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

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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

GIF-Amused-Bill-Hader-drama-entertained-gifs-go-on-good-popcorn-yes-GIF

(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!

scandal

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

Fiction: “A Scot in the Dark” by Sarah MacLean

Scot in the DarkFirst: this is not a remake of the classic Peter Sellers – Inspector Clouseau romp, A Shot in the Dark. But if you haven’t watched that movie, you should. (It stars George Sanders! He’s fantastic in everything!) This is the next book in Ms. MacLean’s Scandal & Scoundrel series, the first of which was The Rogue Not Taken. The link between the two books is Alec Stuart, Duke of Warnick. Alec was the Scottish rogue who would race King and I think may be the one who performed the ceremony where King married Sophie? He wasn’t in Rogue much, but he’s the main character here.

Alec is actually like, the 17th Duke of Warnick, the previous line of Warnick Dukes expiring in quick succession. As part of his inheritance, Alec learns he is the guardian of a maid who is living in one of the ducal apartments in London. And she’s just gotten herself into a spot of trouble.

(Not an unwanted pregnancy; Ms. MacLean doesn’t truck with that type of historical romance — at least, not that I’ve read.)

Lillian Hargrove had an affair with an artist, Derek Hawkins, who is, to put it bluntly and in terms that both of my Dear Friends Emily and Sarah will immediately recognize and laugh about: a dipshit. (shit, what the fuck was Derek’s last name …. oh thank god it wasn’t Hawkins)

(for a second I thought College!Derek’s last name may have been the same as the character in the book, but it wasn’t! Hooray, I’m not telling tales on the internet!)

Anyways. Derek Hawkins asked Lillian (Lily, to her friends, of which there are few) to pose nude for a painting that would only be displayed for Derek’s eyes. And, because Lily thought they were in love, she disrobed. And then he told her that not only was it going to be displayed in a museum, but also, it was going to be the Primary Work at the London Art Exhibition (or whatever, the book is literally by my side on the couch, but I’m not going to bother looking up the proper terms for both of those things; you get the jist).

Now, in 1834, Proper Ladies did not Pose Nude for Artists. It was Simply Not Done. And especially not single, unwed Ladies. If the painting is displayed, Lily will be ruined, because no eligible man would dare marry a maid who had all her bits* displayed in a painting.

*I don’t think it’s all the bits. If I remember the description correctly, she was laying on a couch with her backside to the artist. I think.

So Alec has to come to London to get Lily married off before the painting is displayed. Well, first he tries to get Derek to marry Lily, and because Derek is a dipshit, he absolutely refuses. Then Alec pulls rank and says that Lily can only receive her funds or dowry or whatever if she finds someone willing to marry her before she turns 24, which is in nine days, and also the day the painting is displayed. Lily hoped to run out the clock, earn her pension, and move to the Continent and escape London completely.

Alec and Lily are now in a race against time, and also a battle of wits. Lily wishes to remain independent, as she’s still raw after learning how badly Derek treated her. Alec just wants to be rid of his problem so he can return to Scotland. But, as typically happens in these types of novels, they develop an attraction to each other.

I like Sarah MacLean’s novels because her characters have personality. Lily is a MASTER at passive-aggression. To wit, her choice of dress to wear when Alec tells her she needs to make a good impression at this fancy ball where there will be tons of eligible dudes:

He was not a man who noticed fashion, but this particular dress would not be unnoticed. It was a gold and bronze monstrosity, with skirts that filled the staircase and sleeves that dwarfed her. […] As though that weren’t enough, gold and bronze seed pearls were sewn into the skirts, arranged in little echoes of the canine form, and the bodice — impressively fitted despite Lily having had mere hours to adjust it to her form — was covered in ornate gold fastenings, each a different dog — spaniels and terriers and bulldogs and dachshunds. [p. 110]

And Alec’s equally canny, because he forces her to go to the ball like that. Ha!

Lily is also a very lonely person, in that she didn’t have many friends growing up. Even during this crazy time, she doesn’t have anyone to turn to. In the house where she was living when Alec first came to London, she had her room put closer to the servant’s quarters so she could hear other people in the house have conversations. So when she meets Seleste, one of the Soiled S’s (and Sophie’s sister) at the ball she’s almost surprised that Seleste wants to be her friend. But as the novel continues, Seleste becomes someone Lily can rely on, and it’s great! Women being friends!

