“The Ape Who Guards the Balance” Re-read

Warning: Massive spoilers ahead. If you don’t want to know who dies in this book, don’t keep reading. 

'The Ape Who Guards the Balance' by Elizabeth Peters

‘The Ape Who Guards the Balance’ by Elizabeth Peters

This one has a lot going on in it, aside from the main mystery. The main mystery is pretty straightforward, simply the pursuit of the usual suspects who are antiquities thieves in and around Luxor. Amelia’s old nemesis/admirer Sethos is back on the scene, though he doesn’t appear to be involved with her current troubles. At first.

There are other, more personal plot issues happening however. We hear quite a lot from Ramses, in the form of Manuscript H, in this volume. He is more passionately in love with Nefret than ever, and in greater pain because of it. He even begins to be jealous, and in fact suspicious that she and David have fallen in love, based on half-overheard snips of conversation which he entirely misinterprets. But we’ll be back to David in a minute.

Old friends and enemies show up in this one, including Sir Edward Washington, who helps to guard the family while they’re under attack. Layla, a native woman who was a subordinate of Bertha returns, and even Walter and Evelyn make an appearance on the scene with their daughter Lia (short for Amelia). Which brings us back to David. For it seems he and Lia have fallen madly, passionately, deeply, and entirely socially unacceptably in love. This precipitates an ugly but entirely predictable (for the time-period) family crisis. The lines along which the two sides are drawn are rather interesting, but everyone knows the most important opinion is Amelia’s. If she approves the match, everyone else will fall in behind her (or she’ll make them do so). And if she doesn’t, that’s the end of it. Amelia, for all her enlightened views on women and other downtrodden sorts, runs right into her own deeply buried prejudices, the sort instilled by a deeply, viciously racist and classist society.

Peters does her usual stellar job of exploring the difficulty of facing your own ugly side. Naturally, Amelia rises to the challenge and exterminates (as much as she can) these ugly feelings, consenting to David and Lia’s engagement. One of the things that really helps her though is her close friendship and love for Abdullah, David’s grandfather. Abdullah is actually not much happier about the love-tangle than Lia’s parents. His discussions with Amelia on the subject, and his continued devotion and gentlemanly demeanor toward her help her realize how very without foundation her objections are. But the true clincher is when Bertha, her old nemesis, after an unsuccessful abduction attempt, surprises them all and fires a gun at close range toward Amelia. The nearest help is Abdullah, and he does the only thing possible to save her, which is step forward and take the bullet himself.

This scene moves me to the point of tears every time (I’m actually tearing up just writing about it, and in the middle of the Public Library too!). Abdullah dies in Amelia’s arms, surrounded by the entire family, his and hers. His last words are to Emerson, a warning to watch over Amelia, because “She is not…” What she is not is never said, but Emerson understands perfectly what he means.

*Brief intermission for the writer to compose herself.*

On the archaeological side, we are introduced to Mr. Theodore Davis, a wealthy dilettante. He is excavating in the Valley of the Kings, near the Emerson’s own, rather less exciting excavations. His pig-headed, short-sighted, uneducated approach to excavation is motivated entirely by greed for “treasure” and a disregard for all historical knowledge. This, predictably, rather drives the Professor to rage, particularly when the excavators turn up a new tomb for Davis, with part of it’s contents intact and several mummies. The tomb is KV55, an actual tomb and the contents described are the actual contents of said tomb. Peters fudges a few of the details of the excavation, to include it within her plot and allow the Emersons to be there, but by and large her description is thoroughly accurate. Davis insists that he’s discovered the mummy of Queen Tiye, though all the knowledgeable archaeologists (i.e. the Emersons) disagree entirely, and some are rather of the opinion that perhaps it was her son, Akhenaton, who was interred there.

This volume of Amelia’s adventures ends with her and Emerson making a survey of sites in need of excavation in order to determine where to begin excavating the next season (and several seasons in the future). The final scene is an entirely touching little scene with Ramses and his mother, where she asks him to accompany her to visit Abdullah’s grave.

“Seeing a Large Cat” Re-Read

(I’m going to tell you who the murderer is. If you don’t already know, or don’t want to know, don’t keep reading.)

