Devices and Desires and my problem with AU

I’ve read four more books this month. It hasn’t felt like that many, but one was in process, another was an audiobook, and a third was a reread from way back. So only one book really felt like a slog, and unfortunately it was the one I was looking forward to. I read and enjoyed Pamela Sherwood’s novella, The Advent of Lady Madeline, and Janine and SonomaLass both really liked the full-length novel that follows it, Devices and Desires, so I decided to try it even though I had mixed feelings about the sample. The novel was written before the novella and is modelled on the film A Lion in Winter (the author’s notes in both the novella and the novel are explict about that, calling it a “retelling”). The film, of course, is the film version of a play which fictionalizes the marriage of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and their relationships with their children at a specific point in time. So you have a three-steps removed retelling of a famous historical relationship about which our information is decent but far from definitive, given that they lived in the 12thC. Moreover, the characters in the film are embodied by famous actors, who become fused with the characters themselves in our understanding of the latter.

I’m laying all this out because as I was reading I was experiencing the text at a variety of levels:

  • as a genre romance with a central relationship embedded within a family saga;
  • as an AU (Alternate Universe) version of real people as well as of a specific film version of those people;
  • and as a story set within a specific historical context, i.e., a ducal castle in Yorkshire, England in Christmas of 1888.

I had mixed feelings about the sample because the types of anachronisms I had observed in the novella seemed to be cropping up here as well, and on top of that I wondered about a couple of more substantive logic issues in the story. Gervase, our hero, rejects being a barrister and instead decides to become a solicitor because he doesn’t want to be dependent on either his father or other people for his income. But to be a solicitor requires three to five years of being an articled clerk to a solicitor (something the text notes), which the clerk not only has to pay for (to the tune of hundreds of pounds), but during that time he is not remunerated, or at least not enough to live on. So who is supporting Gervase while he qualifies?

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Reading challenge update

I’m still plugging away at my various reading challenges. There’s no way I’ll read 20 books by Labor Day for the #20booksofsummer challenge, but I’ll be curious to see how many I do read. I’ve finished four books since I last posted.

Worth the risk coverWorth the Risk by Sarah Morgan. This is the first book by one of my favorite romance authors, published in the Mills & Boon Medical Romance line. It was somehow NOT in my TBR, but my library had the re-released version and I wanted a comfort read. Morgan’s has a number of early books set in villages in northern England and Scotland, and this is one of a series focusing on characters who do mountain rescue work. It features traditional tropes (sort-of secret baby, unexpected virgin, bad boy hero, etc.), but Morgan was putting interesting spins on these tropes from the very beginning of her writing career.

Ally McGuire is a doctor who enjoys her job and focuses her life around Charlotte, AKA Charlie. Then Sean Nicholson walks into both her medical practice and her life, upending her carefully established equilibrium. Sean and Ally are attracted from the outset (there is a meet-cute involving abseiling and rescue), but Sean has enough baggage to sail across the Pacific. There is medical stuff and romance stuff, all mixed together in a recipe that worked well for me. I haven’t been reading much romance lately, but there are certain styles and stories I always return to, and this is one of them.

Lady Madeline coverThe Advent of Lady Madeline by Pamela Sherwood. I went from an autobuy romance author to a new-to-me romance author who had flown totally under my radar, despite being interviewed years ago at DA. Janine recommended the first full novel in Sherwood’s Lyon’s Pride series, but I wasn’t quite willing to commit that much time and energy so I opted for the prequel novella. Hugh Lowell, Viscount Saxby, goes to a house party at the estate of the Duke of Whitborough in order to keep an eye on his young relative. Hugh is planning to propose to a very appropriate young lady, but he is taken with the somewhat on the shelf, fascinating daughter of the Duke, Lady Madeline.

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20 Books of Summer challenge update

I’m woefully behind on my #20BooksofSummer reading challenge, but I did manage to finish a few books and wanted to write about them.

