’ll go to live with her husband, leaving Emily at the mercy of her uncle and his quacks. But if she can remain single until Emily reaches her majority, then she can accept responsibility for her sister, and they can move into a house together, where Jane can take care of Emily. So how does Jane keep from being proposed to?

She becomes the worst type of person.

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Okay, not quite Mona-Lisa Saperstein, but only because that level of vapidity hadn’t been invented yet.

She purchases the worst dresses – at one point, she’s wearing a dress with bananas garishly printed on it. She insults everyone, but in the nicest way possible with a smile plastered on her face. She’s loud, she laughs annoyingly, and everyone hates her.

It’s just the way she likes it. Because if everyone hates her, then no one will propose, and her plan will work exactly as she hoped.

Here’s an example of how Jane plays dumb in talking to men who hate her, and it’s brilliant:

Young virgins simply did not engage in frank conversations about the government’s policy of locking up prostitutes. The disgruntled mutters about Miss Fairfield would turn into outrage.

“It’s simple,” Jane insisted. “I know just how to do it. Instead of just locking up the women who are suspected of being ill, we should lock up all the women. That way, the ones who are well can never get sick.”

At the foot of the table, Whitting scratched his head. “But … how would men use their services?”

“What do men have to do with it?” Jane asked.

“Um.” Lord James looked down. “I take your point, Bradenton. This is … perhaps not the best conversation to be having at the moment.”

“After all,” Jane continued, “if men were capable of infecting women, our government in its infinite wisdom would never choose to lock up only the women. That would be pointless, since without any constraint on men, the spread of contagion would never stop. It would also be unjust to confine women for the sin of being infected by men.” She smiled triumphantly. “And since our very good Marquess of Bradenton supports the Act, that could never be the case. He would never sign on to such manifest injustice.”

There was a longer pause at that. [Chapter 13, p. 141]

“What do men have to do with prostitution?” she asks. Dear god, I love this person so much.

Jane frequents a lot of the same parties that Oliver and Bradenton attend. And Bradenton haaaaaaaaates Jane. And so, he makes Oliver an offer: if Oliver can remove Jane from their social circle, then Bradenton will vote for Oliver’s voter reform act. Oliver, desperate for votes for his bill, agrees – but he’s not too happy about it.

However, the closer he gets to Jane, the more Oliver realizes that she’s pretending. And the more he sees her pretending, the more he likes her.

MEANWHILE, there’s a whole subplot about Emily! She sneaks out of her uncle’s house for a walk, and one day, she meets a law student named Anjan Bhattacharya. She realized she needed to take a break from her walk because she could feel one of her fits coming on, so she goes into a pub near Cambridge (the whole series takes place in Cambridge/Oxford instead of London) to hide and work through the fit and sits next to the law student from India. Anjan is the only Indian attending in his class, and has become the Token Diverse “Friend” of all the other white boys in his class.

Anjan was Batty because Bhattacharya had too many syllables. He’d told one man his first name; the fellow had blinked, and then had immediately dubbed him John. That’s who they thought he was: John Batty. These well-meaning English boys had taken his name as easily, and with as much jovial friendship, as their fathers had taken his country. [Chapter 16, p. 160]

But Emily wants to know his real name, and about his family, and about him. It’s not just because she’s starved for company – she takes a liking to Anjan. And he does to her as well.

And Emily had called him Bhattacharya. He’d fallen a little bit in love with her the moment she’d said his name as if it had value. [Chapter 16, p. 160]

They keep meeting on her afternoon walks, until her uncle realizes she’s been sneaking out. Then he practically locks her up in his house and forces Jane into a proposal.

There’s ALSO a subplot involving Oliver’s younger sister Free (possibly short for something, but again, not looking it up). Free wants to be the first woman to attend Cambridge (or maybe Oxford), and it’s for her that he’s promoting his voting reform act. There’s also his aunt, Aunt Freddy, an agoraphobic woman who lives by herself and desperately wants to see the world, and let me tell you, the resolution of that subplot and how it tied back to Jane and Emily was NOT something I saw coming and it was BEAUTIFUL AND WONDERFUL AND YES, I CRIED ON THE ELLIPTICAL.

But Free is awesome. She would fit right in on today’s Women’s Marches around the world.

“I worry about you,” he finally said to Free. “I’m afraid that you’re going to break your heart, going up against the world.”

“No.” The wind caught her hair and sent it swirling behind her. “I’m going to break the world.” [Chapter 8, p. 99]

And when Oliver learns that she is attending a women’s rally and he races to her because he fears for her safety:

Free refused to be ruffled. “You appear to believe it’s acceptable to risk that danger to come and, uh … rescue me.” She rolled her eyes. “I believe it’s acceptable to risk that danger to come and say that women deserve the vote. Why is your risk gallant and mine foolish?” [Chapter 17, p. 168]

I mean, she makes an excellent point, dude.

Oliver is, overall, a weak person. He capitulates to Bradenton for a good portion of the book, and in spite of what he wants. Even when he and Jane finally sleep together, he can’t even admit to himself that Jane is exactly what he wants:

He didn’t think she would expect anything of him. And he’d been careful. Yet part of him – some horrible, treacherous part – wished that he had taken less care. That he’d done everything he could to get her with child. That he’d have her forced upon him so that he could take the thing he wanted so badly without having to decide to do it. [Chapter 23, p. 208]

Take the thing(*) he wanted so badly without having to decide to do it. That’s what Oliver wants – to not have to decide, and yet get what he wants. (* I know in my heart of hearts that he/Ms. Milan didn’t mean to refer to Jane, a woman and a real, whole person, as a “thing”.) That’s what trips Oliver up – the deciding of things.

In the end, Oliver does decide – he asks Jane to be with him exactly as she is, to continue to talk too much, and speak her mind, and be her loud, flamboyant, amazing self. And she agrees – not as a prize, or as a gift, but as a woman, with her own agency.