"Seeing a Large Cat" by Elizabeth Peters

“Seeing a Large Cat” by Elizabeth Peters

Book 9 of the Amelia Peabody series, Seeing a Large Cat introduces several new stylistic and narrative choices. For one thing, this is the first book that utilizes passages from another point of view besides Amelia’s. There are sections, denoted Manuscript H, which are told in a third-person perspective (rather than Amelia’s first-person, journal style) and follow the exploits of “the children” (i.e. Nefret, David, and Ramses). These purport to have been written by Ramses, and follow his point of view, but also talk about exploits of Nefret’s and David’s of which Amelia is unaware. This is partially because they are all no longer children, the youngest being Ramses who is 16 and quite mature (mostly), and so are becoming more autonomous. They are actively participating in events separate from Amelia and Emerson, and even instigating plot-points without either of their parents’ knowledge.

The book opens with the return of Ramses and David from a stay with a Bedouin tribe for several months. Ramses is dressed like a “native” in turban and headcloth, while David is dressed in a neat, European suit. Both are much changed, and Amelia (and many others except Nefret) do not immediately recognize either. The hotel doormen assume Ramses is an Egyptian and try to stop him from entering the European hotel, while allowing David to pass. This is really a bit of commentary both on the extreme superficiality of the racial prejudices against Egyptians of the time, and also about the similarity in looks between the two  boys.

It is then their sad duty to inform Ramses that his beloved cat, Bastet, passed away of old age while he was away. He doesn’t react much, naturally, but reading between the lines one can tell he’s been deeply affected by her loss. She was his friend and familiar from a very early age. They attempt to get him to adopt one of her kittens in her place, a rather silly, purry creature named Sekhmet. He is not enthused. The plot of the murder then progresses, introducing us to the Bellinghams, an American Civil War Colonel and his spoiled and selfish daughter. She spends the entire book pursuing a disgusted Ramses, while her father spends the entire book attempting to enmesh the Emersons in his affairs. Bellingham claims his daughter, Dolly, is in danger, with some evidence to back that up. Meanwhile, the Emersons are goaded into investigating a specific tomb in the Valley of the Kings, tomb 20A. Said tomb does not exist, according to all the experts, but they are lead to it by the nose anyway. At first, it is barely a hole in the ground, and inside they discover a mummified body. Hardly an unusual occurence in Egypt, but it is unusual for the mummy to be an American woman dead less than 5 years. She turns out to be the wife of Colonel Bellinham, said to have run off with his secretary five years ago. Everyone assumes the secretary subsequently killed her, and they set out to locate the man, who also appears to have designs on killing Bellingham.

This is the first time Amelia has investigated quite such a cold case, but she does go about it with her usual intelligence and vigor. She also has the active cooperation (mostly) of the Professor, and the clandestine cooperation of Ramses, Nefret and David. She has almost worked out the entire sequence of events leading to Mrs. Bellingham’s death when the dramatic denoument occurrs. It is revealed that the true killer is Bellingham himself, when they stumble on his recent murder of his former secretary (who had rather been attempting to get him to confess to the murder of his lady-love). Bellingham is an old misogynist, so Amelia naturally irritates him a great deal. He attempts to take her hostage and collapses the tomb (where it is all taking place) in on them. Ramses makes a daring leap through the falling rubble, and comes to grip with the Colonel in the dark. While attempting to subdue him, he accidentally kills him instead, and saving his mother’s life. After their rescue from the depths of the tomb, there follows a rather touching and understated scene between them. Much of his life, Ramses has asked to partake in the nightly ritual of whiskey and soda with his parents. Always, Amelia has refused on the grounds that he is too young. This night, while the others are effusive with praise, she is reserved as ever. However, she does serve him his very first whiskey and soda, a wordless sign that she no longer views him as a child, in recognition of his bravery, resourcefulness, and maturity.

It’s interesting really. Ramses’ coming of age (which is mostly what this book is about) requires the spilling of blood (Bellingham’s) and also his first navigations of the games played between men and women. But this is all balanced by his speaking aloud, for the first time, of his deep and abiding love for Nefret. She is still unaware of the depth of his regard, but he speaks of it to David (who does not understand, despite being older, but is sympathetic nonetheless).

