Death Comes To Pemberly ★★

Okay, so I thought I’d hate this book. I decided to read it because I actually did watch the TV series remake. Which I also thought I’d hate, and then actually ended up liking. And then I realized it was written by PD James, who is an actual mystery writer, not just someone who managed to get horrible fanfiction published. So then I thought I might love this book.

I ended up more more in the middle. I’m honestly not sure if I like it more than the show or not, which is a pretty scandalous thing for me to say. The show was super dramatized, as one would expect. It was not subtle. But it wasn’t horrible either, and it had pretty costumes, and the acting was decent. I really enjoyed how they portrayed the interactions between Darcy and Elizabeth, I could imagine both of them growing into those people. I also really liked the interactions between Lydia and Wickham, it made sense for them. The characters flowed comfortably from the book into this future. I thought the mystery of it all was glossed over too easily, and a lot of the actions were too dramatized, but thats what I was looking forward to in the book.

Instead, well, I hesitate to call the book a mystery at all. Sure, I guy died, and by the end of it all they figured out what happened. But well, no one was really looking to try to find out what happened. The great reveal moment came from a non-character, and no one actually investigated at all. A letter just magically appears explaining All. That was very unsatisfying.

Also, there were almost NO interactions between Darcy and Elizabeth, or Lydia and Wickham. There was no character development. There was no insight into the intervening years at Pemberly, or anywhere. To say that there was less annoying drama than the TV show is technically a true statement, but a bit unfair. There was nothing there. No characters to feel involved with at all. Elizabeth was barely a character at all.

To be perfectly honest, I felt a bit cheated by it all. I wanted the book to have more detail than the show, and I feel like I actually got less. To add to that, the book didn’t actually do anything offensive or annoying, so I can’t even enjoy hating it! It’s a fast easy unoffensive vaguely interesting read. It was alright. That’s all I can say.

Outlander ★

I must say, I have never been so close to rage-quitting a book halfway through since I read The Courtship of Princess Leia. As I write this now, I’m only halfway through it, and I think the only reason I’m going to keep reading it is to find more things I can hate about it.

People have been recommending The Outlander series to me for many many years, and I’d just never bothered to pick them up. Well, I was out of things to read and figured it was about time I do so, and yes, I heard there was a TV series and I wanted to be a book-snob when I watched it. I don’t know how, but somehow I got the impression that the series was, well, weirder. Darker. Stranger. That it was about people who get lost in the cracks, lost in time, yes, but in the dark weird way of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, or Charles deLint novels. I thought the characters would be the outliers to society, people who are foreign wherever they go, who fit nowhere, and so created a land where only the strange was normal. You know…. London Below. Where did I get this impression? I honestly have no idea. Maybe I’m thinking of an entirely different series, and this one just fell into my lap instead.

Anyways, what I was not expecting was a harlequin romance with a lot of extra words and some real history written in as if to make me take it seriously. Even then, I probably would have been okay with it. I’m a big fan of saying as long as a book is entertaining to me, and enjoyable to read, I’ll call it a good book. I don’t necessarily need a deep philosophical message, or a darkly gritty cast of characters, or a unique landscape, or even any originality at all. I can be a big fan of trashy romance novels. I read, and even sort of enjoyed Twilight. That’s right, I’m saying it out loud. She lost me with the later sequels, and I’m not saying its a healthy story for teens or that it should get the attention it’s gotten. But I enjoyed parts of it, and it was not as offensive to me as this book.

Something about this story so far just sets my teeth on edge. I’m only halfway through it, and I had to stop to express my rage while its still this potent. Right, so the main character is Claire. She was living in 1945 with the husband she’d just reconnected with after WWII (he was a soldier, she was a nurse) when wham bam she falls through a time-hole in Scotland and is taken back 200 years.

Where she generally makes trouble by not acting correctly for a woman of the time, and being a mystery in a politically awkward time where people hate mysteries. She finds out that her husband’s ancestor was pretty much an evil dick, and makes friends with a dashingly sexy scotsman who has his own dubious history and dramatic reasons he wants to take revenge on said husband’s ancestor. Whoops, under some very contrived circumstances she is suddenly compelled to marry this sexy scotsman she is so attracted to, to save her own life, of course, yes…. Right, I was totally with you up until that moment. Unbelievably contrived and classic romance novel, sure. Still, I can envision some great costumes, and there’s some fun sex scenes. Sure, the sex scenes make me uncomfortable, because, you know, SHE’S STILL MARRIED TO HER HUSBAND AND ALL. And she dithers, constantly, about oh she misses Frank (husband) but something keeps drawing her to Jamie. His animal magnetism. And, well, she couldn’t NOT have sex with him, they NEED to consummate the marriage or it won’t count and she’ll still be in danger!

