If you are a fan of Regency/Victorian era fiction, I highly recommend Belgravia by Julian Fellowes, the writer-producer behind Downton Abbey. The story of Belgravia is rather predictable, but the book gives a nice slice of life in the early years of Victoria’s reign. My only quibble with this work was the author’s inadvertent shifts in point of view. I personally like it when a writer allows me to see a given scene from within the perception of one character—one character at a time, that is. I do not like being jerked from one consciousness to another, from one paragraph to the next yet! I’d be interested in hearing how others feel about this business of point of view.
Ever since I read Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road in the ‘70s, I have loved books about books and their readers. You may recall that 84. . . is about a New York woman who exchanges a series of letters—and goody boxes—with employees in a book shop in London. The exchanges took place while the English were still suffering the post war privations of WWII. Hanff’s characterizations, as well as her insights into books, are nothing short of delightful.
Recently I discovered The Little Paris Book Shop by Nina George. Monsieur Perdu’s book shop is located in Paris on a barge on the Seine. For years Perdu has cut himself off from life, but has acted as a “literary apothecary” for others, recommending just the right books to mend broken souls. Then comes the day when he sets his barge loose and, with an assortment of fellow travelers, journeys on French rivers and canals, still prescribing books along the way. And, of course, he eventually achieves his own degree of wellness.
Finally, I loved The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bovald. Sara, a Swedish woman, travels to Broken Wheel, Iowa, at the invitation of her American pen pal with whom she has shared a love of books. She arrives in Broken Wheel just as the townspeople are attending her friend’s funeral. Broken Wheel is aptly named, for the town is dying, and one would think it a most unlikely location in which to open a bookshop. But Sara does exactly that. Broken Wheel’s recommendations offer treats in both books and characters. Another good read!
First in the Once Upon a Bride series!
Available October 17, 2017
Well-bred, well-dressed, and well-read, Henrietta, Harriet, and Hero are best friends who have bonded over good books since their schooldays. Now these cultured ladies are ready to make their own happy endings—each in her own way . . .
Lady Henrietta Parker, daughter of the Earl of Blakemoor, has turned down many a suitor for fear that the ton’s bachelors are only interested in her wealth. But despite the warnings of her dearest friends, Harriet and Hero, she can’t resist the challenge rudely posed by her stepsister: transform an ordinary London dockworker into a society gentleman suitable for the “marriage mart.” Only after a handshake seals the deal does Retta fear she may have gone too far . . .
When Jake Bolton is swept from the grime of the seaport into the elegance of Blakemoor House, he appears every inch the rough, cockney working man who is to undergo Retta’s training in etiquette, wardrobe, and elocution. But Jake himself is a master of deception—with much more at stake than a drawing room wager.
But will his clandestine mission take second place to his irresistible tutor, her intriguing proposal . . . and true love?
Whether soaking in the tub or sitting on the “throne,” many of us find time spent in the “little room” put to better use if we have something to read while we’re at it. (I once heard—probably read—that if you spent a mere fifteen minutes a day reading, you could read twenty books a year!)
So—like so many others—I read in the bathroom. But, not wanting to get involved with characters and their escapades in such short spurts of time, I read things that present a whole idea in a paragraph—or less. Well, sometimes in 2 or 3 pages— but no more. Things like those collected lists of Harper’s Indexes or a book discussing 2,000 things that might have merited only a footnote in longer treatises. Magazines like Readers Digest and People make perfect bathroom reading.
For the last few weeks, I have been reading 100 Banned Books by Nicholas Karolides, et. al. (Checkmark Books, 1999). By no means a complete list of banned books, it manages to present an overview of books outlawed over time from Ovid’s poetry and The Canterbury Tales to The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. It would appear that, as soon as Guttenberg lifted the first works off his marvelous printing press, the thought police were out there trying to stifle his efforts. Karolides and his collaborators have divided their selections into four categories of reasons for banning: political, religious, sexual or social.
For each title discussed, they present a summary of its content, its censorship history, and suggestions for further consideration. Among the one hundred titles, you would immediately expect to find D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover and the anonymously written Fanny Hill of the Nineteenth Century. And you do, but there are surprises too—such as Anne Frank’s diary and William Tyndale’s translation of The New Testament. (Tyndale was burned at the stake. In the Sixteenth Century, those thought police took their work very seriously.)
Most of those advocating censorship do so from an arrogant assumption that only a few people should be permitted to pass judgment on what the rest of us may read. Of course their battleground of choice is the world of education—English classes in particular, from middle school right on up to university classrooms. There is little consistency in the final decisions on whether given works remain in school curricula.
Personal note: In my first year of teaching I ran smack dab into this issue. Teaching American literature to 11th graders, I gave students a two-page, single-spaced list of books from which to choose for individual book reports. One parent—one!—called the principal to object vehemently to the inclusion of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I took exception, of course, but my principal suggested that the way to avoid a confrontation was to give students a list of authors, for most parents, often as not, would not recognize authors. He was right. But really—The Grapes of Wrath???
In the 1970s, Alvin Toffler wrote the best-selling book Future Shock. He followed it up in the early 80s with The Third Wave which I finished re-reading a couple of weeks ago. Thirty-five years later, the book holds up quite well. [I thought it could do with some examples and anecdotes to flesh out some of his ideas, but as is, the book is over 400 pages long.] This time around, I found it quite interesting to see if his prognostications for the future were even beginning to play out. I think the world is not moving as fast as Mr. Toffler had thought it would (though, to be honest, he did not set time frames). I also found it extremely interesting—and apropos—in light of recent political rhetoric.
