Fiction: “A Fatal Waltz” by Tasha Alexander

Fatal WaltzI just chipped one of my teeth on a Dorito. Since this night’s going great already, let’s get a review ready to post, huh?

(P.S., for my readers who come here via my Facebook page and realize, “Hey, wait, I thought Alaina chipped her tooth on a Dorito back on June 24, and here it is [ENTER DATE OF POSTING HERE July 6 {holy shit am I getting caught up? I mean, no, but that’s a way better spread of time!}] – did she chip a different tooth on a different Dorito!? What are the odds of that even happening?!”

And the answer, dear readers, is No – only a single tooth(*) has been felled by a Dorito.

(*) As of this writing, which is June 24th, 2019.

(**) I should also probably mention that I have previously broken the now-chipped tooth, back when I was a junior in high school. I think the filling or rebuild or whatever you call it has finally worn down enough to need to be replaced. It has been almost twenty years since I fell off that waterfall(***)…

(***) This is only a slight exaggeration. My family and I were hiking up Angel Falls in northern Maine, and my mother was in hopes of taking my senior picture for the yearbook.(****) On the way down the waterfall, I slipped and fell head-first into some rocks, breaking my bottom teeth. I am extremely lucky that that’s all that broke.

(****) My mother is still a bit mad that I eventually submitted a picture from a roller coaster for the yearbook. It is not what was distributed to the relatives.

But as for the time difference in the tooth-chipping and this review being posted: I have gotten into a [stupid] habit of trying to be at least three reviews ahead of my posting backlog. So for instance – I’m writing this blog on June 24th, but I’ve had the reviews for Luck Is No LadySweet Toothand Persuasion in my drafts queue for a while. Once I finish writing this post, I’m going to save it, and post the review for Luck Is No Lady. And when this post finally gets published, you can rest assured that I will have reviews lined up for at least … whatever the next three books in my queue are, I can’t tell, Excel won’t open right now.

“Okay, Alaina. Yeah, okay. Okay, Alaina. So – WHY DO YOU DO THIS?!” you ask.

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I DO WHAT I WANT LEAVE ME ALONE.)

Anyways.

As I think I said when I reviewed the last book in this series – though it could have been another book, who knows, I’m not going back to figure it out – I have to do a couple of things better. Number one, I need to do a better job about reading the next book in a series without waiting over a year, because it takes me a bit to remember who all the players are when I’m reading it. And secondly, I need to do better about either taking notes or marking pages in books that I own, because I have no notes or dogears in my copy of A Fatal Waltz so this might be an even shittier “review” than I normally do.

(Considering I’ve wasted nearly 600 words on a) a chipped tooth, b) how that tooth was originally broken, and c) how that affects my blog posting schedule, I apparently don’t have that much farther to slide on my “shitty” scale.)

Okay. So. Lady Emily – remember, she’s a widow, in 1890s Britain – has gotten engaged to Colin Hargreaves, her husband’s best friend. (It’s cool, though – read the past two books if you’re concerned.) And she is invited to a weekend garden party in the country by her best friend Ivy. Emily hates a couple of the people who are also there – including Lord Fortescue, the mentor of Ivy’s husband – but because Emily loves Ivy, she goes.

In addition to the awful Lord Fortescue, there’s also Kristiana von Lange, an Austrian countess, who used to “work” “with” Colin.

Oh shit. I never mentioned – Colin’s a spy for the War Office (or whatever they’re calling the War Office at this point in British history). So that “work” is “spy stuff”, but also, think about how James Bond “works” with Vesper Lynd.

However, Colin is extremely faithful to Emily. But a good portion of the plot (as I remember it, nearly nine months later) is made up of Emily trying to reason out of her jealousy towards Kristiana. And Kristiana is not a good sport, who stands aside when her former lover becomes engaged to another woman. Oh, no – she tries to take her lover back, even though she know she doesn’t want him forever.

So anyway. All those awful people are at this weekend garden party, and Emily is pretty miserable whenever she’s not hiding in the hallway, discreetly making out with Colin.

But then Lord Fortescue is murdered, and the prime suspect is Ivy’s husband, Robert.

