Stuff & Nonsense: May 2010

31 May 2010

Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer

"See what a rent the envious Casca made."

Nathaniel Herriard -- old, monied, and always contrary -- has been badgered by his excessively congenial brother into hosting a family Christmas party at his large country house. His guests include the presumed heir and his vapid fiance, a ditzy actress/niece and her desperate playwright, an old business partner, and a commonsensical cousin. Despite amiable Uncle Joseph's best attempts, the guests drive each other batty and Christmas with the Herriard Clan, it seems clear, will not be very jolly.

And then contrary old Nathaniel Herriard is found dead in his locked bedroom -- a clear victim of foul play! Who has murdered the old crank and how? It's up to Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard to solve the case.

If the title of the novel means anything to you, then you probably will figure out who killed Nathaniel (and how) well ahead of everyone else. If you aren't, Heyer will indeed identify the killer to you in the end, but you will need to consult an encyclopedia or biographical dictionary to find out how -- a rather cheap trick, I feel, and it killed some of my good feeling toward Envious Casca. A pity, as all of the snide remarks, insults, and general horribleness of the Herriards to each other had given me much pleasure!

Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2010)

26 May 2010

Behold, Here's Poison by Georgette Heyer

One fine morning, Gregory Matthews is found dead in his bed. Now, as the man was a bit of a tyrant and suffered from high blood pressure, his death is neither a surprising nor unwelcome event for the family members trapped under the same roof with him. The doctor is preparing to sign a death certificate, when Matthews' married sister bursts onto the scene and insists upon a post-mortem as it is impossible her brother could have died from a weak heart.

And wouldn't you know it? The old tyrant was poisoned!

Behold, Here's Poison was my first Heyer mystery and I thought it was quite an enjoyable read -- light and fun with lots of shenanigans and interesting characters. Randall Matthews was especially amusing, as his delight in being objectionable made him an excellent foil for his tiresomely silly and twittery aunts.

I was chuffed to deduce the means of poisoning and guess the poisoner's motive before the detectives (but probably not Randall) did. I could not, however, determine the identity of the poisoner and the ending came as a nice surprise.

I not know what a symphony in brown would look like, but I liked this quote:

It was at this quite inauspicious moment that the door opened again, and Randall, looking like a symphony in brown, came languidly into the room.

Behold, Here's Poison by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2009)

24 May 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew is a sixty-eight-year-old widower, living on his own in the village of Edgecombe St Mary since his wife passed away six years ago.  After his brother dies unexpectedly the Major is rather shaken and in his grief finds himself confiding in Mrs. Ali, a widow who runs the village shop.  The two begin a shy sort of friendship which quickly deepens into love.  Their neighbors and families are, of course,  quite scandalized.

A quiet love story set against a background of family strife and societal upheaval, this novel is strongly recommended to readers who enjoy Joanna Trollope and/or E.M. Forster.

Some of my favorite passages include:
"Well, it's quite all right." He gave her hand a quick squeeze.
"You are a most astonishing man," she said, and he realized he had inspired a sense of trust and indebtedness that would make it entirely impossible for an honorable man to kiss her anytime soon. He cursed himself for a fool
"I will do anything you ask," he said. He read gratitude in her face. He wondered if he might also be seeing some happiness. He turned away and made himself busy poking at a large weed with the tip of his stick as he added, "You must know that I am entirely yours to command."
"They are a motley and ragged bunch," she said, "but they are what is left when all the shallow pretense is burned away."
"Will it do?" said the Major, laying his hands over her cooled fingers. "Will it be enough to sustain the future?"
"It is more than enough for me," she said. "My hear is quite full."
I loved Major Pettigrew's cover art -- the coats and hats snuggled up next to each other on the coat stand as if they are kissing. Such a sweetly simple image and so well-suited to the story it decorates.

Watch Helen Simonson read an excerpt from the first chapter:

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (Random House, 2010)

21 May 2010

Graphic Novel: Pride and Prejudice

Butler has done a fine job adapting Pride & Prejudice into a graphic novel. Yes, some characters have been lost and the story moves along at a surprisingly fast clip, but Butler has still managed to capture the essence of the novel. Having said this, I must admit that Pride & Prejudice was never my favorite Austen novel -- I might have a decidedly different opinion of Butler's skills if she had adapted Persuasion!

Sadly, the illustrations left me cold. The Bennett Sisters made me think of Barbies tarted up in historical dress -- über hotties with glistening Botox lips and scarily white teeth.

Seriously, those toothy smiles! It's like a damned ad for Crest.

I know, you're looking at the cover and wondering what I'm talking about. Botox? Hotties? The cover art is misleading. This is what the inside art looks like:

Oh, the terrible toothy smiles of these toothsome maids.