And Anjon asks the uncle for Emily’s hand in marriage! And the uncle’s reaction is just about as horrible as you might expect, despite it not being violent or even that awful:

Mr. Fairfield didn’t say anything for a long while. His lips moved, as if he was arguing with himself … but at least he appeared to be arguing back. Finally, he straightened. “You’re Indian,” he finally said. “Doesn’t that mean that you have … special healing abilities? I think I remember hearing about them. Special …” He made a gesture. “Things. With stuff.”

[…] “Yes,” [Anjon] finally said. “I do things with stuff. How ever did you know?” [Chapter 27, p. 239]

Casual Racism! A Thing Then; A Thing Now!

But I’m going to leave you with the sentence that made me stop my elliptical because I was too busy crying to continue:

“The name,” [Emily] said primly, “is Bhattacharya. And since it’s going to be mine, you had best learn to pronounce it properly.” [Chapter 25, p. 230]

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Grade for The Heiress Effect: 5 stars

Fiction: “A Murder In Time” by Julie McElwain

murder in timeHello – and welcome to 2018! Or, at least, Alaina’s Reviews of Books She’s Read in 2018.

A Murder In Time was the other book I had requested from the library at the same time as The Ring and the Crown. The Yarmouth Library had the second book in the series (A Twist In Time) but not this title, the first; so an inter-library loan was requested. The plot, when I read the blurb on Goodreads, sounded like a cross between Outlander and an FBI procedural, and I was intrigued.

Reader, I was mightily disappointed.

Now, before I get into this, for all y’all who may be new to That’s What She Read, let me tell you a bit about my process. I have been reading a ton of library books in the past couple of years, which is great – it gets me out of my house, and for all my kvetching about the lack of first titles in series that Yarmouth suffers from, I have been able to find books I wouldn’t normally want to read, and in some cases, enjoy them.

However, as you’re probably aware by this point, I’m rather terrible at posting “reviews” “timely” – and yes, there are finger-quotes around both of those terms. I’ve also found that it gets harder to remember what the book was about the longer I wait to review it – and that includes any books that I’ve read that I own. So what do I do about library books, where I’m returning the book eight months prior to writing about it?

I found late last year that it’s helpful to me to take an evening – preferably at least one night before the book is due back at the library, though I’ve never been one to balk at overdue fees -, open a Word document, and type out at least the characters and some quotes I may have dogeared for later usage. If I have time or I’m on a roll, I may type up a brief synopsis of the plot as well.

“But Alaina,” you ask (and in this case the “you” is my friend Thomas, who has indeed asked me this question) – “Why don’t you just write the review before the book is due back at the library? Why do you take notes and then come back to it and rewrite it from scratch later?”

“Well,” says I, “first of all, that feels like cheating. Like I’m skipping ahead. Secondly, one of the things that sets my “reviews” apart from everyone else’s – besides the fact that my reviews tend to be of the finger-quote variety – is that I tend to take what’s going on around me and interject it into the review. In some cases, that provides context. In other cases, I let a weird event completely distract me from actually reviewing the book I’d read, but let’s be real, I’m not really “reviewing” anything anyway, so let me be me.”

So that’s where I’m at. A Murder in Time was a library book, and I can barely remember anything of the plot, save that it involved murder and time travel (I’ll get into that later). When I started to write this review, I went into my documents folder and sure enough, there was a Word doc waiting for me.

And this, dear Reader, is the entirety of that Word document’s contents:

Murder in Time

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Okay.

So – on the one hand, January!Alaina had a lot more faith in Future!Alaina than she ultimately deserved. On the other hand … for fuck’s fuckin’ sake, Alaina, get your shit together.

ANYWAY. I went to the review of the book over on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books to get familiar with the plot and the characters again, and I had taken numerous pictures of quotes from the book (because I was clearly so super-lazy back in January that I didn’t even want to take the time to type anything up), so in January!Alaina’s defense, she may have left enough bread crumbs to allow Current!Alaina to “review” A Murder in Time.

Here we go.

Kendra Donovan is an FBI agent. But not just an FBI agent – a super-young FBI agent, who was a child prodigy because she was – I KID YOU NOT – a eugenics test tube baby.

If he [Kendra’s boss, and no, I can’t remember his name] felt a little squeamish about dealing with her, he was careful to keep that hidden. It had been his decision eight months ago to pull her out of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, where she’d been using her profiling and computer skills to work on the country’s most vicious serial killer cases. It had given him a jolt to meet her in person, though. He put his reaction down to her age – only twenty-six, for Christ’s sake. But he’d read her file; he knew who she was. Hell, he knew what she was. The offspring of two scientists who advocated eugenics, she’d been a child prodigy, landing at Princeton when she was only fourteen. By the time she was eighteen, she’d gotten degrees in advanced computer science, psychology, and criminology. No wonder the Bureau had wanted her badly enough to circumvent their age requirement of twenty-three to get her in. Kendra Donovan was a capable agent, Carson knew. [Oh, his name was Carson. Whatever.] [p. 3]

What is it with me and books involving surprise!eugenics?

So Kendra’s super-smart, super-determined, and has major parent issues. As we see after her mission goes tits-up and her father has to visit her in the hospital:

“What’re you doing here?” She sounded a little breathless, but otherwise steady. “I’m the one with the head injury, but apparently you forgot that you disowned me.”

“Don’t be impertinent, Kendra.” Her father’s mouth compressed into a thin line. “I received a phone call from Associate Director Leeds, who suggested that if I wanted to keep doing my research, I should visit you.”

Kendra frowned. “I’m not following. What does your research have to do with me?”

“I’m working at the Fellowship Institute in Arizona—”

“On human genome research. I know.”

“Then you should know that the government is our largest donor.”