But then, of course, given the first time she finds herself alone (really, the FIRST time, in the last three months, that she finds herself alone?) she realizes she can run back to the stone circle where she came through the weird time portal. So off she goes…. and gets captured by the English (and the evil ancestor of her husband). Where he takes her to his office, tries to find out who she’s spying for, and then proceeds to nearly rape her. When (drumroll please) the husband arrives to rescue her! Yipee! Whatever, I’m not entirely enjoying it, mostly because I was expecting something completely different, but it hasn’t lost me yet. My expectations don’t change what’s written, I just have to be in the mood for a romance, so I’ll read it as if I was…

Until of course, the new sexy scotsman husband takes her back to safety and proceeds to beat her. Because its good for her. And she needs to learn the consequences to her actions. Because as her husband its his duty to teach her to right her wrongs, and his men and the soldiers they’re traveling with expect it.

Um, excuse me, what? Oh, she’s angry that he beat her so badly that she couldn’t sit down last night, but then he tells her a story about how his parents beat him when he was a child, and it was very beneficial and helped him learn. And she forgives him, after all, she DID act a bit rashly (by running away from a marriage she was forced into) and she DOES need to think about consequences (like how it made HIM feel to watch her being nearly raped). So yes, she forgive him, for beating her. And then he says, “You should be grateful I went easy on you. I enjoyed beating you so much, I really wanted to have sex with you afterwards. You should be glad I didn’t demand sex from you right then as my husbandly right.”

And she says “Oh, I love you! But if you ever beat me again I will cut your balls off.”

At which point he swears upon his dagger that he will ever be loyal to her, and never beat her again in rebellion or anger (note that he can still totally beat her again if its for her own good), and will she please have sex with him now?

And this is where I stopped reading, so enraged that I needed to get my thoughts down on paper and express my disappointment and hatred RIGHT NOW.

I will keep reading, at least to the end of this book, if not the rest of the series, on the bright side because I want to know if it gets better. After all, so very many people recommended it to me. And on the dark side, because I want to keep finding things to hate about this book.

So far though, I’m mostly curious that the internet has not raged about this book before now. I can’t count the number of hate-filled posts have passed through my tumblr about everything from Twilight, to Frozen, to con girls and costumes and all the rest. And no one has raged out about Outlander before me? Is it just because I wasn’t expecting this and everyone else just already knew about it?

Butterick Jacket B4954 ★★★★

11lineartI was very pleased with this pattern. I altered it somewhat heavily, and went for a lapeled look instead of the high collar. And added turn backs to the slit/pleat at the back of the coat as well as the front, as I was going for a completely different look. But this pattern managed alterations well, and was easy to construct in the basics.

It is definitely a time intensive pattern, as with the lining et al there are a lot of pieces to match together. But the result was well worth it for me.

I used this pattern for this project, it was my Lion Tamer’s tailed coat: Spoonflower Halloween – Phantom Circus

Comparative Connie Willis

So I have a very mixed reaction to Connie Willis. I was first introduced to her writings about a year ago with “To Say Nothing of the Dog.” I was amazed. It quickly became, and still is, one of my favorite books. I’ve reread it twice since then. Its a light-hearted story set about 50 years in an alternate future where time travel has been invented, but its pretty much useless to everyone because you can’t take anything from the past, you can take anything to the past, and its physically impossible to change the order of events. So the only people who use time travel are historians, who go back in time to study and record events in detail. Enter Ned and Verity, two scholars from Oxford, who find themselves together in the Victorian age. Ned is hiding from a rich patron of the history department who needs him to find an artifact from the past, and she wont take no for an answer. Verity is worried that she has somehow accidentally changed the future by saving the life of a cat. And so they’re thrown into a hilarious series of events that witness the first jumble sale, the ridiculousness rules of victorian love stories, and the ugliest statue ever to have been created. Willis also pays homage to a classic of the time, “Three Men in a Boat,” and her story is full of references to other literatures of the times, Alice in Wonderland, and the mystery novels that were just becoming popular and would eventually pave the way for Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. (Infact, it was this book that first got me reading the Lord Peter Wimsey series, for which I am eternally greatful.)