Emily is determined to prove Robert’s innocence, and the clues take her and her entourage – consisting of Cécile, a friend of her husband’s and confidante, and Emily’s childhood friend Jeremy – to Vienna, to investigate a plot involving anarchists who may or may not have been attempting a coup.

Colin is also in Vienna, working alongside Kristiana, trying to find the same information. He is not happy that Emily has put herself into possible danger, but he also recognizes that even as her fiancé, he is powerless to stop her.

I really wish I had done a better job about taking notes. I know there’s a lovely subplot about one of the artists Emily meets in a coffee shop, and how he’s enamored of a young woman but I think he needs to win over her mother, who happens to be an empress (?) – and I’m not going to look it up, it’s almost midnight as I’m writing this and I really should be asleep by now. Anyway, I do recall that the artist is eventually introduced to the empress and his sketches do in fact win her over, so by the end of the novel, they’re happily in love.

Also happily in love is Emily and Colin, jealousy over Kristiana be-damned. There’s another small subplot – more of a running gag, almost – involving Emily’s conservative, traditional mother, who has instructed Emily and Colin (not advisedinstructed) to hold off on their nuptials until Queen Victoria has given them her blessing – or maybe it’s that they need to hold off until Buckingham Palace is available. I’m not sure, can’t remember, and I’m not looking it up. But at the end of the book, Emily and Colin elope while on Santorini. And if that’s not the pinnacle of a romantic elopement, I don’t know what is.

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I mean — that is goddamned beautiful.

Overall, I’m giving the book 3 stars. I think it suffered from having Emily and Colin apart so much, but that might be my personal bias. And I promise to not wait another three years before picking up the next book in the series.

Grade for A Fatal Waltz: 3 stars

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Fiction: “Luck Is No Lady” by Amy Sandas

luck is no ladyLuck is No Lady is another book I downloaded on my Kindle at some indeterminate time. All I know is, I needed a book to read at the gym, and now that I think about it, I probably started reading this while I was also reading Sweet Tooth – spoiler alert for that book, I did not like it. So looking back, I think it makes sense that I used this book as a distraction from the finger-quotes “serious” book I was “reading” at the time.

And oh man – this book was good.

It’s a typical Regency romance with many of the common tropes – a trio of sisters (the better to base a romance trilogy off of, y’know), whose parents have died. The eldest is guiding the two younger girls through their first season. Their father died with a debt they have to repay, and the eldest is shielding the younger girls from that knowledge because she’s filled with pride and doesn’t want her sisters to worry.

But the book starts off with a classic Hide Behind The Curtain Scene that I think I’ve read at least once before this year, maybe twice? No, it is twice! The first time was in Shameless, and we’ll see it a third time in the upcoming Do You Want to Build a Start a Scandal?

We meet Emma Chadwick – eldest Chadwick daughter, trying to keep the family together through their first season and also trying to figure out how to pay back her father’s loan shark – as she’s hiding from a creepy guy behind a curtain in a study during a ball. That’s also where our hero, Roderick Bentley, meets her, and there is instant chemistry. But they don’t act on it, because

BENTLEY: he is the bastard son of an earl and, after watching how the ton treated his mother when he was a child, he has sworn off of marrying into that class.

EMMA: Bentley is a very rich owner of a “gambling hell” (“casino”) and she is a self-proclaimed spinster, so that match is Something That Is Just. Not. Done.

A couple of weeks after that encounter, Emma receives another missive from the loan shark, demanding payment. At the same time, her elder aunt Angelique notes that there is an advertisement in the paper for a bookkeeper. Emma has always been good with figures, and so she puts on her Sneaking Out Bonnet and goes to the address.

You can see where this is going.

So Bentley hires her, and there’s the fun tension where they both know the other person but for propriety’s sake they have to pretend that they weren’t almost making out behind a drapery a fortnight ago. Bentley agrees to have “Mrs. Adams” calculate the figures, but when she comes up with the same amount as the other applicants, he says she won’t suit. Instead of taking the hint and shutting up, Emma accuses Bentley of withholding information in an attempt to make her fail.