Kendra remembered the look of pity in the associate director’s eyes. “Ah. I see. Leeds blackmailed you. That’s why you’re here.” Not because her father wanted to see her. Heaven forbid that he actually cared. And odd how that hurt. She hadn’t seen her father in a dozen years, but he still had that power. [p. 34]

He’s a Bad Dad, yo.

After a few months of recuperation, Kendra is released from the hospital and physical therapy and now she’s ready for her next mission: revenge. (The last mission she was on didn’t just send her to the hospital – it also sent quite a few of her colleagues to the morgue.) She gets a lead on the culprit and follows him to Scotland, where the culprit (no, I didn’t write his name down, because he means absolutely nothing to the plot. I’mma call him MacGuffin) is attending a fancy period dress party for no other reason than to get Kendra into period clothing.

Kendra dresses up as a maid to blend in with the crowd and follows MacGuffin into a secret staircase. There’s a weird event – like she’s falling through a vortex, or maybe she feels like she gets shot; I can’t remember if she loses consciousness at all, but something weird happens in the stairway.

When she’s able to get to the top of the stairs she comes in contact with a scientist of some sort who’s very surprised to see her. He speaks very strangely and old-timey, and wants to know why Kendra is in the room, and what happened to her hair (it’s cut in a short bob). She manages to come up with a lie that she’s a lady’s maid and he buys it, so she is sent downstairs to get her tasks.

PLEASE NOTE: At this point, I, the Reader of this book, knew that Kendra had traveled back in time. (And not just because it was on the dust jacket.) Kendra is still figuring out what happened, though, so we’ve got a few pages of dramatic irony to get through.

She meets Rose, a tweeny maid (meaning she’s between downstairs and a lady’s maid, not that she’s a tween – although she is young) and Rose takes Kendra to meet Mrs. Beeton, who I’m assuming is the Mrs. Beeton.

The older woman flashed them a hard look.  “We’re a mite busy today, Rose,” she said, and handed the iron to her assistant, who immediately transferred it to the hearth to heat up again.

“Aye, Mrs. Beeton.” Rose nodded. “But miss ‘ere needs a dress.”

Mrs. Beeton wiped the sweat from her brow. “What kinda dress?”

“Maid’s dress.”

“We don’t have time to sew a new dress.”

“She can ‘ave Jenny’s old dress. Since she ran off to Bath with Mr. Kipper and all.”

“Ooh. And a right scandal that was. Not even a by-your-leave!” Mrs. Beeton sniffed, and gave Kendra a measuring look. “You part of the temporary help?”

“Well –”

“She’s been ‘ired on,” Rose put in.

“What happened to your hair? You been ill?”

“I—”

“She’s better now,” said Rose. [p. 124]

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Here’s the thing – maybe it’s because Outlander did it better; maybe it’s because Back to the Future is a real formative influence on me. But it felt like it took forever for Kendra to catch on that she had been sent back in time somehow. And unlike Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser, Kendra Donovan is not great at blending in. Between the bob haircut and her need to get involved in a murder investigation that’s going on, she stands out like an extremely sore thumb.

So yeah – in addition to strange women getting thrown into time vortexes, there’s also someone going around slitting the throats of prostitutes from London. The Duke and his nephew, Alec Sutcliffe, are trying to figure out who the killer may be, and they are very reluctant to listen to a headstrong young maid who is talking about forensics and other un-ladylike things.

As I kept reading, the investigative plot started to feel more and more like a Catherine Coulter FBI thriller, and I wasn’t exactly pleased. I mean, y’all should know how I feel about Catherine Coulter FBI novels by now. (Is it time for me to read The Target? Should I write another verse of The Rant Song?) With A Murder In Time, I felt like Ms. McElwain relied on Kendra’s internal monologue to sort out Kendra’s character, and it wasn’t smooth.

First, there’s this, where Kendra is trying to tell her new 19th century friends about profiling:

“I’d need more victims, though, before I can identify it as a signature.”

“Signature?”

Kendra hesitated. She was giving them more information than maybe she should. Though in the latter half of this century Dr. Thomas Bond would offer up a profile on Jack the Ripper, she was introducing a lexicon that wouldn’t be part of criminal investigative analysis for another century, at least. Was she changing the future?

Dammit. She didn’t know. And she couldn’t worry about it. If she was going to do any good here, she needed to think and act like an FBI profiler. [p. 186]

Towards the end of the novel, the author makes Kendra realize she’d been kind of judgy:

The doctor, Kendra realized suddenly, wasn’t the only one who’d been hampered by prejudices. If she were honest, she’d thought little of her nineteenth-century counterparts. She’d judged them and, because they were different, had found them wanting. It shamed her. These people might not have the sophisticated tools of her era, but they were all intelligent. She might not be able to trust them with her time-traveling secret, but she could trust them in this quest for truth and justice. [p. 369]

But that type of characterization doesn’t feel earned to me – it’s like the author realized, “oh, wow, Kendra should have a realization about herself just before she gets kidnapped by the killer.”

I think the most egregious characterization of Kendra’s is the really out-there references thrown in around her. For instance – and please, remember as you read this, that Kendra is in her mid-twenties, in the second decade of the 21st century:

Kendra hadn’t known what to expect from a nineteenth-century detective, but Magnum, P.I. he was not. [p. 197]

Would Magnum, P.I. be your first choice for a detective from the modern era? I guess she felt weird comparing him to Sherlock Holmes, who admittedly was a nineteenth-century detective, but … I dunno, I guess Kendra never watched Veronica Mars, which is a damned shame.

