mini-review · stuff I read

The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern by Robert Morrison

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
The Victorians are often credited with ushering in our current era, yet the seeds of change were planted in the years before. The Regency (1811–1820) began when the profligate Prince of Wales—the future king George IV—replaced his insane father, George III, as Britain’s ruler.

Around the regent surged a society steeped in contrasts: evangelicalism and hedonism, elegance and brutality, exuberance and despair. The arts flourished at this time with a showcase of extraordinary writers and painters such as Jane Austen, Lord Byron, the Shelleys, John Constable, and J. M. W. Turner. Science burgeoned during this decade, too, giving us the steam locomotive and the blueprint for the modern computer.

Yet the dark side of the era was visible in poverty, slavery, pornography, opium, and the gothic imaginings that birthed the novel Frankenstein. With the British military in foreign lands, fighting the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and the War of 1812 in the United States, the desire for empire and an expanding colonial enterprise gained unstoppable momentum. Exploring these crosscurrents, Robert Morrison illuminates the profound ways this period shaped and indelibly marked the modern world.

The Regency Years seems a rather short book to try and cover all the parts of the ten years of the official Regency during end of George III’s life. But it does hit all the highlights, from crime and politics to the arts. The author does provide a critical view of unjust policies regarding the poor, racism, slavery, and colonialism/globalism so it definitely isn’t a “Rah Rah Britain” book. It just didn’t seem to read very easily.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

When the Marquess Was Mine by Caroline Linden (The Wagers of Sin #3)

41716340Summary from Goodreads:
In the game of love…
Georgiana Lucas despises the arrogant and cruel Marquess of Westmorland even before learning that he’s won the deed to her friend Kitty’s home in a card game. Still, Georgiana assures Kitty the marquess wouldn’t possibly come all the way to Derbyshire to throw them out—until he shows up, bloody and unconscious. Fearing that Kitty would rather see him die, Georgiana blurts out that he’s her fiancé. She’ll nurse the hateful man back to health and make him vow to leave and never return. The man who wakes up, though, is nothing like the heartless rogue Georgiana thought she knew…
You have to risk it all
He wakes up with no memory of being assaulted—or of who he is. The bewitching beauty tending him so devotedly calls him Rob and claims she’s his fiancée even as she avoids his touch. Though he can’t remember how he won her hand, he’s now determined to win her heart. But as his memory returns and the truth is revealed, Rob must decide if the game is up—or if he’ll take a chance on a love that defies all odds.

I’ve been a bit behind-hand with my romance reading. So I was pleased to pick up Caroline Linden’s new novel, When the Marquess Was Mine. Although it does have an amnesia plot, one of my least favorite tropes because it’s rarely handled well. But never fear! Four stars for the overall plot, an amnesia plot that doesn’t have consent issues and doesn’t revolve around “punishing” the person who has lost their memory. (For my money, the best amnesia romance is Slightly Sinful by Mary Balogh.)

However, the end of this book – say, the last 50-75 pages is really stuffed with A LOT. Georgiana has to ditch her long-standing fiancée (who is nice, but she doesn’t love him), receive several info dumps about how dudes are keeping information from her because she’s a “lady”, get with Rob, deal with her decidedly awful brother, AND foil the slave trade (which, yes foil slave trade=good but the plan was convoluted).

I do love Caro’s writing but I missed the two previous books in this series and so I think there was a bit of shorthand with the Vega Club and other characters that I was missing in the reading. So a fun read but you might want to catch up with the series.

When the Marquess Was Mine is out today!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas (The Gamblers of Craven’s #2)

330721Summary from Goodreads:
She stood at danger’s threshold—then love beckoned her in.

In the shelter of her country cottage, Sara Fielding puts pen to paper to create dreams. But curiosity has enticed the prim, well-bred gentlewoman out of her safe haven—and into Derek Craven’s dangerous world.

A handsome, tough and tenacious Cockney, he rose from poverty to become lord of London’s most exclusive gambling house—a struggle that has left Derek Craven fabulously wealthy, but hardened and suspicious. And now duty demands he allow Sara Fielding into his world—with her impeccable manners and her infuriating innocence. But here, in a perilous shadow-realm of ever-shifting fortunes, even a proper “mouse” can be transformed into a breathtaking enchantress—and a world-weary gambler can be shaken to his cynical core by the power of passion…and the promise of love.

I am weirdly late to the Lisa Kleypas party – when I was getting back into romance she didn’t pop onto my radar like some of the newer authors. But I’ve been backtracking through her backlist very slowly. YES, Derek Craven of Dreaming of You is a LOT. I can see why Sarah MacLean cites this book as a favorite and where her Scoundrels and Bastards come from (and why Tom Hardy has to play all of them). Sara is pretty fun in her “I am a writer, please give me backround information” mode and it was nice to see her decide that she’s not going to be a “good girl” and confine herself to a predefined role (and I loved her older parents and all the workers at the gambling club, from the servants to the sex workers, because they were so convinced Sara’s book was real). Now I need to back up and read Lily and Alex’s book.