Having said that, I doubt their friendship passes the Bechdel test, but you know what, I don’t care. I’m going to imagine all of the conversations they have after the book ends and just be happy about it.

The romance between Alec and Lily is contentious and bantery – just the way I like it. He keeps trying to convince her (and himself) that London sucks and Scotland rules. He even attempts to convince her that Burns is a better poet than Shakespeare – which, whatever dude, Burns has his place, but it’s behind Shakespeare.

This leads to a scene that has been popping up in a surprising number of romance novels I’ve been reading lately – the Oral Sex In A Carriage Scene.

… there has got to be a better euphemism for that. Please hold.

Road Canoeing. Giving The Driver a Tongue-Wagging. Buttering an English Muffin. Taking the Crumpet For a Drive.

… … … I am so sorry.

ANYWAY. That happens, but leading up to it, this exchange occurs:

He stroked her hand, his palm running over hers, his fingers tracing the dips and valleys of her fingers, until only their fingertips touched, before he once again took her hand, lacing their fingers together tightly.

“Palm to palm,” she whispered, and he heard the barely-there teasing in her words. The reference to their earlier discussion of Romeo and Juliet.

He should let her go. He meant to.

He didn’t mean to say, “The only part of the play that’s worth anything.”

He didn’t mean to look at her, to find her too close and still infernally far away. He willed himself to move. To sit back. To release her.

And then she whispered, “Let lips do as hands do.

“Fucking Shakespeare,” he cursed. [p. 172-173]

Firstly: the meeting between Romeo and Juliet is not the only part of the play that’s worth anything. Mercutio is the best character and his Queen Mab and death speeches are quite good and excellent vehicles for acting. Secondly, Romeo and Juliet is only “romantic” until, like, Act III.

And thirdly, that’s pretty hot, using Shakespeare to flirt. And so we come to another #ProTipForDudes:

If you’re in a relationship with someone who loves Shakespeare, and your normal, everyday conversation tends towards the bantery, pop-culture reference-ey type, and one day your girl is talking a lot and while she’s cute about it, you need her to shut up for a second, all you need to do is say, “Peace! I will stop your mouth!” and then kiss her. I can’t speak from personal experience, but I do know it works for Benedick and Beatrice, and they have one of the greatest relationships of all time, so …

Anyway. I liked the book, and will continue to read pretty much everything Sarah MacLean puts out. If you like romance novels that take place in the 1800s with women with agency and personalities, please give Ms. MacLean a try.

Grade for A Scot in the Dark: 3.5 stars

Fiction: “My Cousin Rachel” by Daphne DuMaurier

my cousin rachelI picked this book up at the same time as An Untimely Frost. I was perusing all of the tables of paperbacks, as quickly as I could – when I go to Barnes & Noble on my lunch break, I really only have half an hour to spend, because driving to and from there eats up about fifteen minutes each way, thanks, traffic! – and at first for some reason I thought this was a previously-unpublished novel by Ms. DuMaurier? But apparently I thought Daphne DuMaurier only wrote two novels (Rebecca and Jamaica Inn), and didn’t realize she was as prolific as she was.

Because I love Rebecca so very, very much, I bought the book, and began reading it when I returned home from My Dear Friend Sarah’s baby shower.

My Cousin Rachel is set in an unknown time period, most likely mid-to-late 1800s in the Cornwall, England area (the southwestern-most tip of Great Britain). The book is narrated by Philip Ashley, adopted ward of his cousin, Ambrose Ashley. Ambrose takes Philip in after Philip’s parents die, and Ambrose raises Philip according to what he feels is best – sends Philip off to school (Eton, I think), then on Philip’s holiday he comes back and tends to the estate. Ambrose never feels like he needs to marry to have give Philip a feminine influence; his neighbors, Nick Kendall and Nick’s daughter, Louise, satisfy Philip and Ambrose’s social needs.

As Ambrose ages, his doctor recommends traveling to warmer climes in the winter. So Ambrose winters in Florence for a couple of winters. And then, one winter, Ambrose doesn’t come home: he has fallen in love with a widowed contessa, Rachel Sangalletti. Philip feels betrayed; he’s shocked that his love for Ambrose isn’t good enough to sustain Ambrose any longer.