Kendra has also apparently never dated anyone, ever:

[Kendra] shook off her sense of amazement, and tried to pretend she was watching a period play. There was a lot of flirting going on, plenty of fluttering of ivory fans and eyelashes. It was weird to to think that in another two hundred years people would flirt by pole dancing, twerking, and sexting. [p. 130]

Okay, so admittedly, I have been very open about the fact that I don’t have any idea when people are flirting with me. One of my friends asked me a while ago, if one of my other friends ever tried to hit on me, how would I react, and my actual response was “he’d have to be extremely blatant for me to get that he was actively hitting on me.” Friend: “But what if he was and you got it?” Me: “I guess my first reaction would be to ask him if he’d fallen down and hit his head on something hard.” Because my instinct tells me that someone’s more likely to be suffering from a concussion than possibly be attracted to me? That’s messed up.

Having said that – I do know that people do not flirt by pole dancing, or by going up to people in bars and twerking at them without at least saying “hi” first.

(I guess some people could say that strippers flirt by pole dancing, but MY DUDE, that is a paying job that a woman has sought out and her job is to make you think she’s into you, but SHE IS NOT. Tip her, but she is NOT YOURS. Also, remember: there is no sex in the champagne room, or in the lighting booth.)

Now, compare Kendra to Rebecca, Alec Sutcliffe’s younger sister. She is ready and rarin’ to go when it comes to investigating these crimes:

“This is about the girl who was killed, is it not?”

“Becca – “

“Oh, don’t look so Friday-faced, Alec! If Miss Donovan is allowed to stay, I don’t know why I should be sent from the room. I am not a child – I’m three and twenty.” She gave both men an arch look. “And I seem to recall you applauding my study of Miss Wollstonecraft’s work. You have always encouraged my artistic and intellectual pursuits.”

“For God’s sakes, Becca, we are not having a theoretical discussion in Duke’s study or the drawing room,” Alec argued impatiently. “This is not an exercise in women’s rights.”

“Oh, but that is exactly what it is, Sutcliffe!” She was no longer smiling, and her blue eyes narrowed. “For the first time, we can take the discussion out of the theoretical and apply it to the real world. Unless you were gammoning me.”

Kendra had to admire the woman. She’d neatly turned the tables on the men. If this were the twenty-first century, Lady Rebecca would’ve made a good lawyer. [p. 184]

Within a couple of lines of dialogue, I feel like I immediately know Rebecca’s character and how she and her brother get along. Maybe Ms. McElwain could write a book about her next?

One piece of dialogue that never fails to make me think of something else (similar to whenever anyone mentions something about catching someone red-handed):

“Of course, there’s another possibility.”

The Harry Potter glasses glinted in the sunshine as he looked at her. “What, pray tell, would that be, Miss Donovan?”

“She could’ve had the stain on her coat before she met the killer,” she pointed out. “We’re assuming it happened here.”

Aldridge beamed at her. “Excellent point, my dear! Post hoc ergo propter hoc.” [p. 373]

And we all know that post hoc ergo propter hoc means “after hoc therefore, something else hoc.”

Okay, two more things and then I’ll shut up about this book. First, Ms. McElwain plays to her strengths in at least one area. In her real life, Ms. McElwain is an editor for CBS Soaps in Depth, where she focuses on The Young and the Restless. In A Murder in Time, many chapters end on cliffhangers where characters have an exclamation of something, like this:

If possible, Gabriel seemed to pale even more. “No, Thomas is his manservant …”

Rebecca lowered her handkerchief and stared at Gabriel. “I beg your pardon?”

He raked a shaking hand over his hair, disheveling it even more. “God. I’ve been a fool. A bloody fool.”

Rebecca was taken aback by the look in Gabriel’s eyes: utter despair.

“If I had my wits about me, I might’ve saved the maid.”

“What are you saying, Gabriel?”

His mouth twisted. “Thomas isn’t the monster. But I know who the monster is.”

Rebecca put a hand to her throat, felt her pulse leap beneath her fingertips. “Who?” [p. 453]

That’s it; that’s the end of the chapter. Can’t you hear dramatic organ music whipping underneath that dialogue?

And please, let me reassure you: I have nothing against soap operas! I am extremely proud of my heritage of watching All My Children for years – for years!! I refused to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer at first because I knew Sarah Michelle Gellar as Kendall Hart, illegitimate daughter of Erica Kane! Erica had Kendall at 14, following a rape; she put the baby up for adoption and completely forgot about it, only to have Kendall come roaring into Pine Valley looking for the silver spoon she felt she deserved! Kendall tried to seduce her stepfather, Dmitri, and when he rejected her she accused him of raping her, which made Erica have a flashback to her own rape, and in an attempt to defend herself and Kendall, she STABBED DMITRI WITH A LETTER OPENER!

Vintage All My Children was THE BEST, you guys.

The last thing that Ms. McElwain did that I have to mention is: she could not resist this line:

Kendra’s lips curved with an irony her audience would never understand. “I always say there’s no time like the present.” [p. 189]

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Great Scott – she had to make a time joke.

Look, overall, the book didn’t suck – there were just some parts that … could have been better. There’s a good chance that I’m probably going to read the next book in the series; but at least now I know what to expect.

Grade for A Murder in Time: 1.5 stars

2017 Recap

[Note From the Future: The following sentence was written in July, before A WHOLE LOT OF ~THINGS~ HAPPENED:]

Hey look you guys, I’m not posting this in September! I got better at something!

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[Reaction .GIF From the Future:]

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[Additional Note From The Future: I probably could have posted this in September but … you guys, I bought a house. And then I had to move my stuff from where I was living to the new house. And guys — I have a lot of stuff. As I move into my late 30s [[oh god did I just type that out loud holy shit which box has the tequila in it]], I am going to try to be better at — oh, I don’t know. Everything? Does “everything” sound good? Like, getting rid of clothes that I don’t wear, and not buying clothes every three months, and maybe I don’t have to have the entire collection of Laurell K. Hamilton novels if I hate most of them so much, and — and also, once the material things are taken care of, actually posting to this blog on a somewhat regular basis! Maybe I can schedule them, in-between lawn-mowings or boiler maintenance or something.