There is a side-plot to this book as well. Peters’ skill is such that it fits harmoniously with the whole, but it is really entirely extraneous to the main plot of the book. It centers around two characters introduced in The Lion in the Valley who are having marital difficulties. Their marriage was facilitated by Amelia in the earlier volume, but now he has fallen madly in “love” with a fictional Egyptian Princess invented by a lady-medium. The medium, Mrs Jones, is afraid to cut him off for fear of his sanity, and Amelia helps to both break the young man of his dependence on Mrs. Jones and re-direct his affections to his distressed wife. Almost the entire point of this plot seems to be to bring Mrs. Jones and Cyrus Vandergelt into contact. They become engaged by the end of the story (with Amelia’s help, naturally).

Amelia is not translating any fairy-tales in this book, but the title is a reference to Ancient Egyptian literature. Several times characters have dreams featuring the cat Bastet. According to the dream papyrus, which Ramses is translating, such dreams mean good luck. There are also several cat related minor plot points, including Mrs. Jones, whose first name is Katherine, or Cat as Cyrus calls her affectionately.

There is also Sekhmet, who Ramses finally accepts as a substitute for his lost friend at the very end.

Next week, The Ape Who Guards the Balance, and the return of an old adversary!

“The Lion in the Valley” Re-Read

Spoilery spoilers ahead! Proceed with caution! Awooooga!

'The Lion in the Valley' by Elizabeth Peters

‘The Lion in the Valley’ by Elizabeth Peters

The fourth Amelia Peabody Mystery, The Lion in the Valley, is almost a continuation of the previous book. We pick up where we left off in Amelia’s search for the nefarious Master Criminal, and they pick up their excavations at a site quite near their last season’s dig. For this year, they dig at Dahshoor, the Director of Antiquities graciously giving up his spot to them. Emerson takes all the credit for this rather surprising bit of charity (they are not on good terms with the Director), but Amelia strongly suspects her precocious son was instrumental in arranging this. This is one of those little subtextual things which Ramses does that makes us love him. How many 8-year-old boys would not only realize their mother lusted after pyramids, but then be able to procure them for her?

The Emerson’s return to Cairo is plagued almost immediately by mishaps. Ramses is kidnapped from his parents’ side atop the Great Pyramid (once upon a time, tourists used to be allowed to climb them, sadly). He is rescued almost immediately, but not by Amelia or her formidable husband. Rather, a stranger saves him and returns him to his parents. The stranger, though dressed as the poorest native beggar, is really a fallen Englishman and Emerson hires him on the spot as a caretaker for Ramses. The man is rather truculent, but accepts the position and gives his name only as Nemo.

Later that evening, a rich young heiress who Amelia had interested herself in, is abducted (or flees) from her room in the hotel and her presumed lover is found murdered among the sheets. Amid this cloud of mystery, the Emersons leave for their dig in Dahshoor, though Amelia is convinced the murderer is her old adversary, the Master Criminal. The murdered man was one of his confederates, and had been about to betray him!

Soon after their arrival, they are joined by a young lady claiming at first to be a student-egyptologist. She is in some distress, but Amelia sees through her “disguise” immediately and addresses her as Miss Debenham (the young society lady who vanished from her hotel room) in private. Determining to help the young lady, and her solve her mysterious troubles, Amelia sets about trying to uncover the murderer of the young lady’s presumed lover. She is convinced the notorious womanizer and antiquities thief was murdered by the Master Criminal because he intended to betray that shadowy figure (as it turns out, she was right). There are the usual amounts of Sturm und Drang, dead bodies, antiquities and history lessons as the Emersons proceed along the winding path toward solving their mysteries and discovering the identity of the man known by his criminal associates as Sethos.

This book begins to develop the friendship between Amelia and Abdullah, the Emerson’s Egyptian foreman (reis). Abdullah is in nearly every book until his death much later in the series, but in the first few he is rather interchangeable with any of the other native men, even sometimes a suspect himself in the nefarious goings-on. But now he is beginning to be an established recurring character, and we’re learnign more about him and his extended family (many of whom work for the Emersons and are considered friends). Abdullah himself has a strange relationship with her, partially loving and partially exasperated (rather mirroring the Professor’s feelings, but platonically, for Amelia). On Amelia’s part, this book really marks the point where she begins to feel affection and respect untinged with doubt for Abdullah. It’s also the book where he famously laments “Every year, another dead body!” for the first time.