Marvel Illustrated's Pride & Prejudice adapted by Nancy Butler & Hugo Petrus (Marvel Enterprises, 2010)

20 May 2010

Every Single One of Us, the Devil Inside

Horns by Joe Hill (William Morrow, 2010)

Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the anniversary of his girlfriend's murder getting good and pissed, so it is no surprise he wakes up the next morning with what feels like a horrible hangover and a vague feeling of having done something terrible. No, what's surprising is the pair of horns growing out of his head! People who see the horns seem to immediately forget them and want, desperately, to tell Ig all the unspeakable desires tucked away in their wicked hearts. Worse, when Ig touches people, he can see the terrible things they have done.

Signs Ignatius Perrish is a devil:
  • horns
  • goatee
  • drives a Gremlin
  • last supper w/ Merrin was at The Pit
  • doesn't mind the heat
  • spends time brooding in the furnace of an abandoned foundary
  • wields a pitchfork
  • snakes have a thing for him
  • fire talks to him
  • and many other signs I am probably forgetting
But does Ig's devilry make him Evil? Certainly, everyone believes he is a depraved sex murder who killed sweet Merrin in the woods beyond the old foundry. Even his own parents think he killed her!

Horns isn't a book I would have picked up on my own -- my Reader's Advisory librarian thrust it upon me and I owe her a great deal of thanks, because I really enjoyed this novel. While Horns can be violent and grotesque it is never scary and, more often than not, it is just plain funny. Hill's (usually) clever use of black humor tickled me -- Merrin and her sister are so obviously named after characters from Blatty's novel The Exorcist, Terry drives a Viper and plays the devil's music, Lee (who is the true devil) works for a right-wing politician, etc.

If I have any complaint against Horns, it is that Merrin seems to exist merely as a plot device and not as an actual person -- she's a madonna, a whore, a cancer diagnosis, a victim. Aside from the letter she leaves, we only know Merrin through the stories men tell of her. Which is, maybe, Hill's point?


19 May 2010

"A wizard is the social equal of anyone."

Magician's Ward by Patricia C. Wrede (Tom Doherty, 1997).

Set a year after Mairelon the Magician, Kim has a comfortable life in London as Mairelon's ward, living in the family townhouse, studying magic. Alas, Mairelon's crotchety Aunt Agatha has other plans for Kim -- if she has her way, Kim will marry the first respectable cit willing to overlook her "interesting" background. Kim is, understandably, not thrilled with the idea. Thankfully, some toff tries to break into the townhouse's library, Mairelon's mother comes to stay, and enough Stuff Happens to foil Aunt Agatha's plans.

Overall, I enjoyed Magician's Ward and found it to be an entertaining blend of skulduggery, romance, and comedy. Happily, the plot was less complicated than that of Mairelon the Magician with a smaller cast so it was a bit easier to keep track of who was who and which plot line they related to -- no time lost flipping back and forth going "who the heck is he?"

Sadly, my paperback copy has the worst cover art possible. It looks like Kim, dressed as a boy, is running down an alley in the London rookeries toward a man, presumably Mairelon, who waits for her. Fine, but the rookery isn't slummy enough and why does Mairelon look like, I don't know, a riverboat gambler?  The hardcover's art was much better -- mysterious cloaked intruder rummaging through a library is discovered by a young woman in her night dress. Much more atmospheric and it represents a more significant scene from the novel.

But see for yourself:


18 May 2010

Raised By Wolves

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book One: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood (Balzer & Bray, 2010)

Fifteen year old Miss Penelope Lumley, recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females (motto: "No hopeless case is truly without hope"), is hired by Lord and Lady Ashton to look after their three rather unusual wards. Found in the forest surrounding Ashton Place, these children give every appearance of having been raised by wolves! Can Miss Lumley civilize them? Only if she keep keep them away from squirrels!

The Mysterious Howling is a hoot -- Wood has written a novel which is quite clever and fun with characters who are (mostly) wonderfully quirky and rather charming. I look forward to reading more of Miss Lumley's adventures with The Incorrigibles.

If you have the time, I recommend listening to the audio sample on -- Katherine Kellgren's reading captures the novel perfectly.

16 May 2010

Meaningless Versification

In Unseen Academicals, the goddess Pedestria inspires a chant based upon the poem "Brahma" by Emerson. Pedestria is in good company as this poem has spawned many parodies since its publication. Indeed, the New York Times called this poem "such an exquisite piece of meaningless versification, that no sooner is it read than the desire to parody it becomes irresistible" (November 12, 1857).
IF the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Far or forgot to me is near;
Shadow and sunlight are the same;
The vanish'd gods to me appear;
And one to me are shame and fame.

They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.

The strong gods pine for my abode,
And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.

"Brahma" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

14 May 2010

Amazon Loot

My Amazon order arrived early Thursday morning and I immediately set to fondling and drooling over my shiny new books. How could I not? So pretty, so shiny, so new.