Dear FTC: I read a strip of this book I had hanging around the house.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · sleuthing · stuff I read

Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian (Page & Sommers #1)

44785311._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A jaded spy and a shell shocked country doctor team up to solve a murder in postwar England.

James Sommers returned from the war with his nerves in tatters. All he wants is to retreat to the quiet village of his childhood and enjoy the boring, predictable life of a country doctor. The last thing in the world he needs is a handsome stranger who seems to be mixed up with the first violent death the village has seen in years. It certainly doesn’t help that this stranger is the first person James has wanted to touch since before the war.

The war may be over for the rest of the world, but Leo Page is still busy doing the dirty work for one of the more disreputable branches of the intelligence service. When his boss orders him to cover up a murder, Leo isn’t expecting to be sent to a sleepy village. After a week of helping old ladies wind balls of yarn and flirting with a handsome doctor, Leo is in danger of forgetting what he really is and why he’s there. He’s in danger of feeling things he has no business feeling. A person who burns his identity after every job can’t set down roots.

As he starts to untangle the mess of secrets and lies that lurk behind the lace curtains of even the most peaceful-seeming of villages, Leo realizes that the truths he’s about to uncover will affect his future and those of the man he’s growing to care about.

Cat Sebastian: Do you want a galley of my new post-WW2 m/m mystery-romance?
Me: OMG YES PLEASE

Hither, Page is a m/m romance and mystery set in the village of Wychcomb St. Mary. If you like Grantchester, and want a bit of romance, too, this first installment in Sommers & Page is as if Sidney Chambers was a hot doctor, instead of the vicar (and if you’ve seen the TV adaptation, James Norton is almost a dead-ringer for Dr. Sommers) and Geordie was a jaded spy, and they were both gay. This is a romance set in the immediate aftermath of WWII so many lives have been shattered and not put back together, if they ever will be. The resolution of the mystery was a bit too tangly but I enjoyed the characters of Sommers and Page, and so many of the side characters especially Edith and Cora and Wendy, very much.

Also – everyone wash your hands and don’t share utensils/cups, etc. because tonsillitis/strep throat in the early antibiotics era is contagious as all get out.

This is much less steamy than other Cat Sebastian romances.

Dear FTC: Many thanks to Cat Sebastian for the galley. I bought a copy, too. 🙂

Readathon · stuff I read

A Murder to Die For by Stevyn Colgan

35004372Summary from Goodreads:
When hordes of people descend on the picturesque village of Nasely for the annual celebration of its most famous resident, murder mystery writer Agnes Crabbe, events take a dark turn as the festival opens with a shocking death.

Each year the residents are outnumbered by crowds dressed as Crabbe’s best-known character, the lady detective Millicent Cutter. The weekend is never a mild-mannered affair as fan club rivalries bubble below the surface, but tensions reach new heights when a second Crabbe devotee is found murdered. Though the police are quick to arrive on the scene, the facts are tricky to ascertain as the witnesses, suspects and victim are all dressed as Miss Cutter. And they all want to solve that crime too . . .

I picked up A Murder to Die For after John (@johnnie_cakes) recommended it on Instagram. It is a delightful, madcap murder mystery set at a fan-con for a fictional English crime writer with a Phrynne Fisher-esque 1920s amateur detective. Colgan gleefully breaks all the “rules” of crime writing and name drops all sorts of mystery-related Easter eggs, including Midsomer Murders (and you’ll find the retired DS Shunter a bit of an analog to Tom Barnaby, my favorite dad-detective, although with less of John Nettles’s TV panache). Not a cosy, since the amateur detectives are quite useless and it’s a bit more violent than a cosy, so I can’t use it for the Read Harder task, but a good, zany whodunnit. The sum-up at the end is a bit awkward, imo.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

Reading Women · stuff I read

Victoria The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird

33894921Summary from Goodreads:
From International New York Times columnist Julia Baird comes a biography of Queen Victoria. Drawing on previously unpublished papers, Victoria: The Queen is a new portrait of the real woman behind the myth—a story of love and heartbreak, of devotion and grief, of strength and resilience.

When Victoria was born, in 1819, the world was a very different place. Revolution would begin to threaten many of Europe’s monarchies in the coming decades. In Britain, a generation of royals had indulged their whims at the public’s expense, and republican sentiment was growing. The Industrial Revolution was transforming the landscape, and the British Empire was commanding ever larger tracts of the globe. Born into a world where woman were often powerless, during a century roiling with change, Victoria went on to rule the most powerful country on earth with a decisive hand.

Fifth in line to the throne at the time of her birth, Victoria was an ordinary woman thrust into an extraordinary role. As a girl, she defied her mother’s meddling and an adviser’s bullying, forging an iron will of her own. As a teenage queen, she eagerly grasped the crown and relished the freedom it brought her. At twenty years old, she fell passionately in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, eventually giving birth to nine children. She loved sex and delighted in power. She was outspoken with her ministers, overstepping boundaries and asserting her opinions. After the death of her adored Albert, she began a controversial, intimate relationship with her servant John Brown. She survived eight assassination attempts over the course of her lifetime. And as science, technology, and democracy were dramatically reshaping the world, Victoria was a symbol of steadfastness and security—queen of a quarter of the world’s population at the height of the British Empire’s reach.