The Lion in the Valley really explores jealousy and uncertainty on the part of the Professor. In a rather brilliant bit of writing, Peters conveys Sethos’ obvious infatuation with Amelia through her viewpoint, while making it equally clear that she does not quite realize such a thing is possible. The Professor clearly does, and it begins to wear on his nerves until the dramatic moment where Sethos kidnaps Amelia with the aim of forcing her to love him. This is when we finally meet the man as himself and not one of his many disguises (several of whom appear in the last two books). He is an interesting character, and his declaration after defeat that he’ll never bother them again is rather disappointing. Except, of course, he returns later in the series. But, more on that in later posts.

This book’s title is another Ancient Egyptian literary reference to an inscription of Ramses II. The relevant part is in the front of the book (a custom Peters adopts almost exclusively later in the series).

Lord of fear, great of fame,
In the hearts of all the lands.
Great of awe, rich in glory,
As is Set upon his mountain….
Like a wild lion in the valley of the goats.

The title is a clear reference to the revelation of the Master Criminal’s “identity” as Sethos, named after a Pharaoh who took his name from the god Set, who is the Lion in the valley of the Goats. This is a bit like the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of saying “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” and is certainly an apt description for the modern Sethos. He has built his criminal empire on being greatly feared and widely known by the criminal element of Cairo, even those not directly associated with his organization. It should also be noted (as Ramses points out) that Sethos I was the father of Ramses II (for whom Amelia’s son is nick-named). I’ve always believed this is a bit of foreshadowing on Peters’  part of revelations coming many many books later.

I’ve always enjoyed Lion, though this book’s particular set of “cursed young lovers” (Enid Debenham and Donald/Nemo) are rather tepid and a bit beside the point of the rest of the book. This book is really about Amelia’s relationships with The Professor, Sethos, and Abdullah. All three men are hugely important in her life, and Lion begins some of those relationships and develops others. It’s one of my favorite of the earlier books. But then, I have a weakness for Sethos!

Next week, I’ll be doing The Last Camel Died at Noon, skipping over The Deeds of the Disturber. I’m rather unfond of that book (and even skipped reading it in this re-read session), mainly because I loathe with passionate hatred Percy Peabody, Amelia’s noxious nephew who is introduced in the book. He is especially unbearable in Disturber as all the principle characters don’t yet realize his perfidy and he gets away with tormenting Ramses like the disgusting bully he is rather a lot.

“Flight Behavior”

'Flight Behavior' by Barbara Kingsolver

‘Flight Behavior’ by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel, Flight Behavior, is as excellent as all her other works. I first heard about it some time ago when she did an interview about it on NPR (on Fresh Air I think, but I forget exactly). When I ran across it in my local indie-bookstore I had to pick it up, and I finally got around to reading it about two weeks ago. I can’t express how much I loved this book. It spoke to my soul, and I have never identified quite so strongly with a character as I did with Dellarobia. At a glance, our lives have actually been very different, but there are a lot of similarities between her life after children and mine. Neither of us regret our children, and even in a way chose our children. But we still feel a bit trapped by them, and that our intelligence is being under-utilized. We’re even the exact same age and live with difficult in-laws. I’ve found very different strategies for assuaging those feelings than Dellarobia did, but I sympathized nonetheless.