Then, Philip receives a strange letter from Ambrose. Ambrose is ill, and all of a sudden, somewhat paranoid. He complains of terrible headaches, but comments that Rachel is tending to his needs. A second letter arrives later that summer, wherein Ambrose tells Philip of Rachel’s lawyer and friend, Rainaldi, who recommends a doctor for Ambrose to see.

Philip becomes evermore anxious and distrusting of the care Rachel is providing, and with Nick’s blessing, Philip travels to Florence to rescue his cousin. But when he arrives, Ambrose has been dead for a couple of weeks, and Rachel has fled the villa.

Heartbroken, Philip returns to Cornwall. He learns that Ambrose never updated his will, so Philip will still inherit the estate when he comes of age (turns 25). A few weeks after that, Philip receives a letter from his cousin Rachel – she has arrived in Portsmouth, and she wishes to meet Philip and see the estate before settling herself in London.

Philip invites her to the estate, as it is the only proper thing to do. He is resolved to hate her immediately, and relies on the kindness of Nick and Louise to ensure the estate is presentable. Philip spends the day of Rachel’s arrival canvassing the acreage, determined to not see her.

(I’m sorry that paragraph is so dramatic compared to the rest of the review – I’ve been listening to classical music to a] keep my concentration on this and b] I had a headache earlier and classical music can help, but The Ride of the Valkyries just started playing and apparently it’s making my word choice just as bombastic. I HAVE NO REGRETS [except the shouting, Alaina, ssshhhh].)

But when he meets Rachel after dinner, he is charmed by her quiet graces. She is very grateful to Philip’s hospitality, and seems to be devastated by the loss of Ambrose. Philip realizes he was acting immature, and resolves to be nicer to Rachel.

As his affection for her grows – and Christmas nears – Philip goes into the village, and removes the grand pearl necklace that belonged to his mother from the Ashley security box. Philip gives the pearls to Rachel, and she is enamored of them. But at the party where they both present Christmas presents to the estate staff, Nick and Louise comment on the necklace. Nick asks Rachel to be sure to return the necklace the next day, to have it returned to the bank. She readily acquiesces, with no hard feelings. Philip is hurt, and claims to be the rightful owner of the necklace and he’s all, I do what I want! And Nick reminds him not until April when you turn 25, boy

Then Philip finds a last, lost letter among Ambrose’s belongings that Rachel brought from Florence, in which Ambrose sounds the most paranoid of all the letters. He outright accuses Rachel of embezzling money to buy things, and he also suspects she’s poisoning him.

Philip must decide who to believe: Rachel, who is incredibly sincere and guileless, or Ambrose, the guardian he trusted over everything else.

I was not drawn to this novel as much as I was to Rebecca. I also don’t know if my attraction to Rebecca stems from the movie, which I watched first, or if because the narrator of Rebecca is a nameless female (save for “Mrs. De Winter”) so that it’s easier for me to fall into her story than Philip’s. It also might be because Mrs. De Winter is so innocent and naive, whereas Philip has many moments of suspicion and paranoia, that I see more of my own instincts in Philip than Mrs. De Winter, and therefore are more likely to find escapism in Mrs. De Winter’s tale than Philip’s.

(Also, My Cousin Rachel doesn’t have a Mrs. Danvers, and that’s a liability.)

I also watched the movie when it was released on Redbox late last summer. It stars Sam Claflin as Philip and Mrs. Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, as Rachel. I know the movie did not stray too far from the book. I also know that the movie didn’t rewrite the ending of the book (unlike Rebecca, and yes, I still blame the Hays Code and no, I still don’t know if I prefer the movie or the book). But that’s about all I can say about it, because it was one of those Redboxes that I threw on and then got bored or looked at my phone and did other things and basically tuned the whole thing out.

It looked pretty, though. And again, it did not stray from the book, so, yay faithful adaptation?

If you like psychological thrillers, you’ll probably like My Cousin Rachel, even though it’s not really “thrilling”. As you read, you need to decide: is Rachel a victim of circumstance, paranoia, and perception? Or is she a black widow? After reading it and watching the movie, I’m still not entirely sure of my decision.

