Saturday, March 30, 2013


For those who've followed my blog for awhile, you may know firstly of my love of cats and secondly of my love of the works of Paul Magrs. Back in October I did a little interview with him for Magrs Month and we talked about his lovely tuxedo cat Fester. Today it is extremely sad for me to say that Fester has passed. I myself was graced with the love of a tuxedo kitty for 22 years. We grew up together and in the four years since I have lost him not a day goes by where I don't miss him. Fester and his beautiful and extremely photogenic face have helped everyday to easy my pain a little and I cannot imagine what Paul and his partner Jeremy are feeling at this moment.

My heart goes out to them, and I hope they know how much Fester gave to all of us who are their friends. He will be missed everyday by me, just as my Spotty is. Today is now International Ungow Day! Long live the memory of Fester!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Book Review - Deborah Mitford's Home to Roost

Home to Roost and Other Peckings by Deborah Devonshire
Published by: John Murray
Publication Date: 2009
Format: Hardcover, 168 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

While Deborah has always been considered the horse and hounds sister of the Mitfords, but involving chickens, I think that she has a secret... that despite her protestations ("[m]y father would not have wasted time reading - a trait I have inherited from him") that she is actually quite well read and loves to write. Despite Home to Roost being a very slim volume, it clearly shows that the writer is well educated, a fact we know is not due to her upbringing, and adept at pulling out the right literary quote at the right time, traits that I wouldn't lay at people who aren't readers. The little essays in this beautiful book (there are adorable illustrations) run the gamut from book reviews (see she does admit to read a little!) and her awkward book signings to family history and how one looks in a tiara. So there is a little something for everyone you might say.

Yet, like her most literary of sisters, Nancy and Jessica, it's not the slightly turgid and formulaic book reviews or weird ramblings about motorways that capture your interest, it's her own experiences and the history of her husband's family that not only sparkle with wit and insight but draw you completely into her world. I think it's because this is what she loves to write, plain and simple. Sure, she'll write the other stuff if asked or if the mood suits her, but really she'd rather tell you about a party at Chatsworth House during the height of Queen Victoria's reign. In fact, this family history I think is what lured her into being a writer, especially if you take note that her earliest writings where all on Chatsworth. It's her love of Chatsworth and it's history that make a simple story about a post office closing something more. A post office isn't a post office, it's the beating heart of a community, which anyone who is a fan of Lark Rise to Candleford will agree. Therefore the closing of the Edensor post office was a poignant story.

Because of this diverse range of topics, Home to Roost has a very uneven feel until about half way through the book. What happens half way is that Deborah shifts the book right into that which she writes best, her own life. It becomes a diary, and oh what a diary. The three pieces on the Kennedys is amazing. While the Mitfords where kind of the lay royalty of England, the Kennedys where the same for America. To find out that not only that they had this connection, but that the families where joined by Kit Kennedy's marriage to Debo's brother-in-law was fascinating. Too bad that ended in the tragedy which made Deborah the Duchess of Devonshire... yet that this intimacy between the families continued long after the tragedy is what drives these little vignettes. That Deborah was there for not only the inauguration but then the funeral, brought a sad reality to it. For me, JFK was always someone of the past and a part of history, but Deborah made him more real, more human. Also, it didn't hurt that she thought he was an all round swell guy.

Though hands down there was one article, for sheer humor, that made the book for me. Being raised in the art world and then being an artist myself, who at one point was considering going to get a Masters Degree at Christie's Auction House, I know the vagaries of naming art work and the inherent humor. Debo herself mercilessly skewered and made fun of these naming conventions in the short piece "Auction Catalogues." I was howling with laughter and her thinking of how the names where created by the compiler of the catalog. "The figures in rural scenes are always Peasants or Cottagers. If the female peasants have got pots on their heads they will be In an Italianate Landscape. Any water in the way puts them into A River Landscape. If you can see for miles, start with An Extensive Landscape." Deborah views the modern "untitled" art as a wise move, to avoid these lenghty and downright odd conventions. Go Debo! I am heartily glad that there is still one Mitford out there we can count on for some barbing! Where would we be without a Mitford?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Deborah Mitford

Deborah Mitford grew up with two goals, marry a duke and take care of her chickens. She succeeded in both goals. She married Lord Andrew Cavendish, the younger son of the Duke of Devonshire, whose seat was the great house of Chatsworth. Chatsworth is the epitome of English Country Estates and was used by Jane Austen as the model for Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice, which makes it no surprise then that they used the great house in several of the book's adaptations to the big and small screen. When the Duke's heir apparant, William, died in combat, Andrew became heir and the 12th Duke of Devonshire upon his father's death.