Turns out, Bentley’s previous bookkeeper was embezzling a bunch of money. Bentley’s great at gambling and making investments and basically being a very sweet version of a 19th Century Wall Street Guy, But In London, but Bentley is very bad at balancing checkbooks. Emma is hired on the spot, and given the added task of auditing the ledgers to see what happened.

And that, my friends, is the MacGuffin. You will never find out if the previous bookkeeper gets punished, or if Emma discovers anything hinkier than padding invoices for candles. It is not important.

What is important is the relationship between Emma and Bentley and how it grows through the book. First of all, the only conflict keeping them together is their stupid selves. Meaning, they think their hang-ups are too important to get over. Emma refuses to give in to her “selfish” desires to pursue a romance with Bentley – she needs to take care of her sisters, and if Emma is seen with the rakish owner of a gambling hell, she doesn’t care that it may reflect poorly on her – she cares what the ton will do to Portia and Lily. Bentley cares a great deal for Emma, and listens to her and – my god, he genuinely cares about her and I swear to god, I just reread the book on my Kindle (to refresh my memory, ostensibly, but it’s just as good the second time in nine months) and I can’t think of any moments where Bentley may have a hint of misogyny or any of those old-timey Regency attitudes that still pop up every now and then.

But anyway, in spite of his feelings, Bentley doesn’t want to get involved with that societal class.

And as the book progresses, feelings of the characters really shine and the sexual tension is great. Some of the best I’ve read. And it starts even before they start kissing for reals!

This comes at the end of her interview, when Bentley hires her. I should note – the casino he runs is adjacent to a brothel, but he doesn’t own the brothel or control it.

“It is not my habit to seek companionship from the girls in the west wing.”

The statement was uttered in a lowered, intimate tone, as if the conversation had just crossed a significant threshold. One she was not quite certain she had agreed to traverse. “As I said, such a thing is none of my concern.”

He dipped his chin and his smile widened, lengthening the masculine curve of his lips. The look he gave her was laced with an intensity she could not deny. “I know it isn’t. But I wanted you to know anyway.” [p. 112-113]

I mean — I mean, just — just read this — 

If she were not responsible for her sisters and there was just herself to consider …

The moment became too quiet as they stared at each other. He studied her. Seeking something.

Her heart ached within the restraints she could not break.

After a bit, he smiled. Mischief flashed in his eyes and swirled there with something else she would not have recognized before that morning.

“Admit it,” he said. “You don’t want to dance with me because you know you would enjoy it.”

His voice had lowered again into those intimate tones that flowed so warmly across her skin, making her feel like they were the only two people in the room.

Her limbs felt heavy and weak. Her blood rushed faster through her veins and her heart picked up speed.

“I will admit no such thing.”

“But you do not deny it either.”

Emma glanced away again. He was right — she couldn’t.

They stood in silence for a moment. Then she felt him step up beside her until he stood close enough for his coat to brush her bare shoulder. She looked up and saw something anticipatory in his gaze. Something that set her nerves alight with delicious sensations.

“Walk with me in the garden.” [p. 203-204]

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[I dunno, maybe it’s me – but sometimes, the build-up is even better than the actual hook-up, y’know?]

And maybe I’m biased, because there’s a scene in the book where one of the gamblers comes into the casino during the daytime to square up with Bentley, but the gambler is drunk and embarrassed and he starts waving around a pistol and he accidentally grazes Bentley’s arm. Emma happens to be there and she brings him back upstairs to the offices to clean his wound, and IT FEELS SO MUCH LIKE THAT SCENE IN HOW TO STEAL A MILLION THAT I CAN’T EVEN

“You are surprisingly calm for having just been shot,” she observed. “Do you often entertain drunk young men waving pistols?”

He gave a soft chuckle. “Not if I can avoid it.” [p. 129-130]

Okay, maybe it doesn’t have the same spark as Peter O’Toole yelping as Audrey Hepburn puts the iodine on his shoulder, then she scolds, “Stop being such a baby, it’s just a flesh wound,” and then he mutters, “Happens to be my flesh.” BUT STILL.