Grade for My Cousin Rachel: 3 stars

Fiction: “The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam” by Chris Ewan

Good Thief's Guide AmsterdamOh, good – I did not take notes on this book before returning it to the library! All I did was take a single picture of a quote I wanted to talk about, but that won’t make sense without context, Alaina! This is … this is going to be great. Awesome.

So hey, this was a book I read! I actually grabbed The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris first, and then when I got home from the library and checked the Goodreads I learned that Paris was actually the second title in the series, so I had to return Paris so I could check out Amsterdam because I cannot do something out of order.

Seriously, I’m going to have to crib from a handful of Goodreads reviews and maybe the Wikipedia page, because I remember the premise, but neither the plot nor characters’ names. Excellent reviewing, Alaina! Thank goodness this isn’t your real job!

The narrator of our tale is Charlie Howard. He is a writer of suspense novels, starring a cat burglar. Oh, Charlie is also a “reformed” cat burglar, and by “reformed” I mean “can’t really come back to England because he’s wanted by Scotland Yard maybe.” He is in Amsterdam, attempting to finish up his next novel, and he has phone conversations with his editor, Victoria, who is back in London and apparently believes that Charlie looks like his author dust jacket photo. I remember this, because that phrase is not only in the summary on the back of the book, but also in dialogue.

One night, Charlie gets an email through his publishing website that is cryptic, but asking for Charlie to pull a job. Because yes, Charlie is still actively burgling when he gets a job inspiring enough. He’s like Poirot, but instead of solving crimes, he only commits the crimes that intrigue him. He meets some dude in a café, and the dude asks Charlie to steal two monkey figurines for a tidy sum of 20,000 Euros. Charlie declines, because his gut tells him something’s fishy about this whole deal.

However, Charlie changes his mind and accepts the job. Why does he change his mind? Because if he didn’t, there’d be no plot. Charlie finds the monkeys and is about to deliver them to the person who hired him when two dudes run up the person who hired him and then Charlie finds the person who hired him beaten nearly to death in his apartment.

(There’s more there, and I know I’m doing a bad job explaining this, but it’s been a while and I’m mad that I didn’t take good notes, knowing I’d be writing the review months later. Ugh.)

So then Charlie gets framed for the attempted murder. And there are additional people searching for the monkeys. It’s like The Maltese Falcon, a bit, but kind of comic about it.

The one quote I thought about enough that I took a picture of the page (I was at the gym, I think) is the following brief excerpt of a conversation between Charlie and his lawyer:

“Is there more?”

I just looked at him.

“Very well, you don’t have to tell me. You don’t look or sound like a killer – any fool can see that. But not answering their questions, that could create problems.”

“Can’t I take the fifth, or something like it?”

“Of course you can. But you have to ask yourself how that will help your cause. Your aim is to convince them you didn’t slay the American, surely.” [p. 76]

Uh … Charlie isn’t American. And the crime occurred in Amsterdam. So … the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution wouldn’t be something that Charlie could use.

(Looking through the Goodreads reviews of this book, I’m struck by a) the number of reviews that complained about the lack of copy-editing, and also b) the fact that this Fifth Amendment reference is the only one I really caught? I’m usually really good at that type of shit, I must have been off my game. But I’m assuming that this reference is also a product of lesser editing, because, dudes – the Fifth Amendment is not a universal thing.)

Okay. Y’know, for not remembering a lot of this, I think I did okay. Overall, I enjoyed the book; it was a quick read, Charlie is a bit of fun and entertaining enough to move the story along, and didn’t catch any serious problems with the writing. The ending feels like the ending of a Poirot novel, so, if you don’t like monologuing or scenarios where the detective details the entire plot to a sitting company of rogues, you may be disappointed in the book.

But at some point I’ll re-check-out The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris, and I’ll make sure to take better notes at that time.

Grade for The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam: 2.5 stars

Fiction: “Her Royal Spyness” by Rhys Bowen

Royal SpynessI follow Go Fug Yourself / @fuggirls on Twitter, and occasionally they’ll have a post called “Afternoon Book Chat” where people post comments about the books they’re currently reading. It’s great! And one afternoon, a whole bunch of people were raving about the “Her Royal Spyness” mysteries. Everyone was saying it’s so cute, and a fast read, and etc. etc.