Anyway. That’s why this is being posted in October.]

So. In 2017, I read 27 books – 5 fewer books than in 2016, and tied for my worst year on record. In my defense, the world has sucked for a good while now, and I did a lot to try and self-care my way through our current decline into fascism. I turned away from prestige TV (No, I haven’t watched Stranger Things yet. Or This is Us. Or anything else any of y’all have told me I *need* to watch). I did, however, get addicted to the CW reboot of Dynasty, and NO, I HAVE NO REGRETS.

The CW reboot of Dynasty is like cocaine puddin’, and this is how I react every time a new episode graces my TV:

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[[oh shit the cable guy had better get the cable box squared away for me on Thursday because my cocaine puddin’ comes back for season 2 on Friday and I NEED EVERYONE TO WATCH IT WITH ME AND SAVE ITS RATINGS, OKAY?????]]

Of the 27 books I read last year, 26 were books I’d never read before. Take *that* Dad, who told me years ago to broaden my horizons and read new stuff! LOOK AT ME NOW

So. Here’s the list. The only book I re-read last year was Moonraker, so everything else is new. If you’re on a laptop or other form of computer, hover over the links to the previous reviews; otherwise, please enjoy.

January
1. Trouble in High Heels by Christina Dodd
2. Moonraker by Ian Fleming

February
3. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

March
4. A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson
5. All The President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
6. Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

April
7. Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III
8. The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam by Chris Ewan

May
9. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
10. An Untimely Frost by Penny Richards
11. Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

June
12. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier

July
13. Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
14. The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler

August
15. The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
16. A Test of Wills by Charles Todd
17. A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean

September
18. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

October
19. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
20. A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes
21. A Dangerous Love by Sabrina Jeffries

November
22. Incendiary by Michael Cannell
23. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
24. The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini
25. The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

December
26. The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
27. The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la Cruz

Fiction: “The Ring and the Crown” by Melissa de la Cruz

ring and the crownJust before Christmas, I requested two books from the library – this one, and one I’d end up finishing in January 2018. Here’s the problem – I honest to god thought this was a different book when I requested it.

I had put this on my “Want to Read” list on GoodReads back in June, and I must have gotten it confused with A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, which is also on my “Want to Read” list. In the end, I’m kind of glad I read it, but I was expecting something a bit darker, and not … royal Gossip Girl on steroids and also ~magic~.

No. I’m serious. This book is like if Gossip Girl involved royalty (not counting that one prince Blair ended up marrying for like, half a season) and also ~magic~, and then the whole thing got turned up to 11.

This book is crazy.

It takes place in a weird alternative history – it’s pre-WWI, Britain and France are one united empire, Prussia is still a thing, and also, Merlins are real but a title and not a single person. And the entire place is overrun by horny 17-year-olds.

Let’s start off with Princess Marie-Victoria of England. She’s the only daughter of Queen Eleanor, who happens to be a sprightly 150 years old. That is not a typo. I can’t remember who Marie’s father is supposed to be, but it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that a) Marie is suffering from the “wasting plague” (my notes describe that as “pretty consumption, like what Nicole Kidman had in Moulin Rouge“), and b) Eleanor wants to throw a ball to announce Marie’s engagement to Prince Leopold of Prussia.

Except Marie is in love with Gill, a commoner in the Queen’s Guard! (I had to double-check Gill’s spelling – I had taken notes longhand and looking back on them, I wasn’t sure if I had misspelled his name. But no, according to this amazing review by Goodreads user Khanh, his name really is spelled Gill.)

[Oh my god it’s so hot I’m typing this part on July 5 and I have not been able to get my apartment below 91° in more than 24 hours FUCK YOU SCOTT PRUITT I hope you live with rancid swamp ass for the rest of your miserable fucking little life]

[Note From the Future: Oh, July 5th!Alaina: honey, you have not lived the absolute hell that was the first weekend in August. Or last week. Or ANY OF THE NIGHTS BETWEEN JULY 5 AND AUGUST 31, because I don’t think my apartment dropped below 80° AT ANY TIME THIS SUMMER]

[Also, that punishment is entirely too light for Scott Pruitt. You can do better than that.]

ANYWAY. Prince Leopold has been having an affair with Isabelle of Orleans for a while. Isabelle thought he was going to propose to her, but instead, he breaks up with her so he can go marry Marie.

My notes remind me that, while reading the book, I had high hopes that Leopold was actually a Manchurian candidate-type character; no such luck. Leopold’s just a horrible person. An asshole, if you will.

Around the same time that Leopold’s breaking up with Isabelle, Marie’s childhood friend Aelwyn Myrddyn returns to the palace. Aelwyn, the daughter of Queen Eleanor’s Merlin, Emrys Myrddyn, was one of Viviane’s apprentices on Avalon. Aelwyn was sent to Avalon after she accidentally set Marie’s bedroom on fire, but she’s back now. Mainly because Emrys called her back, but also because she was in love with Lanselin (this book’s version of Lancelot) and needed to get out of that situation. It’s understood that Aelwyn will take over as Marie’s Merlin when Marie ascends to the throne.

However, Aelwyn doesn’t really contribute anything to the plot. She makes Marie prettier than she already is — seriously, the ~*magic*~ in this book is basically all the glamours and Sleekeazy potions from Harry Potter and none of the other spells. She does end up with a crush on Leopold, but it doesn’t really add anything to the love triangle between —

Well wait, it’s not a triangle. Because Marie loves Gill, Gill loves Marie, but Marie has to marry Leopold, who doesn’t give a shit, and Isabelle loves Leopold, until she realizes he’s a complete and utter asshole, and we haven’t even talked about three other people.