That December, Blackout and All Clear had just been released and I was ecstatic. It was that great feeling you get when you are introduced to an author, and you love them, and it turns out they’ve written tons of books you get to go catch up on, and they’re even writing more books, and you know you wont run out of things to read for a long time. So it was with happy anticipation that the day after Christmas I curled up under a blanket and opened Blackout….

One hundred pages later I was into the story, but not enthralled. Two hundred pages later, I was bored. Three hundred pages later, I was bored and annoyed. Eventually I made it to the end of Blackout, but I was not impressed. Why had this gloroius author failed me so badly? How could she do this, to me, personally?! Where were the silly time-travel hijinks? Where were the witty observations? The unlikely heros, the mystery to solve, the comedy of errors, all were missing! Sure, I expected more dramatic and serious book, it was set during World War I, there’s only so much comedy you can create. But I still expected a coherent and interesting plot. I’d read 512 pages, and the only thing that’d happened was to get three historians lost in London during the blitz. They coudln’t find the way out, and they couldn’t find eachother, and they spent every one of those pages saying “its ok, Mr. Dunworthy will find me eventually, all I have to do is this…” The reader has spent those 512 pages knowing that they’re all within a couple miles of eacother, and they’ve all almost run into eachother three or four times, but they’ve just narrowly missed eachother. A tragedy of errors you could call it. In a lighter book, it’d be amusing, but in this situation it just feels sad, and slow, and, well, annoying. And it sure doesn’t advance the plot at all.

I almost didn’t pick up All Clear, but in the end I decided to give Willis another chance. I rationalized it by saying she intended the story to follow the pace of the war. Long periods of boredom interspersed with terror and drama. Slow to start, full of hope in the beginning, eventually giving way to exaustion and despair. Well… Yes, that’s about how my emotions went during the readings of All Clear. Not because I felt worry for the characters, or was invested in the story. But just because I eventually resigned myself to the fact that nothing I wanted to happen was ever going to happen. I wont even mention the ending. I like to pretend that the final two chapters didn’t actually happen.

Now, nearly a year later, I finally picked up her previous novel “Doomsday Book.” I had sort of decided that “To Say Nothing of the Dog” was mostly a fluke, and I didn’t actually like Connie Willis at all. Yes, Doomsday Book had won all sorts of awards, and everyone loved it. But then again, Blackout and All Clear won all sorts of awards too… But I was bored, and it had been sitting on my shelf for awhile now, and I thought, why not, just one more try. And lo and behold I enjoyed it! Not with the same love I still feel for Dog, but it was a good book. I could see why people liked it. And then I realized, wait, it has the exact same plot as Blackout and All Clear… Lonely historian accidentally trapped during the beginning of the Black Plague in Englang. In danger, but unable to return. Circumstances in Oxford keeping them from rescuing her. Connie Willis just did the lazy author thing, she just rewrote Doomsday Book, made it three times as long (but didn’t actually add anything to the plot) and set it during a revered and honored time in history hoping to get more awards for it.

And it worked. Getting the awards for Blackout and All Clear, I mean. I still don’t believe the novels deserved them. I think she needed an editor to stand up to her, hand her a whole package of red pens, and tell her to get to work cutting out about 500 pages, and make it into one novel. Then, I might have enjoyed it.

I think Connie Willis sees that more books get awards for being heart-felt dramas than get for being light-hearted comedies. But her skills really truly lie in the happy endings, and she needs to realize that that doesn’t make a book less important. Her voice with Dog was amazing, and perfect. Her characters well-rounded, and likable, and believable. Definitely not the case with Blackout/All Clear, and even a little shakey on Doomsday. Its a lesson I wish all authors would learn.

More pages does not equal a better book! Dramas and tragedies are not automatically more important than happy endings and comedies. Silliness does not decrease the long-term value of a story!

Butterick Bolero B5232 ★★★★

Well, I’m writing this review 4 years later, so I really remember almost nothing about sewing this bolero, except that I was rushed and working on a costume, and making things up as I went along, so most of it wont be valid.