The youngest of the six sisters, Debo is sadly the only one still alive at 92 years of age. Deborah has put her life into the estate and the farm as the Duchess of Devonshire. When many people thought that the war would end the reign of the landed gentry, through tourism and other commercial avenues, such as signed books for sale on her website, (yes, I bought one, don't judge, because I know you're really just jealous), Deborah has ensured that Chatsworth will endure through The Chatsworth House Trust. She has even been known to run the ticket booth at the estate from time to time. Yet still of an artistic and literary ilk like Nancy and Jessica, she has continued to grow the estates art collection, filling out the old masters with modern artists such as Lucian Freud. That much criticized painting of Freud's of Queen Elizabeth... Debo was quick to snap that up once the Queen refused it. As for her literary side, she has written many books on Chatsworth as well as memoirs, and of course, one must not forget the chickens.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: March 26th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In Leaving Everything Most Loved by New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline Winspear, Maisie Dobbs investigates the murder of Indian immigrants in London.

The year is 1933. Maisie Dobbs is contacted by an Indian gentleman who has come to England in the hopes of finding out who killed his sister two months ago. Scotland Yard failed to make any arrest in the case, and there is reason to believe they failed to conduct a thorough investigation. The case becomes even more challenging when another Indian woman is murdered just hours before a scheduled interview. Meanwhile, unfinished business from a previous case becomes a distraction, as does a new development in Maisie's personal life.

Bringing a crucial chapter in the life and times of Maisie Dobbs to a close, Leaving Everything Most Loved marks a pivotal moment in this outstanding mystery series."

Ok, so if I didn't already love this Maisie Dobbs series and their luscious covers, the "bringing a crucial a close" would have me scrambling to pick up this book anyway!

Death of Yesterday by M.C. Beaton
Published by: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: March 26th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When a local woman tells Sergeant Hamish Macbeth that she doesn't remember what happened the previous evening, he doesn't begin to worry. She had been out drinking, after all, and he'd prefer not to be bothered with such an arrogant and annoying woman. But when her body is discovered, Hamish is forced to investigate a crime that the only known witness--now dead--had forgotten."

For my mom, the biggest M.C. Beaton, and in particular, Hamish Macbeth fan I know!

The Paris Affair by Teresa Grant
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: March 26th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the wake of the Battle of Waterloo, the Bourbon court in Paris and their victorious allies give lavish parties while the Royalists are quick to exact vengeance for everything since the Revolution. Countless Bonapartists are arrested and executed in what comes to be known as the White Terror. In this seething atmosphere British attaché and spy Malcolm Rannoch learns that his murdered half-sister, Princess Tatiana Kirsanova, may have left behind a secret child in Paris; a child who may now be in grave danger.

While friends and former associates are imprisoned and executed around them, Malcolm and his wife Suzanne set out to find the girl. And as kings argue over legitimacy and relations battle over estates, trusting the wrong side can be deadly…"

New Teresa Grant! I think some people who love Regency Romances are in for a treat! Oh, that would be me.

A Touch of Scarlet by Eve Marie Mont
Published by: K-Teen
Publication Date: March 26th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 255 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The compelling heroine of Eve Marie Mont's acclaimed novel A Breath of Eyre returns to find truth and fiction merging through the pages of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic, The Scarlet Letter. . .

Emma Townsend is back at prestigious Lockwood Prep, but her world has altered immeasurably since her tumultuous sophomore year. The best change of all: her boyfriend, Gray. And though Gray is leaving for Coast Guard training, Emma feels newly optimistic, even if the pain of her mother's long-ago death still casts a shadow.

Yet Emma isn't the only one who's changed. Her friend and roommate, Michelle, is strangely remote, and old alliances are shifting in disconcerting ways. Soon Emma's long-distance relationship with Gray is straining under the pressure, and Emma wonders if she's cracking too. How else to explain the vivid dreams of Hester Prynne she's been having since she started reading The Scarlet Letter? Or the way she's found herself waking in the woods? As her life begins to echo events in the novel, Emma will be forced to choose between virtue and love. But can she forge a new future without breaking her heart?"

For all those who loved Mont's twist on Jane Eyre, get ready for a twist of Nathaniel Hawthrone... it could only improve it in my mind!

Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 26th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Felipe de Castro, the vampire King of Louisiana (and Arkansas and Nevada), is in town. It’s the worst possible time for a human body to show up in Eric Northman’s front yard—especially the body of a woman whose blood he just drank.

Now it’s up to Sookie and Bill, the official Area Five investigator, to solve the murder. Sookie thinks that, at least this time, the dead girl’s fate has nothing to do with her. But she is wrong. She has an enemy, one far more devious than she would ever suspect, who’s set out to make Sookie’s world come crashing down."