(Also – Jesus, poor Isabelle. Her parents are dead; she’s the ward of her horrible, molesty guardian, Lord Hugo; her best friend seems like he might have a crush on her, but once she gets over Leopold and decides to go after her friend, he’s dating some other chick. She may have also ended up pregnant by Leopold, but I cannot remember.)

Then there’s Ronan Astor, the best character. FIGHT ME. In this version of events, America is still a colony, and the Astors are destitute. Apparently, Daddy Astor invested in Science and Innovation, but ~*magic*~ didn’t go away like he thought it would and now Science is stupid, and now the Astors are broke. But they’re still rich enough to send Ronan off to England, where hopefully she can wrangle a rich, landed dude into marrying her.

When she reaches the boat, she’s embarrassed that she’s basically in steerage. But she meets this dude who’s name is Heath, and he trades her his luxury suite for her steerage tickets, and then hangs out with her the entire time. And they really, genuinely like each other!

But Heath is actually Wolf – and he happens to be Leopold’s brother! Wolf (short for Wolfgang, naturally) had been traveling across America because he doesn’t like being a member of royalty, but now he’s required to go back home for Leopold’s engagement. I think he proposes to Ronan but she turns him town, because she maybe didn’t know it was his luxury suite she ended up with? She needs to marry someone rich and she thought he wasn’t? It was a stupid reason, that much I know.

So all of these people converge on London for the ball for Marie and Leopold! Leo flirts with Aelwyn, who has agreed to pretend to be Marie via glamour so Marie and Gill can escape and be normal people! Ronan is surprised to see Heath, but really interested when she learns that he’s a prince!

You think that everything’s coming up Milhouse, and then —

[SPOILER ALERT]

Emrys Myrddyn manages to SHOOT LEOPOLD, who DIES.

AND IT WAS ALL PLANNED BY ELEANOR AND EMRYS FROM THE BEGINNING

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Yeah. I AM disappointed. Because not only is Leopold dead (which actually is totes okay), but now, WOLF has to marry Marie. And because Marie can actually stand Wolf a bit, she AGREES, leaving Gill. AND THAT MEANS RONAN IS ALONE AGAIN.

Like, what the shit is that?!

This was supposed to be the start of a series, but apparently the publisher dropped it? So the second book, The Lily and the Cross, was self-published for Amazon. I do not think I’m going to read it, unless Wolf decides to leave Marie and be with Ronan. (Which I’m pretty sure won’t happen.)

Grade for The Ring and the Crown: 1.5 stars

Fiction: “The Invasion of the Tearling” by Erika Johansen

invasion of the tearlingY’all know how rare it is for me to read the next book in a series within the same year as the last one. I mean, at one point, I was reading a lot of series – Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, J.D. Robb’s In Death; hell, even Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, to name a few. To put in perspective how great-and-by-“great”-I-mean-“awful” at reading series I am, the last time I read any of the above series was 2015, 2016, and 2016 respectively. So the fact that I read the second book in the Tearling Trilogy only eight months after I read the first book – it’s kind of a big deal.

This book picks up relatively soon after The Queen of the Tearling left off.  (You might want to click that link and read what happened in the first book before going on with this review; Lord knows I had to, notes be-damned.)

[Also: I’m putting a warning out for this book. The book has detailed passages describing domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, and other nasty, awful things steeped in patriarchy and the removal of women’s rights. Some of the scenes are horrifying. Please be warned.]

Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, the Queen of the Tearling, is readying herself and her country to deal with the repercussions of her actions at the end of the last book: she stopped the Shipment of Tear citizens to the Mort, and now the Mort Queen wants revenge – or at least, for the Shipment to start up again. Kelsea is determined to be a better queen to her subjects than her mother, Elyssa. She has sent her scant armies to the borderlands, waiting for the Mort Queen to invade. Meanwhile, after discussing with her council (led by the Mace), she has ordered all her subjects to evacuate to New London, where she can attempt to keep them safe from the Mort Queen. She’s also nervous, because the sapphires she has have been dormant for a while – in the last book, she relied on the energy coming from her jewels as a reassurance that she was doing the right thing. With the stones quiet, her doubt increases.

During all of this planning, Kelsea is also learning about the past leaders of the Tear. Mace (or another guard, I can’t remember and didn’t write it down) take her downstairs to the royal gallery, where there are portraits of all of the royalty dating back to when William Tear was the first leader of his utopian Tear. She notices a couple of things: 1) Row Finn, a former prince of the Tearling, has been visiting her at night in the fire (yeah, it’s kind of weird and mystical – it’s revealed he’s also been the Evil Thing that was spurring the Mort Queen on in the previous book), and 2) there is a small child painted at the feet of the Beautiful Queen who goes missing from the rest of the paintings.

In addition to the incorporeal visits of Row Finn, Kelsea has also been experiencing fugue states, where she drifts off from the Tear and visits pre-Crossing America.

And hoo boy – if y’all thought Gilead was bad … I mean, pre-Crossing America is still very very bad, but it’s not quite as bad as Gilead, but GODDAMMIT NEITHER OF THESE DYSTOPIAS SHOULD BE SEEN AS OPTIONS FOR SURVIVAL

(And no, I haven’t even dared to begin to watch The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. Just the thought of it sends me into anxiety. No thanks. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. )

Oh, what’s Pre-Crossing America turned into?

Rich (deemed “private”) citizens are physically segregated from the public (read: “poor”) citizens. There are private roads, for the rich and powerful people, and there are public highways, for the poor and indigent.  America has been ravaged, no thanks to their President Freeman (excellent anvil, there, Ms. Johansen): women don’t have to work, because their property belongs to their husbands. People have identity chips implanted into their shoulders, and an elaborate Security system is able to track everyone’s movements.

Also, not surprisingly, fertility and the ability to have children is prized. Fathers get promotions, so husbands need to have babies in order to hold onto their power.