Flight Behavior has a relatively simple plot, with incredibly unsimple characters and emotions depicted. Dellarobia is a wife and mother in a tiny town in the Appalachian mountains. She married her senior year of high school because she became pregnant, then quickly lost the baby. She and her husband eventually had two more, despite finding themselves totally ill-suited to each other, and settled down in a little house on the edge of his family’s land to be farmers. Dellarobia was a bright, college-bound girl from a poor area that traditionally did not encourage too much education, and she is desperately unhappy but doesn’t know why or what to do about it. Into this mess fly the butterflies, the entire population of Monarch butterflies who usually migrate to Mexico for the winter but have settled in the mountains behind Dellarobia’s home instead. Some call the beautiful mountain-valley full of swirling orange wings a miracle. Others raise it up as a rallying-cry against global-warming. And the foremost expert on Monarch butterflies comes to camp in Dellarobia’s back yard while he studies the phenomenon, along with his graduate students. He is looking for answers and mourning the almost certain destruction of the species by the harsh climate here, and in the process he turns Dellarobia’s life upside down by the very simple expedient of recognizing her intelligence and putting it to work. The transformative power of work suited to a person’s interests and intelligence is illustrated beautifully. Eventually, most of her problems are worked out for the better with the promise of more good things to come.

The ending is bitter-sweet, but it is exactly the end that Dellarobia’s character demands and deserves. It’s also a fairly unusual ending in media, with a message of independence and that it’s never too late to follow your dreams, even if you are a woman. The sympathetic portrait of a stay-at-home mom’s trials and tribulations resonated with my own experiences. And as always, Kingsolver’s prose were compelling in a way usually reserved for poetry. But what really kept me coming back was the depth and range of emotions evoked in both the characters and myself as a character. Kingsolver raised everything from sympathy to outrage to despair to joy and especially love. She plays the reader’s feelings like a well-tuned piano and digs into the complexity of her characters to do it.

“Throne of the Crescent Moon”

A few months ago I saw a retweet from someone about this new author who had won an award for his debut fantasy novel called Throne of the Crescent Moon. I was intrigued by the title and once I’d seen it, the cover. I read the cover-copy and started following the author (Saladin Ahmed) on twitter. The book promptly went on my “To Buy” list (a separate but related list to my “To Read” list, and yes of course I actually keep real lists!). It took a while for the money to become available for me to actually buy it, but I finally got a copy of it a month or so ago at my local indie bookstore. Monday evening I finally finished it. Whew! Let me tell you, that was an interesting ride!

Anyway, there will be spoilers ahead, below the cut.

*Siren noises* WEEOOOO WEEEOOO SPOILER ALERT

Seriously, turn back now if you do not want some of the plot revealed to you. Last chance!!!

Onward! Read the rest of this entry »

“Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance”

*There will almost certainly be spoilers ahead, for multiple books. You have been warned.*

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is the latest in Lois McMaster Bujold’s SF series The Vorkosigan Saga. Set after Diplomatic Immunity but apparently before Cryoburn (Count Aral is apparently still alive, though absent), it continues Bujold’s new practice of telling the story from a view-point other than Miles Vorkosigan’s. Personally, I am a fan of this choice. Miles has already found his Happily Ever After and settled down, so as much as I adore Miles, stories centered around his point of view might become a bit stale and unbelievable. There comes a point where even the most intrepid adventurer must retire, and Miles has mostly reached his. However, having other characters, especially ones connected to Miles, tell their stories allows for us to sort of peek into the lives of Miles and Ekaterin and their family, and get just a taste of that special Milesian flair.

So, Alliance is told from two points of view, that of Captain Ivan Vorpatril (Miles’ cousin, you’ll remember) and Lady Akuti Tejaswini Jyoti ghem Estif Arqua Vorpatril better known as Tej throughout the book. This is one of the early twists of the story. Ivan in previous books has been characterized as a bit of a womanizer but also a confirmed bachelor. Even, perhaps, an aggressively confirmed bachelor who goes out of his way to avoid matrimony, or even commitment of any sort. However, within the first third of the book, he meets Tej and promptly marries her. No, he hasn’t lost his mind, it’s all part of a ploy to get Tej and her genetically modified blue companion Rish off of Komarr and into the heart of the Empire. The two women are scions of a minor House in Jackson’s Whole, where inter-House rivalry has stripped their family of their power and in some cases their very lives. While the two women on the run, they get caught up with some schemes Byerly Vorrutyer (another cousin introduced in A Civil Campaign) is meddling with in his position as Imperial spy. Byerly enlists Ivan’s help in rescuing the young women, and during the ensuing confusion Ivan marries Tej (who he was already attracted to but hadn’t gotten anywhere with) and makes off with her to Barrayar, which is isolated enough to make pursuit difficult.