Marvel Illustrated's Pride & Prejudice (Marvel Enterprises, 2010)
I really enjoyed The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, another Marvel Illustrated Classic, and have been looking forward to reading other works in this line. While I am extremely amused by P&P's fashion magazine-style cover art and feel, so far, that Nancy Butler has done an excellent job adapting the novel, the character's lipstick-y mouths and blinding white teeth are a little off-putting.

Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker (Bloomsbury, 2009)
Bloomsbury has released a series of novels called "The Bloomsbury Group"-- a collection of previously out-of-print works from the early twentieth century. The covers are all extremely attractive and, based upon their descriptions, there isn't a novel in the series I don't want to read. I've decided to begin with Miss Hargreaves simply because it reminds me of something out of Oscar Wilde ...

One rainy afternoon, two young men invent an eighty-three year-old woman called Miss Hargreaves as a bit of fun. It's all a great joke ... until Miss Hargreaves comes to visit.

America's Test Kitchen: The Best Simple Recipes
While adore my America's Test Kitchen cookbooks and read Cook's Illustrated magazine quite religiously, I don't have time to make many of the recipes that catch my fancy. Therefore I was very pleased to come across this "simple" cookbook which contains two hundred time-saving thirty minute recipes. Can't wait to try "Skillet Pastitsio" and "Fish Tacos With Avocado and Pickled Red Onion."

Whoopie Pies by Sarah Billingsley & Amy Treadwell (Chronicle Books, 2010)
My father adores whoopie pies and I adore my father so what could be better than to buy this cookbook and make him whoopie pies? (And, of course, I will have to make "test" whoopies for myself!) A batch of classic chocolate whoopie pies with creamy root beer filling or banana whoopie with banana cream filling would no-doubt be well received on Father's Day. When he becomes aware of its existence (very soon, my darlings), The Husband will want whoopie cake and I crave a peanut butter whoopie with maple bacon filling. Oh, yes, this cookbook will (eventually) see a lot of use!

Give Me That Olde Tyme Hooliganism

Just finished chortling my way through Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals. As usual, there were quite a lot of inside jokes and asides which tickled me pink. While I'd like to think I spotted them all, I am not really that clever. Proof in point -- I did not recognise Emerson's "Brahma" lurking in Pedestria's chant.

Googling around for a copy of "Brahma," I became a little side-tracked and found a whole slew of interesting NYT articles from the late 1880s and early 1900s discussing hooliganism and the evolution of football. One article, from 1909, even talked about how the old way of playing football with its "sledge-hammering tactics" no longer worked and described a "new" football which sounded a lot like something Mr. Nutt would recognise.

The hooliganism article ("Foot-Ball Fighting" November 21, 1881) was probably my favorite as it describes a match not unlike the one Mr. Nutt attended in his bobble hat. Also, the article reads like something I would expect to read in the Ankh-Morpork Times.

It goes on to talk about how Something Must Be Done. Lawks, yes! "Let them fight with rifles, like civilized beings." Really, that is what it says!

10 May 2010

Havey-cavey Nonsense

Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede (Tom Doherty, 1991).

Sixteen-year-old Kim has been living on the streets of Regency London, pretending to be a boy while snooping for strangers, ever since the nabbing culls got Mother Tibb and made her dangle from the nubbing cheat. For five pounds from a gentry cove, Kim has a look around a travelling magician's wagon ... and is caught in the act.

Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles and Sorcery & Cecelia books remain some of my favorite young adult fantasy novels so I was totally chuffed to come across Mairelon. Her books tend to be a nice blend of historical fantasy and farce with just enough romance worked in to make me feel warm and fuzzy.  To me,  they are a bit like literary comfort food.

Mairelon did not disappoint! The novel moved along at a gallop with lots of highly entertaining double-crossing and skulduggery. It was also pretty darn funny and the romantic subtext between Kim and Mairelon was rather sweet.

My only complaint regarding Mairelon is a small one -- there were just too many secondary characters to keep track of and I couldn't keep them straight. It didn't help that, sometimes, a character would be referred to by his given name and, other times, by his surname. During the long denouement in the Sons of the New Dawn's clubhouse (when it seemed almost all the characters in the novel came together and nattered about the platter)  I had to keep flipping back and forth in the novel trying to figure out who was who. Unfortunately, it detracted from what I suspect was supposed to be a hilariously farcical ending.

However, that will not stop me from reading the sequel, Magician's Ward, as soon as some nice library sends it through inter-library loan!

05 May 2010

Telling It Like It Is

Shelf Check 395

(Later, of course, I will feel guilty for not having made the time to read your blog post/tumblr/journal article and browbeat myself for not trying harder).