I do remember that nothing in the pattern had me going “wait, what?” and I think its fairly simple, so I can’t imagine there’s anything too problematic in it.

I used the longer version of the sleeves, and they are tight on my forearms. Historic pattern it may be, and it may be using historic sizes for what your forearms are. I am not a delicate flower of a woman.

All in all, this pattern served me well. (In researching it for writing this review I just discovered that this pattern is now out of print! I hope I still have it somewhere… hm….)

I used this pattern here: Adventures in Steampunk

4lineart

The American Heiress ★★

I admit, I enjoy the good fluffy romance novel every now and then. I like them because their purpose is generally to provide the easy happy ending we all want in life, to give us the same feel-good feeling of home cooked comfort food. Its the grown up version of a classic disney movie, it makes you believe in grown up fairy tales (though I admit, I still watch those too).

I didn’t enjoy this book because, from the description, I was expecting the usual historical romance plot. Up until the very end, I thought the girl would get the boy, the bad guy would be suitably punished, and everyone would be happy! Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that wasn’t really the case. Other aspects of genre were there in abundance. Looming gloomy English mansions were described in infinite detail. The wardrobes of all the female characters were vividly imagined, and fairly historically accurate. Every article of jewelry was given at least four adjectives.

The main character is a plucky American girl who knows what she wants, and is determined to get it: life away from her mother. She is the closest thing to American royalty that exists, the sole heir of one of the wealthiest families in New York. However, her mother wants the respect of the highest branches of society, and knows her daughter can buy it for her through marriage. She is determined for her daughter to marry into the House of Lords in England. Cora is perfectly fine with this plan, as long as it gets her away from her mother. Yes, the daughter’s name is “Cora Cash” … There’s some subtlety for you.

Mother and daughter therefore plan a trip to tour the counties of England, and pick out a husband. Of course, right before they leave Cora decides to beg her childhood best friend to marry her instead, so that she doesn’t have to spend months with her mother abroad. He (of course) says that he likes her well enough, but he wants to be a painter and go off to Paris to study with the masters and he must not allow anything to distract him from achieving his dream.

Oh well, not even barely miffed, Cora goes off to England, falls off a horse, lands practically in the lap of an impoverished English count who is desperate for some cash (pun intended) to brighten up his ancestral home. They are rather quickly engaged. And of course a battle of the in-laws ensues.

All the while, we are also following the story from the point of view of Cora’s maid, a girl of mixed blood from South Carolina, who is just glad she can find a job that lets her send home a little money to her mother. She finds that in England she’s only a second-class citizen only once because of her position as a maid, and not twice because of that and the color of her skin. She starts a passionate affair with the butler of Cora’s soon to be husband.

And of course, there appears to be some intrigue in the history of the Count. He was the perfect second son, frivolous and happy, until his father and older brother died within a year of each other. Now he is weighed down by a country estate he was never interested in, and the obligation to keep the family name respectable. He is also blessed with an overbearing mother who remarried a step higher in the social ladder the moment her first husband was cold. Needless to say, she is not enamored with his new wife.

Cora is having trouble fitting into the confusing and ever treacherous rules of English high society. She makes many mistakes, and is constantly humiliated by her staff and the various “friends” she’s made. Added to this, she doesn’t even know if her husband really loves her. But oh, look, here is her childhood friend who’s come to visit from Paris! Even though she’s been married for over a year, and now has a baby son to take care of, he’s decided to let her know that he was an idiot, and he really does love her. Rumors abound that her husband is having an affair, but he is there and will take her all away from it if only she would ask him to.

Ridiculously unrealistic and overly dramatic plot lines are standard operating procedure with this genre, but I think where I lost it was the lack of motive for many of the characters’ actions. So much of it was written as though the author was trying to incite emotion and drama into the story, but just didn’t quite get there. She has her characters going through the motions, reacting to the things that happened to them, but it just never felt fully formed. The motivations felt flat. The antagonists acted evil because they were evil. We were never shown why they had a grudge against somebody, or what their aim in ruining the lives of others was. They were there just because the author knew she needed to have tension in the story.

