30 March 2009

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

“I have seen what comes of being patient," Amanda said with a boding look. "And I have no opinion of it."
"What does come of it?" Inquired Sir Gareth.

Sir Gareth Ludlow is a good-looking young man with sufficient fortune and dashing ways to attract the attentions of any gently bred lady. Alas, he ignores them all as he Grieves the Unfortunate Demise of his True Love who Passed from this Mortal Coil seven years ago. Or, so he had been doing until his brother snuffs it on the Continent and it is up to Ludlow to carry on the line ... which means, of course, finding a wife!

His eye falls on Lady Hester Theale -- a quiet, self-effacing, practical, and rather plain old maid, Lady Hester spends her days at her father's country seat surrounded by the most vulgar and trying of relations. Her family makes it clear they would be pleased to be rid of her -- especially if it might make their fortunes. And shouldn't Lady Hester be eager to escape her family by making such a brilliant match?

Alas, on his way to propose to Lady Hester, Ludlow finds himself burdened with a very young, very beautiful runaway who leads him on merry chase across rural England ...

I admit I did not enjoy this novel quite as much as other Heyer romances I have read. Oh, I admit the subtle romance between Hester and Gareth was quite well done and I was, of course, pleased to see her accept his proposal in the end. However, Amanda's adventures and romantic silliness made me want to toss the novel out a window. I could only hope Heyer was using Amanda to spoof those romantic heroines who have more hair than sense!

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1957).

22 March 2009

Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer

"What a very uncivil person, I must say!"

Miss Annis Wychwood, quite on the shelf at twenty-nine, lives an independent life in Bath and is quite content to keep on that way. Alas, Fate has other plans when it throws two young runaways in her path -- Miss Lucilla Carleton and Mister Ninian Elmore who have run away together (more-or-less) because they don't wish to be married to each other. Befriending Lucilla, Miss Wychwood takes the girl under her wing and thus earns herself the attention of the girl's guardian, Mr. Oliver Carleton -- "a damned unpleasant fellow" whose "reputation is not that of a well-conducted man."

I found Lady of Quality a little slower-paced than some of Heyer's other novels, but that didn't kill my pleasure. Annis and Oliver's verbal sparring was quite entertaining and their love plays out in a very realistic way -- especially Miss Wychwood's struggle over accepting Carleton's suit and how she reconciled what she saw as a choice between freedom and love. The passage about kindred spirits and the indefinability of love was especially moving, I thought.

(Less I sound mawkish, let me just note that I laughed my way through most of Lady of Quality).

Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2008)

20 March 2009

Not a Gem

RYOB Challenge 2009: Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina (Beaufort Books, 2008).

The Jewel of Medina is a retelling of the life of The Prophet Muhammad's child bride, Aisha. I don't know how factual this novel was supposed to be, but it read like a bad historical romance.

The characterization is terrible -- very wooden and one-dimensional. Even Aisha, described by the book jacket as "one of the most important women in Islam, and a fierce protector of her husband's words and legacy" never seemed like a real woman who lived and breathed. Mostly, I found her annoying and wished The Prophet would consummate their marriage so she would shut up.

Do you want to know how Aisha felt about being a Muslimah at the birth of Islam? Sadly, on that the book is curiously silent. What was Aisha's relationship with Allah? What was her spiritual relationship with The Prophet? This book will not tell you these things.

However, the book will tell you Aisha was good with a sword, felt stifled by her marriage, and thought she was unattractive. It will tell you those things many times.

The Jewel of Medina has a sequel in the works, but I won't be reading it.

10 March 2009

Thar Be Fairies in Them Thar Hills

RYOB Challenge 2009: Patricia McKillips's Solstice Wood (Ace, 2006).

Patricia McKillip has been one of my favorite fantasy authors since I read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld way back when. Alas, I could not get into Solstice Wood. I just could not suspend my disbelief and accept fairies in the Catskills or magic knitting circles. The fantasy elements were fine and the "real life" story of a girl returning home to face her past was okay, too, but I could not get the two to work together.

Also, rather irritatingly, McKillip's up state New York didn't ever "feel" real -- Lynn Hall and its village might just as well have been somewhere in the British Isles for all the sense of place I recieved. Honestly, I would never have placed the world of Rois Melior (Winter Rose) in North America so, maybe, I just found the disputation of my assumptions jarring?

And why must we have the Fairy Raed in North America, anyway? Why not proper strange indigenous fairies with proper strange indigenous fairy ways?

04 March 2009

Agape, Eros, Philia, Storge, Thelema ...