04 May 2010

Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating by Jane Goodall et al

It has become increasingly clear that growing, harvesting, selling, buying, preparing, and eating food plays a central role in the world. And it is equally clear that some things are going wrong. Much of our food is unhealthy. Many people are no longer aware of where their food comes from. Some have no idea what they are eating. In fact, over the past hundred years -- especially during the half century since the end of World War II -- the industrial, technological world has increasingly destroyed our understanding of the food we eat: where it comes from and how it reaches our tables.

Not preachy or holier-than-thou, Harvest for Hope is very factual and to-the-point and I would say that, overall,  this book serves as  good introduction to making environmentally healthy food choices. While Goodall addresses the moral choices we face in food selection, she does not expect people to become vegans. Rather, she suggests we make the best choices we can by selecting locally grown seasonal organic foods. Goodall definitely sees consumer choice as a means for initiating change in the food industry.

Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating by Jane Goodall with Gary McAvoy & Gail Hudson (Warner Books, 2005)

03 May 2010

"My mother was my mother and she still is."

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow (Algonquin Books, 2010).

A biracial coming of age story set in 1980s Portland -- the daughter of a white Danish mother and an African-American soldier, Rachel is raised by her mother to identify as "white." After a disaster befalls her family, Rachel finds herself in the custody of her paternal grandmother who expects her to "act black."

The flash-back-flash-forward structure of novel seemed to get in the way of the story at times and the fabulous happenstance of Brick finding Rachel after all those years was a little too precious for me. Also, I was frustrated by Durrow's handling of Aunt Loretta. Why did Aunt Loretta die off-stage like an after thought when she seemed to be such a vital character? Why is her death never addressed? For that matter, why is the death of Rachel's mother and siblings never addressed? In The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, death is the elephant in the room.

Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer

"There is nothing for it," said the Earl, "I shall have to kiss you again, Clorinda."

Recently orphaned Judith Taverner and her brother Peregrine travel to London to introduce themselves to their guardian, the Fifth Earl of Worth, and discover, to their dismay, that the Earl is the same horrible dandy who accosted Judith on the road! The Earl really doesn't want anything to do with his wards, but allows them to remain in London so long as they promise to not make cakes of themselves. To improve the odds, he arranges for them to be properly housed and chaperoned -- a deed when drives Judith a little mad. Happily, their long lost relative, Cousin Bernard, is a sympathetic party to their tale of woe and injustice and becomes quite a good family friend.

Then poor Perry suffers a serious of suspicious accidents ... Judith is left to wonder if these accidents are murder attempts. But who would want to kill her brother? Worth? Would he really kill her brother and force her to marry him to get his hands on the Taverner fortune?

Of course not! (Although he does arrange a kidnapping).

When I started reading Regency Buck, I had a hard time liking Worth and almost resented that he was our hero -- he was so cool and supercilious (and there was the dishonor he had done Judith). However, as the story progressed and more of his inner character was revealed, I came to quite like him and wished him great luck with headstrong Judith.

Quite the opposite happened with Cousin Bernard -- I liked him immediately (although I was suspicious of his amiability) and wanted him to do good by Judith. Alas, it was not to be and Heyer slowly revealed Bernard as a subtle, conniving, black hearted ne’er-do-well. In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed hating him. (In my head, I kept visualizing him as Pride & Prejudice's Wickham as played by Adrian Lukis -- always smiling, but so slippery).

Overall, this romantic mystery was quite enjoyable. Heyer's use of humor, sarcasm, and wit made Regency Buck a ripping good read and her development of secondary characters and side plots was, as usual, excellent.

Random factoids learnt from Regency Buck:
  1. Orgeat is a fancy name for barley water
  2. "Clorinda" is the name of a warrior-maiden from Jerusalem Delivered (La Gerusalemme liberata), epic poem by the Italian poet Torquato Tasso

Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2008)

02 May 2010

Graphic Novel: Marvel Divas

Marvel Divas by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Marvel Comics, 2010).

Three B-list superheroines hang out together in New York, get mani-pedis and talk about men. It's "Sex in the City" in the Marvel Universe. And, if that's not "woman friendly" enough for you, don't fear -- Marvel throws breast cancer into the mix.

Oh, reading Divas made me so angry, I wanted to go out and slap somebody at Marvel for deciding this horrible condescending piffle was what female comic readers wanted. Shame on you, Marvel. Shame.

Taking a deep breath and moving on ...

Catching Up & Making Plans

I have been reading a lot of books, but I have been terribly remiss in writing them up. There's no good reason for this as I have a lot of time on my hands since I broke my ankle and ought to be able to stay on top of small things like blog updates. Instead, I find all this time has a kind-of numbing effect and I seem to be spending more and more of it zoned-out somewhere between daydreams and sleep. I don't think this can be healthy in the long run so I've vowed to make myself more active -- more regular blog posts, constant cataloging on LibraryThing, better participation at other blogs, etc.

(It's either that or take up needlepoint and heaven knows I don't need to pick up another craft.)