For those of you waiting for the final installment... get yourselves ready with Sookie's penultimate adventure...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Book Review - Jessica Mitford's Poison Penmanship

Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking by Jessica Mitford
Published by: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: 1979
Format: Paperback, 288 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Jessica Mitford is a self admitted muckraker, once she found out what the label meant, she heartily agreed and called herself such from then on and was happy to see that each new dictionary had a nicer take on the word as it became more commonly used. In 1957 she published her first expose, which, as she was willing to admit, was rather dull and fell flat. Yet that is the charm of this book. Jessica views this book as a kind of "how to" for the muckraker to be. She details her techniques and theories of friendlies and unfriendlies and then after you read a given article of hers, she has a little commentary on how she felt the article worked or didn't work, and in some cases, the far reaching consequences of that article. Therefore, without any hesitation, she republishes some very slip shod work, and she agrees that it is such. Yet how are we to learn if we don't see her mistakes along the way.

For Jessica there where many mistakes, even later in her career there are articles that fall dreadfully flat, while others sparkle with her wit and wisdom. To say this is an uneven book would be an understatement. For me, being a worshiper of her autobiography Hons and Rebels, it was interesting reading Jessica's writing over a twenty year period and seeing how she was able to find her voice. Her first articles are so stiff and uninviting. Plain facts infused with no Mitford wit. Yet, if you look at the articles that fail versus succeed, you can see a pattern. The stories she was more involved in have a great depth and a personal feel, like a diary. Jessica's style not only lends itself to this way of writing, but it feels as if she was made for writing memoirs and autobiographies. You feel as if you are gossiping over tea as she is telling you about going to the extravagant Maine Chance Resort run by Elizabeth Arden, not reading an article in McCall's. Or as she tells you how important life long enemies are and that Liberace was really excited to hear her ideas about his role in the adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One. These stories make the book enchanting to read. Though it's not all tea and biscuits with the Hon.

The article, "St Peter, Don't You Call Me" is one that sticks out because it was what would become the basis for her famous book, The American Way of Death. At this point I will admit that I have not read this yet, seeing as funerary exposes are not exactly "my thing." Yet, seeing as it was written by Jessica Mitford, I will admit that I will eventually get to it, it's waiting on my shelf for me even now. The article though is so stiff and boring that I wondered, would the book that came from this article be like this. Later though she includes three more articles about what has happened since the first article spurred the book and therefore changed her life. These articles, written five years later, have more of her conversational style that I love. Which makes me wonder... was her style still developing during the time of the article and therefore the book will be fabulous, unlike the article, or was it just the freedom of being done with the book that let her sink back into her witty patter? Because, if I could get more stories about Pet Cemeteries and directors running wild in funeral parlors, sign me up.

One thing that nagged me though was once she was known for The American Way of Death she wouldn't shut up about it. It didn't feel like she was inflating her ego... but that she was riding the books coattails was very evident. Her teaching and anything she was to speak on was all "The American Way of..." I felt a little sorry for her that this book had so become synonymous with her name that they became inseparable. Yet she didn't seem to mind. I think I might have minded a little... or at least stopped harping on about it. Though she went on to do several other big exposes, from the deathly dull expose on the Famous Writers School, to prisons and policies existing in California Universities, to me it was the little stories that I loved best. The rude treatment at a restaurant, the little things that lend a similar feel of Helene Hanff to them, who is another author whom I adore. Though, in the end, it was of course the article on Egypt that kept me way up until the wee hours. While she thought it a failure of an article because she didn't rake any muck, I felt it wonderful, because it was just what I loved about this book, a little diary about an English woman in Egypt immune to the Eyptomania as she called it, which sadly, I think she would diagnose me as having.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jessica Mitford

Jessica Mitford is known as the most politically active of the Mitford sisters who didn't align themselves with the Third Reich, gaining herself the nickname the "red sheep" because of her Communist affiliations. Jessica eloped with her cousin Esmond Romilly at the age of nineteen. They ran away to Spain where Esmond covered the war there as a reporter. At one point their family sent a British destroyer to retrieve them home, because when you marry Churchill's nephew, well, the House of Lords might just send the might of the British Navy after you. This over the top gesture did nothing to dissuade them and eventually they immigrated to the United States. At the outset of WWII Esmond enlisted and died a short time later in a bombing raid. 