Drawing on sources that include revelations about Victoria’s relationship with John Brown, Julia Baird brings to life the story of a woman who struggled with so many of the things we do today: balancing work and family, raising children, navigating marital strife, losing parents, combating anxiety and self-doubt, finding an identity, searching for meaning.

I picked up a galley of Victoria the Queen at BEA in 2016 and it, unfortunately, has been in a pile of to-read books ever since. But I recently found it on the library’s Libby site, so I decided to give it a read. Baird has done a remarkable job reconstructing the inner life of a woman whose family and official biographers tried to mold into the myth she had become. Victoria was remarkably contradictory in her views, believing that she had the right to tell her ministers what to do and shape foreign policy yet felt inferior to her husband and didn’t believe in women’s suffrage, etc. (which I was surprised to learn).

(The audiobook narrator was dreadfully slow – I had the speed kicked up to 2.25x by the end – and had terrible German pronunciation.)

Dear FTC: I had a galley of this book from BEA but wound up borrowing the audiobook from the library.

Apropos Shakespeare · stuff I read

The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse: 1509–1659, selected by David Norbrook and edited by Henry R. Woudhuysen

609526Summary from Goodreads:
The era between the accession of Henry VIII and the crisis of the English republic in 1659 formed one of the most fertile epochs in world literature. This anthology offers a broad selection of its poetry, and includes a wide range of works by the great poets of the age – notably Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Sepnser, John Donne, William Shakespeare and John Milton. Poems by less well-known writers also feature prominently – among them significant female poets such as Lady Mary Wroth and Katherine Philips. Compelling and exhilarating, this landmark collection illuminates a time of astonishing innovation, imagination and diversity.

Selected and with an introduction by David Norbrook, and edited by H.R. Woudhuysen.

One of my goals this year was to read very (very) long books. One of my goals was to start, and finish, The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse 1509-1659. I loved the poetry we read when I took a Restoration literature class, and I love Shakespeare, so I was very interested in an overview of poetry  from this period. It’s a long haul of a book but a good overview of British Renaissance verse from the early Tudor period through just before the Restoration. I would have like better notation (there were a lot of analogies or references not explained), and for the poems in Scots or Welsh better translation side by side on the page as opposed to the endnotes, but I do appreciate that the editors didn’t modernize the spelling. It was harder to read in places but very interesting to see how spelling began to standardize over these 150 years of verse.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy from the local indie bookstore.

stuff I read

The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
The Lost for Words Bookshop is a compelling, irresistible, and heart-rending audiobook from author Stephanie Butland

Loveday Cardew prefers books to people. If you look carefully, you might glimpse the first lines of the novels she loves most tattooed on her skin. But there are some things Loveday will never, ever show you.

Into her hiding place – the bookstore where she works – come a poet, a lover, and three suspicious deliveries.

Someone has found out about her mysterious past. Will Loveday survive her own heartbreaking secrets?

Praise for The Lost for Words Bookshop:

“The Lost for Words Bookshop pushes all my bookish buttons.”–Red (Books to Read)

“Quirky, clever and unputdownable.”–Katie Fforde

“Burns fiercely with love and hurt. A rare and beautiful novel.”–Linda Green, bestselling author of While My Eyes Were Closed

I missed The Lost for Words Bookshop when it published in June because I couldn’t get my hands on a galley. But now that it’s autumn, and good snuggle up and read weather, I sat down to read a novel set in an English bookshop (well, and the copy I borrowed from the store needed to be returned).

The novel is narrated by Loveday Cardew, a solitary and one might say “quirky” (because attitude and tattoos, you know) young woman who works at The Lost for Words Bookshop in York. One day she finds a lost book on the street, posts a notice in the shop window, and meets a poet. He’s nice enough, but invites Loveday to a weekly poetry reading at the pub…which Loveday would rather remove her own skin than attend, but she winds up going because the other option is to get stalked by her shitty ex-boyfriend. In between Loveday’s thoughts on working at the bookshop (which she’s done since the age of 15) and opinions on books and reading, there come three very strange book deliveries which lead Loveday back into her past.

Now, before you get really excited and think this is a wild mystery or Loveday is hiding from the mob or something, it’s not that. I won’t spoil it too much but Loveday lives much of her life reacting to a very traumatic event in her childhood. She herself was not physically harmed (so, no TW for harm to children) though it has caused her to keep everyone that might love or care for her at a distance. The confluence of the book deliveries, the poet, and the ex all combine to break open Loveday’s tough exterior.

The Lost for Words Bookshop was a solid one-sitting read for me full of the solace that books can bring when one is lonely. I enjoyed Loveday’s voice very much, particularly when she spoke directly to the reader. But for all the snarky humor, there is a dark center to this book. There are several scenes with domestic violence and one character suffers from mental illness (although I’m not sure that aspect was handled well). A trigger warning if you need to know in advance.

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy of this book from my store.