I was intrigued! I went to Goodreads, and found out the first title in the series. (Shoulda known it was Her Royal Spyness, but that seemed almost too easy?) Then I went to the Yarmouth library’s website and … learned that they have almost every other title in the series, but not the first one.

What. Why. What.

So I look for a link to request an inter-library loan on the website. No dice. Nowhere within the website is there a link to the inter-library loan program. There is a link for “purchase request,” which makes me sad. But then I remember that Yarmouth is one of the richest towns in southern Maine and I also pay taxes, so fuck it, I request that the library purchases the book.

Like, three days later I get an email: Your request has been fulfilled. And I’m all impressed that they sent someone out to Barnes & Noble to buy a book just for me!

donald hearts.gif

When I go to pick up the book – it was an inter-library loan from the Portland Public Library.

What. Why. What.

WHY DON’T YOU JUST HAVE A LINK TO THE INTER-LIBRARY LOAN PROBLEM I MEAN GOD I’LL BET YOU COULD GET A PROGRAMMER TO FIX THAT FOR YOU POSTHASTE

Anyway.

Her Royal Spyness is the first in a series of quasi-“cozy” mysteries starring Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie (known as Georgie), thirty-fourth in line to the British throne. She lives in a drafty Scottish castle with her brother, Rannoch (known as Binkie), and Binkie’s wife, Fig. Fig is trying to set Georgie up with a suitor so as to a) get her settled and b) out of the castle, and being fiercely independent, Georgie instead pretends to go visit friends in London and stay in the residence there.

The book takes place in the early 1920s…? (*checks the wiki*) Yes, the late 1920s – this is before King Edward VIII abdicates to be with Wallis Simpson and well before WWII. It’s still considered inappropriate for a young lady to be living in London unescorted; hence, the lying. Plus, Georgie’s cousin – the Queen – would most likely order her to be a lady-in-waiting, which is really just ‘waiting’ to be married off to some other obscure royal relative, and Georgie wants no part of that.

Georgie moves into her brother’s London residence, but because she ran away, there are no servants to make sure there’s food in the house or fires lit. She manages to fend for herself, including through the assistance of her good friend Belinda, an up-and-coming fashion designer. Georgie and Belinda go to quite a few parties, and Belinda hopes to see Georgie set herself up with a lover or three before the season’s out.

Georgie does have a few bantery exchanges with Darcy O’Mara, a titled (but penniless) peer who happens to be Irish Catholic – apparently making him inappropriate for someone of Georgie’s stature to ‘pal’ around with. (I think. I’m recapping this by the seat of my pants, to be honest – I read it back in March and, as evidenced by the first few paragraphs, was a library book, so it’s not like I can go back to the bookshelf and skim to make sure I’m remembering it correctly.) And every time Georgie thinks she likes him, something happens to make her suspect him for something.

Like, a dead body in her house.

Gaston de Mauxville visits her and Binkie in their house (once Binkie return to Town on business) and claims he has a letter from Georgie and Binkie’s father, giving de Mauxville Rannoch Castle to settle a gambling debt. And one day when Georgie comes home, the dead body of de Mauxville is lying in Binkie’s bathroom. And of course, Binkie is made to appear the chief suspect.

Meanwhile, Georgie needs to make money. When Fig tells her Binkie’s coming down to London and asks Georgie to make sure the servants get everything ready … there are no servants, because Georgie lied. So she goes about and gets everything ready and realizes that she could advertise to wealthy nobles as a maid whose only job is to open houses for the season – removing dustcloths, washing windows, turning the heat on, etc. So she starts a maid service and makes a few pounds without Binkie noticing.

There’s also Tristram Hautbois, a third-rate noble (again, I think, I’m going off my scant notes here) who Georgie used to know as a form of stepbrother or something? But they hang out a lot together and Georgie enjoys his company. Darcy O’Mara is part of Tristram’s group, and each gentleman warns Georgie about the other.

Look, I know I’m doing a bad job of reviewing this book. After reading it so long ago, I didn’t take a lot of notes regarding the details and intricacies of the plot. I didn’t jot down any quotes from the book, either. But what I can tell you is that Georgie is delightful, her courtship with Darcy is delightful, Binkie and Fig are stereotypes but no less delightful, and when Georgie finally gets her visit with the Queen, the Queen asks Georgie to attend a house party where the Prince of Wales will also be in attendance, and would Georgie be so kind as to keep an eye on His Royal Highness’s paramour, Mrs. Simpson?