Triad Blood coverI reviewed Nathan Burgoine’s paranormal gay novel, Triad Blood, over at Dear Author jointly with Sirius, so I won’t write a lot about that here. I enjoyed it, especially Burgoine’s voice and the sense of place I got from the world-building. And I liked the characters! I’ll definitely read more of his work.

Doris Day book coverAfter that I read a 2015 rom-com by Fiona Harper, The Doris Day Vintage Film Club. It features a skittish heroine and a can’t-commit hero who spend much of the first half of the book in a Big Mis. If that sounds way too tropey, it’s not, or at least it wasn’t for me because I like how Harper mixes romance, women’s fiction, and chicklit. She’s also very good with supporting characters and that was true here. The Doris Day theme didn’t entirely work for me, mostly because while I acknowledge her talent, she’s never been a favorite. So reading about people who just love her movies and seek advice from her life was … not compelling? But that’s a fairly minor quibble. Overall, it was a fun, sweet read.

The Circle coverFinally, I just finished Dave Egger’s The Circle, which I avoided when it was released in 2013 (I grew up in and spend 4 months a year in Silicon Valley, do I really need to read fiction about it?). But the way technology and social media have evolved over the last few years, plus teaching privacy in the digital age, kept me thinking about it, and when Rosario reviewed it positively I put it back on the list. And I’m really glad I did.

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20 Books of Summer challenge update

I’ve taken on Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer Challenge and have a little bit to report. I finished two books and DNF’d a third.

Pargeter coverMrs. Pargeter’s Pound of Flesh by Simon Brett. The fourth installment of the series went quickly and enjoyably. It’s slight, but the skewering of weight-loss and self-help gurus was a lot of fun. You don’t want to start here, but if you’re been reading the previous books then you’ll appreciate the appearance of Stan the Stapler, Ankle-Deep Arkwright, and other devoted associates of the late Mr. Pargeter. I saw the plot twists and the whodunit coming a mile away, but that’s not why I read these. I read them for Brett’s dry humor and the comfort of spending time with a well-executed cozy mystery.

Career of Evil coverCareer of Evil by Robert Galbraith. This wasn’t on my original list but should have been, since I’ve had it cued up in the TBR for months, just waiting for a road trip. I switched to the ebook version to finish because we still had 4 hours of audio to go when we got to California and I wanted to find out whodunit. I’m  a little worried that the Strike books are getting longer with each installment in the same way the Harry Potter books did. Nonetheless, it was another satisfying entry in the series. Strike doesn’t change much, and I’m still side-eyeing the possible Strike-Robin romance, but the mystery was twisty and interesting and Robin’s character continues to expand and develop. My discomfort with the Big Reveal of Robin’s past remains, as well as her essentially reactive role, and I’m so very tired of serial killers who prey on women. But Rowling is a terrific storyteller and while I’d more or less guessed the villain’s identity, the twist took me by surprise. Bring on the next installment.

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20 Books of Summer Challenge

Keishon introduced me to this challenge and posted about it yesterday, which was good because I had been thinking about doing it but then of course forgot. For more information see Cathy’s original post at 746 books (she started the challenge in 2014 as a way of whittling down her TBR).

20 books in 3 months is a lot for me, especially the way I’m reading now (mostly longer books, mostly in the evenings and/or before bedtime). I always read more in the summer than during academic semesters, but still, that’s more than six books a month. Eek! But then I thought, why not add in some audiobooks and work/research books? There are certainly plenty of those in the TBR and the latter need to be read, so I can pat myself on the back when I’m done with them.

Here are my initial selections, all from the TBR, all books I want to read and/or finish if they’re in progress.

Print & ebooks:

Red or Dead by David Peace. 700+ pages on Bill Shankly, the great manager of Liverpool FC. You either hate Peace’s style or fall under its spell. I’m in the latter camp, having read three of the four Red Riding books already. I’ve made it through 200 pages of this one twice. This summer I’m finishing, dammit.

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. This sequel to City of Stairs has been sitting on my bookshelf for a while. I’ve been saving it but I really want to read it. I read the first chapter and thought it was excellent.

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