(I *still* haven’t rewatched that movie since I talked about it back when I reviewed The Art Forger. I should really remedy that.)

I really liked this book. And it was short! When you read something on your Kindle/Kindle app, it tells you how far along in the book you are, and spoiler alert, the actual storyline of the book ends at 69%. (Nice.) The rest of the book is a preview for the next book in the series, which I think focuses on Lily, the middle Chadwick sister? I’m not sure, I didn’t read that part.

I really liked that the tension and struggle in the book came from inside the two characters and not outside forces or society actively making thing difficult. And I really liked the realness of Bentley – yeah, he’s probably too much of a nice guy, but isn’t nice every once in a while to pretend that one exists somewhere?

Grade for Luck Is No Lady: 4 stars

Fiction: “Shameless” by Karen Robards

ShamelessOh good, another book from the library where I didn’t take notes!

This was the second of three hardcover romance novels I picked up back in January by authors I’d heard of or at least read before. I’m pretty sure I’ve read something by Karen Robards before – it just happens to predate this blog. If I have read something by Ms. Robards, it was one of her contemporary romances – I didn’t realize she wrote historicals until I picked this one up.

I also didn’t realize until I entered the book into my Goodreads account that this is the third book in a trilogy. Luckily for me and my weird OCD-ishness about this type of thing, it didn’t really matter and I did not need to have read the other two to know what was going on.

(And let’s be real for a second here – even with other historical romance series, there’s no actual need for me to read them in order. I wholly admit I’m very, very weird about that sort of thing.)

So. This book starts with a dude sneaking into a mansion’s library while a ball is going on. The dude, Neil Severin, happens to be an assassin. And as he’s lying in wait for his target to appear, the Lady Elizabeth storms in, her latest fiance in tow, in the middle of a fight. Neil hides behind the curtain and watches Beth’s fiance try to save his reputation by assaulting Beth.

See, Beth is apparently a “shameless” flirt, in that she’s had two engagements and has broken off each. This fiance refuses to be the third castoff, so he rips her bodice and attempts to get her in a compromising position. Unfortunately for you, my readers, I can’t remember how the situation was resolved – I want to think Beth hit him over the head with a poker? But it may have been Neil or someone else, but whatever – the engagement is over, and Neil had spent a good few minutes staring at Beth’s tits.

And look – what I do remember, without having written it down, was how much of a big deal was made of Beth’s bosom. I vaguely recall that it was described as “spectacular”, I want to say, multiple times? I mean, it was very hyperbolic. At moments, it felt like the novel was written through the male gaze, and guys – that’s fine and all, tits are great, yay tits, but they aren’t the reason I read historical romance novels.

Anyway. So Neil helps Beth out of her scrape and then Beth helps Neil get out of the library, and I think Neil convinces Beth he was a thief, and I think I remember being excited that maybe, this book was a Regency-version of How To Steal a Million, one of my favorite movies of ALL. FREAKING. TIME, but goddammit, it wasn’t.

In How To Steal a Million, Audrey Hepburn’s character is the daughter of an art forger, and Peter O’Toole is the guy who’s trying to catch him, and one night he breaks into their house and lies and says he’s a burglar, and then when Audrey Hepburn needs to steal a forged statue from a museum where her father had put it on display (because it would definitely fail the authentication tests the museum puts it through), she calls Peter O’Toole and asks him to help her rob a museum, and shenanigans ensue and it’s DELIGHTFUL.

This book was not delightful.

Beth helps Neil leave the building and agrees to meet up with him in a park or something later to pay him, maybe? But when she gets to the park she gets KIDNAPPED and I think it turns out the kidnapping was orchestrated by Beth’s jilted fiance? But Neil is in the park and manages to track her down, but she had not only been kidnapped, but kidnapped to be auctioned off as a sex slave in some weird sex slave cult or something.

It’s weird, you guys.

But Neil manages to — I don’t think Neil bids for her, but he manages to find her and they try to make their escape, but Beth refuses to leave the other women she’s bonded with as prisoners, so reluctantly, Neil allows six other women to accompany him on his rescue mission, and shenanigans ensue.