And maybe my beef with the end of the story is unfair. It was probably more realistic than any ending I would have preferred. I like gritty depressing realistic stories. And I like my fluffy fantastical romantic stories. But I just don’t like them mixed. That’s not to say no one should ever try to mix them, just that I don’t think this author succeeded this time. My personal preference rating: * Within its genre, compared to similar books: *** Will I read anything else by this author: unlikely, but then I probably wouldn’t have read this one in the first place, except that it was a goodreads advance copy.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation ★★★★

This book has everything one requires of a fluffy romance story. In fact, its a romance within a romance, simultaneously a story of post-revolution France and mondern day London. We follow an awkward woman researching a mysterious historical character, and a young girl desperate to join a famous league of spies and save her country. We’re given a charming and spunky heroine who surprises the daring and handsome hero with her intelligence and determination. Our hero is one part Robin Hood, one part Zorro and one part Indiana Jones, with a title and money to boot. What more could you possibly ask for? Steamy sex scenes in a garden in Paris? Got it. Spies and missions and sarcastic butlers? Got it. A modern day lord with a handsome face, a misanthropic attitude and library full of secret historical documents? Yep, that too. Historical accuracy? Well… who wants that anyways?

We first meet Eloise Kelly, a student of Harvard writing her dissertation on the history of English spies who helped the French noblemen during the revolution. She travels to London to further her research on the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian, both of whom’s real identities were eventually revealed and documented. However, her true interest lies in the Pink Carnation, who’s identity was never discovered. Disappointed by the lacky of any solid information about the Pink Carnation, she eventually reaches out to the descendants of the two known spies, hoping for a tie between the three. In this way, she meets the elderly Mrs. Arabella Selwick-Alderly, who just happens to have a trunk full of old letters and documents relating to her ancestor, The Purple Gentian.

Through letters and journals, Eloise dives into the story of Amy Balcourt, a half French half English girl whose parents were killed in the revolution and was raised in rural England. Amy has always wanted to revenge the death of her parents, and return to the land of her birth to join the league of spies led by the man known as The Purple Gentian. She wants to free France from Napoleon and restore the monarchy, and simultaneously save England from the invasion everyone knows must be coming.

She returns to Paris, now 20 years old, with her cousin Jane and their dragon of a chaperon. There she meets Richard Selwick, apparently a dandy working as an egyptologist for Napolean. She automatically detests him for what seems like a traitorous job, often comparing his actions to those of her dream man, The Purple Gentian. The get into many passionate arguments about the good of England and France, and while she despises his morals she just can’t help admiring his lips, and the shape of his hands. Oh, wait, could it possibly be? Richard IS the Purple Gentian, and working for Napolean is just his cover story! Insert comedy of errors including false identities, masks and capes, and coincidental meetings in libraries at midnight here.

All the while, Eloise is getting into arguments with the young nephew of her benefactor, who just happens to be the current Lord of Selwick Manor. He quite dislikes nosey academics, and seems determined to protect the secret of the Pink Carnation at all costs. He delivers an ultimatum, nothing Eloise learns can leave the circle of his family or become public knowledge in an academic paper. And while Eloise quite dislikes his high-handed and rude attitude, she can’t help admiring his fast smile and blonde hair….

Amy and Richard are of course eventually married, on a boat, by the captain/butler/actor Richard employs, as they escape from Paris after freeing Richard from the dungeous of the French Ministry of Police. Having run out of letters and journals, Eloise breathlessly inquires about what happens next, are there any more documents? Oh, well of course there are, but they’re over in Selwick Manor. She’ll just have to go spend a few days there, with the irritatingly handsom nephew…

This book is so fluffy a marshmallow is as heavy as a rock in comparison. That is not a criticism, I believe fluff has as much a place in literature as, well, actual literature. We need fluff sometimes, because we should never forget that it should be FUN to read, no matter how silly that fun sometimes is. This book was exceedingly fun to read. If you don’t like nonsensical fluff, this book is not for you.

(I really should post a description of my rating system at some point…)

A quote, for your enjoyment (must be read in as dramatic a voice as possible):

Delaroche strode on bandy legs to the door, clapped his hands together, and bellowed, “Prepare the iterrogation chamber!”
“The regular interrogation chamber, sir?” one guard ventured, keeping well on the other side of the stone door frame.
“Oh no.” Belaroche unleashed another of his humorless laughs. “Take him to the extra-special interrogation chamber!”

And that is all!