Lily Herman is married to Greg, who works for the Department of Defense (or the new version of it, whatever). They live in a fabulous, private house in the suburbs of New York City, and every month, Lily is driven to her doctor for fertility treatments. Except Lily has actually been taking black market birth control for years, and is hoping that she can keep up the ruse. She tends to hide all day in the room tricked out as the nursery, because it’s the only room Greg won’t venture into. It’s also the room where she’s been able to loop the video surveillance so it looks like it’s empty.

That is very convenient when Dorian, a young woman from the “Blue Horizon” group, crashes over Lily’s backyard fence with a gunshot wound.

Lily knows she should report Dorian to the authorities, but she can’t bring herself to do it. She remembers her rebellious younger sister who was taken by Security and never seen again. Lily enlists the assistance of her personal bodyguard, Jonathan, and they help bring Dorian back to health.

Greg’s childlessness is affecting his work performance and his ability to gain a promotion, and of course he takes it out on Lily when he gets home. Greg is abusive up to and including rape. Spoiler alert!: he ends up dead. Hooray!

At a dinner party, Lily learns that the Blue Horizon group is going to be targeted and potentially eradicated by Security forces the next morning. She manages to kill Greg and steal the car to meet up with Blue Horizon in Boston, where she officially meets William Tear, and they venture to the New World, via the Crossing.

Kelsea sees that entire plotline through her multiple fugue states throughout the novel. It’s harrowing, but also feels kind of disjointed at times.

There’s also a subplot involving Father Tyler of the Arvath and the new Pope-dude (look, I can’t remember what the High Priest is called and I’m not looking it up; “Pope-dude” is good enough). The Pope-dude is terrible, and basically threatens to burn all of Father Tyler’s books if he doesn’t manage to poison Kelsea.

But Tyler is able to escape from the Arvath – and he’s able to steal the true crown of the Tear, but he isn’t able to send it to Kelsea.

There’s a lot going on in this book. Kelsea also sentences Arlen Thorne, the previous head of the Shipment to death, and executes him in a violent rage in the town square. The Mace has taken a shine to Andalie’s oldest daughter, Aisa, and teaches her how to defend herself. Aisa dreams about joining the Queen’s Guard, and she’s only like, twelve.

At the climax of the book, the Mort Queen herself has journeyed with her army to the outskirts of New London. Kelsea names the Mace Regent and ventures out on her own to negotiate with the Mort Queen. She even allows the Mort Queen to take her sapphires, but in exchange, the Mort Queen will leave the Tear and its people alone for three years. The Mort Queen agrees; but then when she takes the sapphires, they do nothing – even though the Mort Queen is that missing child from the Beautiful Queen’s portrait, Evelyn Raleigh, and she believes that she is the right true heir of the Tear.

Lily’s plot ends at The Crossing, with William Tear and Blue Horizon.

So … there’s a lot of plot to this book. A lot. And while I was intrigued by the plot of Pre-Crossing, and I felt it gave a good origin to the Tear and to show how far it has come since its inception, I felt that at times, it detracted from Kelsea’s own story. I know that she needs to see Lily’s story to influence her own, but still – it felt like two different books in one.

It also seems like Kelsea all-of-a-sudden learns she has super rage powers, as evidenced by her brutal execution of Arlen Thorne. I can’t remember if she experiences remorse for her actions – or at least, the level of brutality she evinced. I’m not sure how I feel about her at the end of the book. I admire her for putting herself at risk over her subjects, but her slip into the dark side may not have been so … slippery.

Anyway. I’ll probably read the last book of the trilogy. Not sure when that’ll be, but I’ve made such good progress on this series that I’d hate myself if I stopped now.

Grade for The Invasion of the Tearling: 3 stars

Fiction: “The Sealed Letter” by Emma Donoghue

sealed letterSO CLOSE to the end of 2017, you guys!

Emma Donoghue also wrote Room, one of the best books I’ve read in the past couple of years, and aside from the time I forced myself to read a book in a single day, the quickest-read book in many years. At my last visit to the library in 2017, I saw this book on the shelf and the synopsis intrigued me enough to give it a chance.

Miss Emily “Fido” Faithfull is a “woman of business” and a spinster pioneer in the British women’s movement, independent of mind but naively trusting of heart. Distracted from her cause by the sudden return of her once-dear friend, the unhappily wed Helen Codrington, Fido is swept up in the intimate details of Helen’s failing marriage and obsessive affair with a young army officer. What begins as a loyal effort to help a friend explodes into a courtroom drama that rivals the Clinton affair —complete with stained clothing, accusations of adultery, counterclaims of rape, and a mysterious letter that could destroy more than one life. Based on a scandalous divorce case that gripped England in 1864, The Sealed Letter is a riveting, provocative drama of friends, lovers, and divorce, Victorian style. [inside jacket]

In other words, DRAMA

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(I swear to god, one of these days I’m going to binge the crap out of Riverdale. I started watching it about a month ago and then hit the pause button, and that was a MISTAKE. Rewatching Parks & Recreation for the fourth time, as soul-soothing as it is, isn’t putting me any farther ahead on my To Watch list.)

ANYWAY. The drama wasn’t as crazypants as I’d hoped, but good enough for me to keep my interest. I did not read it as quickly as I did Room, but that’s not marks against it. Let me recount some of the plot (or most of it – I took pretty good notes on this one) and see where this review takes us.

Emily “Fido” Faithfull is a woman in her late twenties, early thirties, who has made somewhat of a name for herself as the publisher of the Victoria Press, a weekly newspaper produced by women. She has made herself into a very progressive woman, after growing up in a very religious household. However, she can be extremely naïve and gullible, as we shall come to see.