On the way back to London, Neil sticks very close to Beth, because (according to Goodreads, I definitely didn’t remember this part), Neil wants to “kidnap” Beth to draw her brother-in-law out so he can kill him, because remember, Neil is an assassin! Neil is a spy and Beth’s brother-in-law pretty much burn noticed Neil, and now Neil wants to kill the brother-in-law to save his own hide.

Except he falls in love with Beth and Beth decides the best way to save everyone – her reputation, her brother-in-law, and Neil – is to marry Neil, that way no one will kill each other and also she won’t be “ruined” anymore.

The plot was kind of ludicrous, to be honest. Crazy sex cults? Like, I know they probably existed back then, but man, this plot resembled the insanest parts of Dynasty at times. And you know I love me some Dynasty, but this was even more over-the-top than that.

And I don’t know why, in being more over-the-top than Dynasty, I did not like the book. Maybe because there was no humor involved? Dynasty winks at everything – “look at how stupid this is, Fallon’s trying to sell Carrington Atlantic to the Van Kirks, except that the Van Kirks think she’s married their son, Liam [who I thought his name was Jack? Why is everyone still calling him Liam?!] so she has to pretend to be married to Liam so the sale will go through, except her “father-in-law” propositioned her and won’t sell unless she visits him in his penthouse, so to get out of that Fallon hires an escort that looks a lot like her, leaves Papa Van Kirk blindfolded in the penthouse and tags the escort in so that Fallon can fly to Atlanta to be at her best friend’s club’s opening, and then she gets a call that Papa Van Kirk died after sex with the escort.”

I don’t know why I find “Neil has to rescue Beth from being kidnapped when he was supposed to be the one to kidnap her and when he gets to where she’s been taken she’s about to be auctioned off as part of this weird sex cult, but he rescues her in time but she won’t go without like, six other girls, so he reluctantly agrees to help them escape the castle, and it involves a lot of running around in basements and catacombs and trudging through forests but they finally get away so he brings Beth to an inn where they can stay the night and he needs to figure out how to re-use her as bait to lure her brother-in-law to rescue Beth from Neil so Neil can kill her brother-in-law” less interesting than the fake Fallon sex heart attack plot I described up there. Maybe it’s a visual thing. I just …

Maybe Neil didn’t seem believable as a hard-ass assassin? And Fallon seems absolutely believable as the type of person to hire an escort to have sex with her fake father-in-law so she can seal a business deal. Maybe that’s the reason.

I don’t know. It didn’t suck? I mean, I think I read it fairly quickly, overall. The plot and characters were more memorable than the ones in Otherwise Engaged, by a long shot, but this is still not a book I think I’d read again.

Grade for Shameless: 1 star

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

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]

oprah_happy_tears

Grade for The Heiress Effect: 5 stars

Fiction: “A Dangerous Love” by Sabrina Jeffries

dangerous lovePicture it: Halloween 2017. I had just gotten back from a whirlwind weekend trip to Montreal with an old friend and was pretty exhausted. My friend and her friend left for California on the last Sunday in October, and I didn’t have to go back to work until November. So after sleeping pretty much all day Monday, I felt like I had to accomplish something, and I wasn’t in the middle of binging anything on TV, and I didn’t have any Halloween plans. So I decided to sit on my ass the entire day on Tuesday, with the goal of reading an entire book in a single day.

Aside from a few Sidney Sheldon thrillers I read in high school, I’ve never been able to do that. I get distracted, or, lately, I fall asleep. But if I pick the right book – which would be around 300 pages with a good-sized print and an interesting plot – and if I pace myself, I could probably do it. I mean, books are, on average, 200 to 300 pages long. I tend to read (depending on print size) a page a minute. So even if I’m reading something that’s 360 pages long, theoretically, I should be able to finish a book in six hours – and that’s without stopping for food, bathroom breaks, or the inevitable naptime.

And to give myself a handicap, I picked a “silly little romance novel,” because c’mon, if I’m going to be in my jam-jams all day (“pajamas”), I’m not going to be reading anything heavier plot-wise than that.