I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next book. (To keep myself out of trouble with the Yarmouth Library, I’ve ordered it off of Amazon as an early Christmas present to me, from me.) And I promise I’ll do better with its review.

Grade for Her Royal Spyness: 3 stars

Fiction: “The Apprentice” by Tess Gerritsen

ApprenticeThis was one of the last books I got from the library before beginning my huge (and as of yet, incomplete) task of trying to read the Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton. And for every disappointment the Yarmouth Library gives me, I get at least one-fifth surprise: they actually had the next book in a series I wanted to read.

(Does the Yarmouth library even participate in inter-library loan? Because seriously, their lack of shit is getting quite ridiculous.)

(Also getting quite ridiculous? The amount of time that spans between my reviews. But we’re not going to talk about that.)

The Apprentice is the second book in the Jane Rizzoli series by Maine resident, Tess Gerritsen. Of note, The Apprentice marks the first appearance of Dr. Maura Isles, so if y’all want to start reading this series because you love the TNT classic Rizzoli and Isles … I still suggest you read The Surgeon first, because The Apprentice takes a lot of its plot from the first book.

To be honest, I didn’t realize it had been so long since I’d read The SurgeonAs I got into The Apprentice, I found I needed to go back to my original review of the first book to hopefully fill in some gaps.

And Reader? Did I ever. But I’ll get into that in a bit.

In The Surgeon, Rizzoli goes after a serial killer that bonds their female victim to their bed, performs a hysterectomy on them while they’re still conscious, and then slits their throat. At the end of that novel, Rizzoli is able to save Dr. Cordell from The Surgeon and have him arrested, but not before Rizzoli is terrorized by him a bit.  The Apprentice begins with The Surgeon, William Hoyt, in jail, but there’s another individual running around Boston, and he’s graduated to couples and necrophilia.

The FBI is called in to the investigation, which gets Jane’s back up. She feels that she’s more than capable of handling the investigation; as the case wears on, she finds that her fears aren’t unfounded, as the FBI agent, Gabriel Dean, consistently shows up to crime scenes either before her or just behind her; in addition, he withholds information from her to suit his purposes.

But it’s not just Dean affecting her and throwing her off her groove: the once-cocky, overconfident detective was shaken to her core after The Surgeon. She returns to her apartment after a long day’s work at the crime scene, and before she locks herself in behind three different, extra-strength deadbolts and locks, she canvasses her rooms, gun drawn.

She dropped her head in her hands, feeling as though it would explode with so much information. She had wanted to be lead detective, had even demanded it, and now the weight of this investigation was crushing her. She was too tired to think and too wound up to sleep. She wondered if this was what a breakdown felt like and ruthlessly suppressed the thought. Jane Rizzoli would never allow herself to be so spineless as to suffer a nervous breakdown. In the course of her career she had chased a perp across a rooftop, had kicked down doors, had confronted her own death in a dark cellar.

She had killed a man.

But until this moment, she had never felt so close to crumbling. [p. 94]

See, Carol K. Carr? THAT’S how you create a strong female character! Instead of scoffing away the weakness she feels, Rizzoli gets mad at herself for showing weakness. That’s different! This adds layers!

So in the end, it turns out that the new killer is an apprentice of The Surgeon (see? see?), and Rizzoli and Isles gets their man, and The Surgeon escapes and kidnaps Rizzoli in revenge but she turns him into a quadroplegic so everyone wins! Except the Surgeon, but if you count “being alive” as “winning,” even he gets a participation trophy.

Some funny / weird / important things I want to just quickly throw up here before I get into my rant:

Here’s a scene with Dr. Isles’ mentor, whose name I did not write down:

He picked up a disarticulated rib, arched it toward the breastbone, and studied the angle made by the two bones.

“Pectus excavatum,” he said. [p. 124]

Sadly, no one mentioned what his Patronus was.

“Hey, Rizzoli,” [some detective] said.

“Hey, Mick. Thanks for coming out.” [p. 26]

THAT IS SO BOSTON I CAN BARELY EVEN. I MEAN, that phrase was immortalized in one of the best movies of my generation, The Boondock Saints:

Thanks for coming out

Finally, because reasons (this is from the diary of Dr. Hoyt, the Surgeon):

I tell them about my visit to San Gimignano, a town perched in the rolling hills of Tuscany. Strolling among the souvenir shops and the outdoor cafes, I came across a museum devoted entirely to the subject of torture. [p. 295-296]

Hannibal?