Meanwhile, from Tej’s perspective, we discover that Tej and Rish are Jacksonian enough to use Ivan for his protection, even up to and including causing him to fall in love with Tej, and then breaking his heart once they’ve gotten what they need. Except Barrayar is so far out of their realm of experience that they find themselves in many unexpected situations. Tej, particularly, was never entirely happy with the Jacksonian way of life, and finds Ivan’s life on Barrayar compellingly attractive (and Ivan too). However, the second twist is when House Arqua (Tej and Rish’s family) turn up whole and unscathed minus a few deaths which are presumed to be reversible in the future, after the ladies had given them up entirely for dead. The Arquas are intent on using Barrayar to rebuild their fortunes, and then traveling straight back to Jackson’s Whole to retake their property, with Tej and Rish in tow. Rish is more than happy to be reunited with her House, but Tej is less certain. She helps her family on Barrayar, but finds herself conflicted between the pull of House Arqua and House Vorpatril.

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance seems, at first glance, to be a love story centered around Ivan, that most unlikely of serious lovers. But it’s really the story of Tej, and her struggle to break away from her family so she can find her own life and happiness, while simultaneously not burning her bridges with them. Despite the callous and cavalier reputation of Jacksonians, the Arqua family actually do love each-other, albeit occasionally dysfunctionally. In a way, it’s harder to break away from a loving but overbearing family than from a family which one is an outcast of. Love is the tie that binds, after all.

I greatly enjoyed the principle characters as well. There’s Ivan of course. A Civil Campaign gives us a taste of his wit and ability which is often overshadowed by his cousin Miles’ brilliance. This book gives us another, deeper taste of the same. Ivan is no Miles, but they certainly bear a familial resemblance intellectually. Ivan is just better at hiding his away out of laziness and apathy.

Tej is one of my favorite characters. She’s clever, capable, and interesting in her own right, and through her eyes we get another perspective on Barrayar, similar to the one we get from Cordelia’s Honor, and yet entirely distinct from Cordelia’s perspective. Her internal struggles with the competing demands of family and husband resonated with me quite strongly. I also enjoyed her close, companionate relationship with her sister/servant Rish. They complement each-other with strengths and weaknesses, proving to be a good team.

This brings us to Rish, who is quite a unique character. More properly named Lapis Lazuli, she is one of six genetically modified sort-of-children of Baronne Arqua, known as her Jewels. The Jewels are so-called because they are each modified to embody a particular hue. In Rish’s case, her skin is bright blue (hence Lapis Lazuli) and her hair is white. Beyond the coloration changes, she also possesses extremely heightened senses and encoded abilities with dance and athletics and such. The Jewels are often used as a dance-troup by the Baronne, at least in public, but they are also fully members of the House and thus quite involved in all the House chicanery up to their exquisitely-colored necks.

Overall, I enjoyed the whole book. I would not classify it as one of Bujold’s best books, but neither was it her worst. It was light-heartedly entertaining, and the end was very satisfying. I would definitely heartily recommend this one to any of Bujold’s fans, especially those who love her Vorkosigan Saga books. Most tellingly, it left me hungry for more Vorkosiverse books, and sent me back to my bookshelves to re-read a few of my old favorites.

“Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet”

This review of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford was originally posted to Goodreads on June 26, 2012.

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When I first sat down to read this book, I only intended to read a single chapter before bed. I thought I would have no trouble putting it down as it was outside my usual realm of reading material. Boy was I mistaken.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a WWII era Historical novel about the injustices visited upon Japanese Americans after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, which peaked with the internment camps. But it is so much more than that as well. It is also a bitter-sweet love story, a tale of fathers and sons, a story of healing after losing a loved one to cancer, and a coming-of-age story. Henry Lee and Keiko Okabe are unforgettable characters; two teenagers caught inexorably in world events who bond through being outsiders, and through a love of Seattle jazz. The character of Ethel Lee is almost non-existent, a sort of literary ghost who haunts each chapter. Each other supporting character, from Sheldon the jazz sax-player who looks out for them to Mrs. Beatty the taciturn but kind-hearted school lunch-lady, brings something to the tale, often a surprising something. If anything negative could be said about Jamie Ford’s characters, it is only that perhaps his antagonists are a bit one-sided. They are little more than bigoted bullies, without the depth and broadness of emotion and experience exhibited by the protagonists. The exception is Henry’s father, who is far more fully developed.