I perused my romance bookcase and took out A Dangerous Love. This is the first book in Ms. Jeffries’ Swanlea Spinsters series, and I had previously read After the Abduction, the third book, so now I could have the added bonus of getting caught up in a series! And y’all know how I am with a series.

The good news is that I was able to read the book in a single day.

archer wooooo

The bad news is that I just grabbed the book off of my “to review” shelf and realized a) I did not dogear any pages, so there weren’t any quotes that really struck me, and b) I do not remember anything about the plot.

lana hooray

Here’s what the back of the book says:

The ailing Earl of Swanlea is determined to see his daughters provided for before he dies …

But Lady Rosalind, the earl’s headstrong middle child, wants no part of her father’s scheme to marry her off to Griff Knighton. She is, in fact, far more intrigued by the unwanted visitor’s man of affairs – a devilish rogue, more arrogantly self-assured than the average valet, who has an air of danger about him that is tempting Rosalind to venture onto forbidden ground.

It is Griff himself, however, who has enflamed her desires – having mischievously swapped places with his own manservant to avoid unwanted romantic entanglements. And though he never dreamed he could want any woman so passionately, how can he reveal the truth to the proud, exquisite Rosalind without destroying their blossoming –

— and that’s where the back of the book is cut off by a sticker that I cannot remove. Blossoming love, maybe? Who knows. It’s a mystery.

From what I can remember (and read off of other Goodreads reviews, and by skimming the first couple of chapters), Griff is made to believe he’s a bastard. Like, an actual, born-out-of-wedlock bastard, not just an asshole. In spite of his bastard state, he has managed to build a massive trading firm from the ground up, and it rivals the East India Company. (Sure; sure.) The Earl of Swanlea is a distant cousin of Griff (so marrying one of the Earl’s daughters wouldn’t be completely icky – thanks, Regency England!), and Griff isn’t interested in marriage – but he is interested in searching the Swanlea estate to try and find proof of his legitimacy, which will then allow him to join a trade delegation to China.

So his brilliant idea is to bring his business partner Daniel along, and while Daniel-slash-Griff is “wooing” Swanlea’s daughter, Daniel-slash-Griff’s valet “Griff” can search the estate for Griff’s parents’ marriage certificate, which will prove he was legitimate.

Meanwhile, Rosalind is dead set against marrying out of her impending poverty. Her elder sister, Helena, is also not interested in marriage. But their youngest sister, Juliet, is ready to be married and thus set the plan in motion.

Mentioned quite frequently on Goodreads is the boorish qualities of Griff. I believe them, because I have no memory of the plot. However, I just skimmed the rest of the book – speed-reading for the win! – and while Griff isn’t a bastard, he is most definitely a dick.

He cajoles Rosalind into making out with him and then going to third base. She drops her resistance, but in the light of #MeToo, this whole scenario is very icky. Meanwhile, Rosalind is extremely stubborn when it comes to believing people – her father, Griff after he tells the truth – but on the other hand it’s very understandable, seeing as how practically every man in this novel is lying to her.

That’s what I’ve got for this one. I’m very proud that I was able to read an entire book in a single day, but I wish the book was more memorable so I could talk about it more.

Oh well.

Grade for A Dangerous Love: 1 star

Fiction: “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

outlanderAbout a year ago, Starz premiered American Gods, which was showrun by Bryan Fuller — the same Bryan Fuller who was responsible for a little show called Hannibal. And because I would follow Bryan Fuller to the ends of the earth, I added Starz to my Amazon Prime so I could watch the show.

I don’t know what happened, because I could not get into the show. But it had everything – Bryan Fuller! Ian McShane, formerly Al Swearengen on DeadwoodGillian fucking Anderson! Whatever the reason, it must be the same reason why I can’t get through the book. And I’ve tried to read that THREE TIMES.

When I can finally get through that book I’m sure I’ll rant more about American Gods. Meanwhile, Starz is also the home of Outlander, and I didn’t let my Starz subscription go to waste – over the summer, I rewatched the first season and half of the second season, and also read the first book, Outlander.