RYOB Challenge 2009: Ursula Hegi's The Vision of Emma Blau (Scribner, 2000).

In 1894, thirteen-year old Stefan Blau runs away from his home in Bergdorf, Germany to find his fortune in America. In this land of opportunity, Stefan finds success but no great purpose until he travels to Lake Winnipesaukee and begins to dream of an apartment complex he would build and of a "small, stocky girl in a black dress whirling through the courtyard as if she were dancing or, perhaps, throwing a tantrum." The story then follows the building of the complex and the fortunes of the Blau family across a century.

Stefan Blau and his wives were quite interesting and I wish Hegi had dealt with them longer before moving on to the children and grandchildren who were, frankly, not nearly as fascinating or dynamic. Indeed, the descendants always gave off a feeling of doom and fatalism, as if they were trapped in some god-awful Greek tragedy ...

Though possessing a certain kind of beauty, The Vision of Emma Blau, is not an uplifting book and a left me feeling numbed and in want of lighter, kinder reading material.

02 March 2009

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

About three pages in, I realized I had already read Case Histories. Yes, it is official -- I have now read so many books that I can no longer remember which I have read and which I have merely read about!

I've delayed talking about this novel, because while I've read it twice now, I still don't know what to say about it. Although I can't discuss it very coherently (and have given up trying), Case Histories is a good mystery and well worth reading. The various characters and plot lines intertwine most interestingly and, for a book so full of tragedy, is actually quite funny.

And now I'm going to make it sound depressing:

This novel focuses on the theme of loss, I think. Everyone loses something or someone. Even in the finding, there is a sense of loss. Oh, yes, the novel's ostensibly about the investigation of three cold cases by private detective Jackson Brody, but that's window dressing. Good, interesting, well-written window dressing to be sure:

  1. One hot summer night, a young girl disappears from a tent in her family's garden. Years later, tidying up after their father's death, her sisters find her favorite toy locked in his desk drawer. A toy which was supposed to have disappeared with the sister ...
  2. A girl takes a job in her father's office and is brutally murdered. Why was she killed? By whom was she killed? The father, bound up in idolized memories of his daughter, requires answers ... but what will he do when he has them?
  3. A woman finds herself shackled to a needy baby and demanding husband in the middle of nowhere. Desperate for escape, she makes a particularly bloody choice ... or does she?

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown and Company, 2004).

01 March 2009

Beautiful Blueberry Banana Bread

Oh, noes! So drunk on blood oranges that I neglected to eat my bananas last week! And the blueberries are starting to give me the eye! What to do? Make blueberry banana bread, of course!

I know I have a recipe for blueberry banana bread squirreled away somewhere. I remember, it uses yoghurt and lemon zest. Can I find it? No. But that is why we have the internets. The internets has everything.

Sometimes, even stuff you want!

Tarah has a beautiful blueberry banana bread recipe posted on Genesis of a Cook which, while lacking yoghurt and lemon, uses melted butter (no softening! huzzah!) and has a lovely oatmeal streusel crumb topping.


I didn't have any buttermilk, so I subbed in sour milk (milk mixed with vinegar). Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly as posted and the bread came out very well. Cake has a light fluffy crumb with blueberries studded throughout (rather than sunk to the bottom) and an excellent banana/cinnamon flavor

I saved myself a two-inch chunk, but the rest will go to work in the morning ... presuming the Great March Snow doesn't leave me housebound, of course.

Sicksicksicksick of winter.

Could Put Me Off The English Entirely

RYOB Challenge 2009: E.M. Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread (Vintage International, 1947)

Where Angels Fear to Tread is the story of a stifled English widow who (suitably chaperoned) goes on holiday to Italy and falls in love with a younger Italian man, earning the censure of her in-laws. Her brother-in-law is dispatched to sort the mess out, but arrives too late -- the foolish woman has married that shiftless son of a dentist. Of course, they cut her. Of course, the marriage fails. Of course, she dies tragically.

So sad, so unfortunate, so easy to forget ... if only she hadn't died having a baby. Can't leave the poor mite in the hands of the Italians! No, the baby must be brought to England where he can be raised properly.


What tiresome people, these English in-laws! Stiff, one-dimensional, and consistently irritating! Every time I thought I glimpsed something redeeming in them, they went all horrible again. Miss Abbott was probably the only likeable one in the bunch, but only before she went all "goddess-y."

I'm thankful this wasn't the first Forster novel I'd read for, if it had been, I would read no more.

Odious, odious people!