Okay, so – when I went back and re-read my review of The Surgeon, I was appalled. Not by my lack of review – even I’ve gotten used to this. No, it was something I said:

What rubbed me the wrong way in a couple of places was what I felt to be over-the-top feminism. Now, before I go too far, let me explain my personal stance on feminism: yes, it sucks that women make sixty cents for every dollar that men earn in the same position (blanket statement). Yes, it sucks that women are always being portrayed in the media as sluts, whores, and sexual objects. Yes, it sucks that women are rarely recognized for their intelligence and reasoning skills. Do I find myself fighting the status quo and the media machine due to those portrayals? … eh. Not really. Because I am aware of those portrayals, and they are portrayals I’ve seen all my life, and because I know that the media machine is now a near-unstoppable male empire of testosterone and jackassery, I’m going to spend my time fighting for things where I know I can make a bigger difference. Like, attending the Rally to Restore Sanity, or writing that comedy pilot that finally portrays people like ordinary people and not stereotypes. (Me, October 2011)

I was appalled at myself. I could not believe that I was once that naive and … and so fucking blasé about feminism and portrayal of women in media and … UGH!! Alaina!! How could you?!

Because look, I don’t know when (or if) my stance on feminism changed, but goddammit, I am a proud feminist. I demand equal pay for equal work! I demand that media begin to recognize that in our beloved media — well, fuck, no one’s said it better than Stella Gibson from The Fall:

The media loves to divide women into virgins or vamps, angels or whores. Let’s not encourage them. [The Fall, series 1, episode 3]

So I read my review of The Surgeon, and I am so sorry, Five-Years-Ago-Me. I’m sorry that your innocence was taken away, I guess. In the time since I’ve written that review, I’ve expanded my media presence, and a direct result of that has been seeing how many different ways women are portrayed (or not portrayed) in media.

From the past two weeks’ worth of sportscasters consistently touting the men who helped support the women winning the gold over the women themselves (see: the Chicago Tribune, who, while admittedly they were most likely attempting to call out the wife of a Chicago Bear, could have at least included her name in the headline), to all the shit that was poured out over Paul Feig DARING to reboot Ghostbusters with – gasp! – women in the roles?!, to – god, to JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING. How about Marco Rubio not thinking women should be allowed to choose to have an abortion when her fetus tests positive for Zika, a virus that causes severe birth defects and, in some cases, has been fatal for those infants? WHEN DID MARCO RUBIO GET A UTERUS AND THEREFORE ENTITLE HIMSELF TO HAVE AN OPINION AS TO HOW A WOMAN SHOULD MANAGE HER OWN BODY

Ahem.

(Please note, I’m not saying all women who are pregnant that, sadly, get infected with Zika should abort; I’m saying it’s their choice to do what they want with their body, not Marco Rubio’s – OR ANY MAN’S, FOR THAT MATTER.)

(Hi, somehow my tiny little book blog became a political hotbed. I AM SORRY. I’LL GET BACK TO HANNIBAL JOKES SHORTLY. DON’T @ ME.)

Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. I don’t want women to have more rights than men; I just want us to be allowed to have the same rights as men. The right to vote for who I want without having to explain myself, or to justify my choice. The right to have autonomy over my own body, the same as a man has autonomy over his body. The right to be called by my name and not my title, unless my title is how I choose to be acknowledged. The right to have the media portray my story, and not portray me as the Sidekick, or the Side Piece, or the Victim, or the Vamp. I am complicated. I am more than a trope. I want to see media portrayals that show all facets of women, and don’t just boil her down to a Strong Female Character.

I want to have media recognize that yes, she is the first Simone Biles, and not the next Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt. Fuck off, media.

Anyway. I apologize most of all to you, Feminist Character From The Surgeon Whose Name I Wrote Down As “Women’s Crisis Center Lady [Sarah].” You keep fighting the good fight, from inside your paper home, and I’ll keep fighting mine, out here in the Internet trenches.

As for The Apprentice? Eh — C+.

Grade for The Apprentice: 3 stars