One day, Fido is leaving the Press when she happens to run into her old bosom friend, Helen Codrington. When Helen was first married, Fido lived with Helen and Helen’s husband, Harry. Helen is accompanied by Col. David Anderson, a member of Harry’s company. Harry and Helen have just returned from a long period in Malta, and Helen is excited to be back in London. They walk together a ways, and then Helen spontaneously decides to ride the new Tube for a couple of stops. Unfortunately, Fido suffers a severe asthma attack on the Tube and has to leave the party early.

A couple of days after, Fido visits Helen at her house, where Helen confides that her marriage hasn’t been happy for a while. Even then, it takes a bit for Fido to realize that Helen has been having an affair with Col. Anderson on the regular. Knowing how faithful Fido is to her, Helen spins a yarn about needing to break the affair off with Col. Anderson, and could they meet in Fido’s apartment so she can break the news in private? Fido says sure! and leaves them alone in the living room. When thirty minutes goes by and Col. Anderson doesn’t run out of the rooms crying over losing Helen, Fido creeps back to the living room door and sure enough – Helen and the Colonel are screwing on Fido’s couch.

Nice. And the fact that Fido didn’t interrupt them and call them out on their clear jackassery shows how much Fido is faithful to Helen.

After another tryst at Fido’s apartment (because yeah, she lets it go on for a while, and yeah, I definitely got to a couple of points in the book where I’m yelling “Come on, Fido!” – it is hard to root for her), Helen and Anderson visit the Cremorne Pleasure Gardens. On the way, Helen sends a telegram to her husband, saying that Fido invited her for dinner and dessert with Fido’s parents so she’ll be late coming home. Anderson drops her off much later after their assignation, where Helen learns that 1) one of her daughters has fallen very ill in her absence, and 2) Harry sent a response telegram back to Fido’s apartment instructing Helen to return immediately to take care of her daughter. So now, Helen has to come up with a lie about her late return.

(Luckily I can’t spoil you for that – I did not write that down in my notes.)

Harry talks to his friends the Watsons about his situation. Mr. Watson is a priest or some form of religious figure, and Mrs. Watson is a … *looks at notes* “a know-it-all Judgy McJudgerson.” Yeeeaaaah. She’s a bitch. She’d DEFINITELY call the cops on an 8-year-old girl selling water without a proper permit.

Mrs. Watson is super into the idea of catching Helen in flagrante delicto, and urges Harry to hire a private detective to follow Helen around. Harry waffles on it for a hot minute, but does hire someone, who happens to kind of stumble onto Helen and Anderson going into a hotel to enjoy some afternoon delight. When Harry learns that Helen is in fact cheating on him, Harry files for divorce.

Now, this was some SHIT back in the 1800s. Even though Henry VIII created a whole new church to allow himself to divorce Katherine of Aragon, it still wasn’t common practice for people to divorce. This whole thing went from DRAMA to Scandal!

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Cut to: the divorce proceedings. So, in British divorce court back in the day, witnesses could only be called to the stand once. (I have no idea if that’s also true in American court. WHO KNOWS WHAT’S TRUE IN AMERICAN COURT, by the time I post this review we may have as a nation decided to chuck the Magna Carta and due process out with the immigrant babies’ bathwater because being “civil” to each other is what will make the abuses stop, apparently.

BUT PEOPLE WHO SIGN OFF ON CONCENTRATION CAMPS AND USE THEIR WEIRD MOUTHS TO SPEW PROPAGANDA ON THE DAILY SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED TO ENJOY THEIR FARM-TO-TABLE ROAST GROUSE IN PEACE, KAREN)

ANYWAY. Back in the day of British Divorce Court, judges typically sided with the men. (YEAH, NO SHIT) In order for Helen to keep at least some visitation rights to her children, she needs to make Harry seem like a worse person, so her cheating on him would be excused in the prim minds of society.

So Helen comes up with an idea.

the grinch

Back when Fido was living with the Codringtons, Helen would often sleep in the same room as Fido – ostensibly because of Fido’s asthma attacks, but really because Helen didn’t want to sleep with Harry. So Helen claims to her solicitor that one night, after Fido had taken laudanum to help her sleep, Harry snuck into the room and raped Fido.

Yeeeaaaaah. Helen’s an awesome friend, you guys.

What actually happened was Harry came in to stoke the fire in the bedroom for the ladies, and Fido is blind as a bat without her spectacles, and also, she was high on laudanum. Nothing actually happened that night. But Helen tricks Fido into swearing in an affidavit that Harry raped her, and now Fido’s going to be called to the witness stand to present her affidavit.

And here’s where the whole “sealed letter” comes into play, but I’m going to stop here so I don’t spoil everything for you.

The whole divorce thing is a mess. It’s tawdry, but also based on a true story. As the story continues on, I found myself not rooting for anyone in the entire plotline – I mean, Fido manages to get a bit of gumption up at the end there, but throughout the majority of the plot she’s just a poor girl caught in Helen’s crazy, manipulative wake. Even Harry does some awful things to save face.

Having said all that, I did enjoy the story. It kept me interested, but not interested enough to stay up until 1 in the morning reading (like I did with Room). At the end of the novel, Ms. Donoghue takes a few pages and gives the reader more of the documented story of the Codrington Divorce, and what happened to Fido, Helen, and all the rest.

The only other thing I have to mention about the book is a moment that made me stop biking at the gym long enough to take a picture of the page, because I couldn’t immediately write the quote down and I knew if I didn’t I’d forget:

“Miss Bessie Parkes is Madame’s chief acolyte and dearest friend, and set up the English Woman’s Journal, and edited it till her health obliged her to resign the job to Miss Davies – a new comrade, but awfully capable – so yes, I dare say Miss Parkes could be considered first among equals,” Fido admits. “My own efforts have focused on the press and SPEW – the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women –”

“What an unfortunate acronym,” cries Helen. [p. 26]

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Grade for The Sealed Letter: 3 stars