The story itself is split in two, taking place in 1942 and in 1986. Each part is complete without the other, and yet they are both so much richer and more vibrant when combined. I would certainly highly recommend this book to anyone, particularly fans of WWII historical fiction. It is a powerful story, full of anguish punctuated by brief periods of joy, and culminating in the bitter-sweet happiness of the possibility of a second chance.

“My Lord John”

This review of My Lord John by Georgette Heyer was originally posted to Goodreads on June 13th 2012.

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It took me a VERY long time to finish this book, relative to it’s length. This was mostly due to the rather dense style and obscure language. The book is written entirely in medieval language, which while comprehensible is a bit like reading Shakespeare; it takes some getting used to. It’s also difficult to remember who is who in relation to everyone else as they all have several titles (which change occasionally) and practically everyone is named John, Richard, Henry, or Joan (which is hardly Heyer’s fault, of course).

While the book in it’s current form is slightly disappointing, in certain parts you can see what might-have-been if Ms. Heyer had ever had a chance to finish and edit the manuscript herself. Everywhere her research shows through, but in a few places her characters really develop into humans rather than historical ciphers. But the most poignant reminder of the unfinished status of the book is that it actually cuts off mid-sentence at the end. It made me think of her writing, perhaps up until the very end of her life, and I was saddened to think she would never see the work she considered her “magnum opus” finished and published

“The Reluctant Widow”

This review of the The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer was originally posted to Goodreads on May 24th, 2012.

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*There are some slight spoilers ahead*

This was my first Georgette Heyer novel, and I admit I expected to be slightly bored as regency romances are not precisely my cup of tea. However, I’ve been trying to expand my reading horizons lately so I plunged into The Reluctant Widow. At the outset, the plot seemed rather silly and contrived. But as I continued with the story it got progressively more interesting and intriguing in every sense of the word. What really drew me in were the characters though. The heroine was snarky, sarcastic, and while she was somewhat typical in her inability to act without a man she didn’t lack for decision and a certain understated independence. The hero was also compelling, and while he was masterful, he also was eminently practical and well-spoken.

I liked and enjoyed the protagonists of Heyer’s story, but I admired how she dealt with the villains/antagonists. None of the antagonists were flat, and they were all varied in their types and degrees of villainy. Most interestingly however was the antagonist who turned out to be working towards the same goal as the protagonists (avoiding scandal and preventing treason) but remained a generally not-nice guy. He was a thoroughly dangerous, unlikeable, rather creepy character…but in the end you couldn’t hate him either.

In the end, I expected to take several days working my way through this book and instead I finished it in one sitting.

Goodreads Reviews

I do have a Goodreads account, and have for some time. At one point, I even used it regularly as an easy way to keep track of what I was reading and when. However, I haven’t used it for quite some time now, nor even logged in to check the social aspect of it. I never really got the hang of the social media part of it anyway, so that’s no particular loss on my part. As I doubt I’ll ever go back to using Goodreads, today’s news of the Amazon buyout was of only slight interest to me. It will really have a very small effect on my life as I don’t use the service, and try not to support Amazon unless strictly necessary (particularly in the matter of book-buying).

The news did have one effect. It reminded me of my Goodreads account, and the fact that I had written one or two reviews over there at one point. I don’t especially want to lose those reviews, as they are honest opinions I had about various books I’d read for the first time in the last few years. However, I think it’s high time I migrated them over here to my blog, with my other reviews. So, starting tonight I’m going to begin posting them here one at a time, though there’s only 2 or 3 in all. They’ll show up as new posts of course, under the “Book Thoughts” category, but I’ll make reference to their original spot on Goodreads, and the date they were originally posted.

I haven’t yet decided if I’ll delete my account permanently once I’ve finished that. I’m leaning towards doing so, but by the time I’m done saving my reviews I may have changed my mind. I’m still mulling.