For Toffler, the First Wave occurred when humans became food producers rather than food gatherers. A settled, agricultural way of life revolved around the home with family units producing and consuming such things as they needed to survive and make life easier and more comfortable. Anything extra, they sold in local markets. This was the prevailing way of life all over the world for not just centuries, but for millennia. Political organization—such as it was—tended to be patriarchal (despite an occasional female leader) and structured along a well-defined hierarchy that was, nevertheless, rather remote from most of the people.
The Second Wave (Toffler always capitalizes these terms) came with the industrial revolution and brought with it tremendous upheavals in society as populations were forced to move from the country to the city for viable livelihoods. Their jobs required more structured (restrictive?) ways of doing things to ensure that standards were met. This, of course, brought changes in social institutions, especially in government and education, which were expected to serve the needs of the new structures not only for the workplace but for most social interactions. This period lasted for a few hundred years and Toffler argued in the early 80s that we were in transition from that age to the next. We still are, for such changes literally take generations to achieve.
The Third Wave arrived with incredible advances in technology—particularly those dealing with communication. The book was written before the advent of Facebook and Twitter and all those other instruments that allow us to communicate with others (after a fashion) while never encountering them in person. Third Wave people are not as tied to the workplace as in previous times—they can live farther and farther from actual job locations—hence, the flood of Americans who have escaped to the suburbs and beyond. Toffler sees the attendant changes in lifestyle as requiring new thinking about the institutions of government and education that were once designed to further the causes of the Second Wave. He also suggests that these changes bring a degree of anxiety that have not been known before, and that many people keep looking to a past that no longer exists for guidance in choosing leaders for this new age.
His most profound points (for me) have to do with how external aspects of life have influenced how we think and how we form communities, large and small—our individual and collective personalities, if you will. I found the book just as interesting this time as I did way back when (though I would still argue with him about a few of his conclusions!).
Several years ago, when I had already written three full-length novels (c. 70,000 words each) for Kensington’s Zebra imprint, John Scognamiglio, my editor, called me and asked if I’d consider writing a novella (c. 30,000 words) for an anthology he was putting together. Well, to be honest, I’d written only one novella before, but I blithely said, “Sure. I can do that.” Then he dropped the bombshell on me: it had to include a kitten—because “kittens sell.”
I know it is rather politically incorrect these days (the PETA people will hate me), but I am not much of an animal person—and, if I were, cats would not be my pet of choice. Nevertheless, I had made a commitment. So, I went out and bought a book on kittens and diligently picked the brains of my cat-loving friends (thanks, Mary and Nancy!), and I wrote the story “Christmas Joy.” The writing went smoothly, despite my trepidations about the subject matter. It is a Regency romance, of course, in which a kitten helps to heal a child traumatized by her mother’s death and incidentally brings romance to Joy’s widowed father.
The anthology came out in time for the Christmas market in 2001 and was later translated into German. (Apparently kittens sell in Germany, too.) A couple of years ago, Kensington reissued the story in a slim volume and eBook on its own. Again this year, they are offering it as an eBook for $.99. Ninety-nine cents! Where else are you likely to get a couple of hours of entertainment for less than a dollar?
I discovered the works of Miranda Neville. Never mind that she has, indeed, been around for a while. Her work was new to me.
Miranda Neville writes Regencies and I always feel a special kinship with Regency writers. Though I am rarely moved to jump up and write a fan letter—all right, an e-mail message—on finishing a new book, I was moved to do so by her Lady Windermere’s Lover.
OK. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that in this book she employs a plot circumstance that I have now used in two of my own books—The Wagered Wife and my newest, The Memory of Your Kiss. That is: a prolonged separation of hero and heroine and later renewal of their relationship on a rather different basis.
Naturally, the first Neville book I would pick up was No. 3 in a 4-book series! I’ve since read two others and, take it from me, Miranda Neville’s work holds up well. Very well. Her characters are not cardboard cut-outs. Quirky, flawed and sexy, her heroes and heroines are memorable individuals for whom you find yourself rooting. The plots of the three I’ve read so far are only tangentially intertwined—each is very much a stand-alone novel.
Discovering a new eminently likeable writer is a thrill. That that writer delivers readable Regencies is frosting on the cake!
When J. K. Rowling was charging through all those barriers of adolescent ignorance and prejudice against the written word, I, too, read the first three Potter books. I enjoyed them immensely. But before the fourth one came out, I got sidetracked and never returned to the series—a fact that I regret, but not enough to reread the first three in order to bring me up to snuff for the others.
However, I still marvel at her ability to get preteens and teens all over the world to put down their video games and read a book. A real BOOK. Books. Books of several hundred pages, yet!
Earlier this month I read what someone told me was her first adult novel, A Casual Vacancy. (Digression: The Potter books seemed aimed at young people though their appeal was ageless.) ACV is, like the Potter books, lengthy—over 600 pages. I thought it could have been shorter—by maybe 200 pages. Still, it was readable. In chapter one a heart attacks fells a well-liked member of a small English town. His death leaves a vacancy on the town council. There is no great mystery or trauma as we see the effects of a rather ordinary event on the lives of various individuals.
Rowling does manage to keep us intrigued through those 600-plus pages–this is, after all, the writer who pried all those kids’ fingers from their video games. She explores family dynamics, small town politics, petty grievances, prejudices, dreams deferred and dreams destroyed. Yet she shows how the human spirit trudges on and even triumphs sometimes in spite of events and circumstances.
Was the book entertaining? Well, yes. But more in the way of something by Willa Cather, rather than Nora Ephron.
I liked it.
(But I still think A Casual Vacancy could have been 200 pages shorter. . . .)