I’m not going to get into too much of the plot (she says, hopeful), because I can tell you that the first season does an excellent job of following the book. There are a couple of deviations made for artistic license, but overall I thought the series did a great job telling the story. So if you don’t want to read an 850-page book, you can just watch about 16 hours of television instead.

Outlander is a novel of many genres: it’s got time-travel (sci-fi); it’s got romance; it’s got history; it’s got actual science. It begins in post-WWII Scotland, with Claire and her husband, Frank Randall, enjoying a second honeymoon. Frank is researching his ancestry, and is very interested to learn more about Black Jack Randall, a captain with the English Dragoons. Claire is broadening her nursing education through botany, learning about flowers and plants that have healing capabilities.

One day, Claire goes to visit Craigh na dun – a stone circle similar to Stonehenge, but smaller in scale – and has a weird experience: she hears one of the stones screaming. Her vision begins to blur, she feels faint, and when she wakes up, she is no longer in 1945, but 1742.

Of course, it takes Claire a while to figure that out. Or, rather, it takes her a while to believe it. She is nearly captured by Frank’s ancestor, Black Jack Randall himself, but is rescued of a sort by Jamie Fraser and his clan. And so begins what can only be described as a very well-written soap opera.

(Trust me – I loved it.)

Claire tries to avoid arousing suspicion – which is hard to do, considering her English accent. Using her knowledge of modern medicine combined with her botany learnings, she becomes the new “nurse” (I can’t remember what they actually called her and no, I’m not going to look it up) for the castle. Then Jamie’s cousin, Dougal (Dougal might be Jamie’s uncle, I DON’T CARE) wants to bring Claire along when they collect the rents, which suits Claire fine – she just wants to escape back to Craigh na Dun and try to get back to Frank.

IT’S SO SOAPY, you guys! Because Claire gets captured by Black Jack Randall again! And the only way to save her is to become part of the clan, so she has to marry Jamie Fraser! And that’s hard for Claire, because she still loves her husband Frank! But obviously no one knows about Frank, so bigamy it is! And then she falls in love with Jamie anyway! And there’s —

Okay, but for real, no exclamation points, CONTENT WARNING, there is also rape. Claire is violated by an English Dragoon – who gets killed immediately by Jamie -, but there are further rape threats to her and also to Jamie (by Black Jack Randall). It’s … it’s not pretty, at times.

And sure, it’s supposed to be “a description of the times”, and sure, the 1700s were not great for women and women’s rights, and the book does show … or attempt to show the struggle that Claire has as a “modern” woman, trying to fit in during this backwards time period. For instance, after Claire is rescued from Black Jack Randall the first time, though Jamie is relieved to learn she’s okay, he does feel the need to punish her, corporally:

“I’ve said I’m sorry!” I  burst out. “And I am. I’ll never do such a thing again!”

“Well, that’s the point,” he said slowly. “Ye might. And it’s because ye dinna take things as serious as they are. Ye come from a place where things are easier, I think. […] I know ye would never endanger me or anyone else on purpose. But ye might easily do so without meanin’ it, like ye did today, because ye do not really believe me yet when I tel ye that some things are dangerous. You’re accustomed to thin for yourself, and I know,” he glanced sideways at me, “that you’re not accustomed to lettin’ a man tell ye what to do. But you must learn to do so, for all our sakes.” [p. 391]

And beat her ass he does. Yay feminism! :/

As much as I liked it – and the TV series – there are some problematic themes. Caveat lector.

I like Claire. She’s smart, yet not a Strong Female Character™ – she has flaws, and moments of panic. She does her best to adapt to her new world, and eventually comes to accept the fact that she’s probably not going to be able to return to her normal time. At the end of the book, she and Jamie are sailing off to France, escaping the Dragoons, and trying to figure out how to change history so the Scottish clans aren’t eradicated in the Battle of Culloden.

Eventually – maybe after I get caught up with Better Call Saul – I’ll power through the next couple of seasons of Outlander on my Starz subscription. And I have the next book in the series, Dragonfly in Amber, waiting for me to pick up as well. We’ll see how it goes.

Grade for Outlander: 4 stars