Jessica remained in the United States, concentrating on her political activism and social justice. She eventually became quite a journalist and muckraker, with her book, The American Way of Death, becoming a classic in it's own right for exposing the funeral industry in America. Jessica is perhaps my favorite of the Mitford sisters because with her book Hons and Rebels, she doesn't hide behind satire and the illusion of "fiction" to make fun of her family. But you don't have to take my word for it, how about the opinion of JK Rowling?

"My most influential writer, without a doubt, is Jessica Mitford. When my great-aunt gave me Hons and Rebels when I was 14, she instantly became my heroine. She ran away from home to fight in the Spanish Civil War, taking with her a camera that she had charged to her father's account. I wished I'd had the nerve to do something like that. I love the way she never outgrew some of her adolescent traits, remaining true to her politics – she was a self-taught socialist – throughout her life."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: March 19th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 592 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Danger intensifies for the Shadowhunters as the New York Times bestselling Infernal Devices trilogy comes to a close.

If the only way to save the world was to destroy what you loved most, would you do it?

The clock is ticking. Everyone must choose.

Passion. Power. Secrets. Enchantment.

Danger closes in around the Shadowhunters in the final installment of the bestselling Infernal Devices trilogy."

Final in The Mortal Instruments Steampunk spin-off...

The Lost by Vicki Pettersson
Published by: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: March 19th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York Times bestselling author Vicki Pettersson is back with The Lost, the second spine-tingling entry in her supernatural noir trilogy, Celestial Blues.

Fallen angel Griffin “Grif” Shaw and his mortal lover, reporter Katherine Craig, are trying to learn the truth about Grif’s death a half a century earlier. This quest will lead them to discover that the Pures might have their own agenda—one that will have Grif and Kit scrambling to stay alive, to stay together, and to choose their fate...before it’s chosen for them.

Blending paranormal romance, thrilling action, and a captivating mystery, The Lost, is an urban fantasy sure to please fans of Jeaniene Frost, Kim Harrison, and Charlaine Harris."

The first book in this series came very highly recommended to me. Glad to see that the series got another volume to it.

Queen Victoria's Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: March 19th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"“Gaslamp Fantasy,” or historical fantasy set in a magical version of the nineteenth century, has long been popular with readers and writers alike. A number of wonderful fantasy novels, including Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and The Prestige by Christopher Priest, owe their inspiration to works by nineteenth-century writers ranging from Jane Austen, the Brontës, and George Meredith to Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and William Morris. And, of course, the entire steampunk genre and subculture owes more than a little to literature inspired by this period.

Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells is an anthology for everyone who loves these works of neo-Victorian fiction, and wishes to explore the wide variety of ways that modern fantasists are using nineteenth-century settings, characters, and themes. These approaches stretch from steampunk fiction to the Austen-and-Trollope inspired works that some critics call Fantasy of Manners, all of which fit under the larger umbrella of Gaslamp Fantasy. The result is eighteen stories by experts from the fantasy, horror, mainstream, and young adult fields, including both bestselling writers and exciting new talents such as Elizabeth Bear, James Blaylock, Jeffrey Ford, Ellen Kushner, Tanith Lee, Gregory Maguire, Delia Sherman, and Catherynne M. Valente, who present a bewitching vision of a nineteenth century invested (or cursed!) with magic."

So excited for this! If it even gets anywhere near the awesomeness of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell I will be doing handstands and cartwheels (things, as you might have guess, I don't normally do!)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Review - Nancy Mitford's Don't Tell Alfred

Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: August 10th, 2010
Format: Paperback, 240 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Fanny's life is being turned upside down. She has spent a quiet life in Oxford with her husband, raising her boys. They are now gone from home, two out of school and two at Eton. What is Fanny to do? Settle into middle age and just wait for death? Sounds fine to her. Then she receives a shocking blow, her husband has been named Ambassador to France, making her Ambassadress. They are to uproot their lives and start hosting cocktail parties and dealing with foreign crises in a large mansion in France. Never before has Fanny had to personally deal with family problems being fodder for the gutter press. Nor did she think that the former Ambassadress secretly living in the Embassy would threaten Alfred's tenure as the new Ambassador. Such little things, like her sons showing up unexpectedly, or her mother remarrying, become not little incidents to be dealt with, but calamities to hide from their dinner guests. Fanny is sure she shall fail, and miserably. Luckily she does have some people on her side, and the ace up her sleeve is her father figure Davey. When in doubt, get Davey. He can do anything, even smoke out former Ambassadresses from the woodwork!

I remember being on Lauren Willig's blog one day and she was talking about heading out to Paris on a research trip and how that had inspired a need to re-read Nancy Mitford's Don't Tell Alfred. At this time I had already read The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, being the two books of Nancy's that you could actually get stateside, so I was interested in this book of hers I'd not heard of. So I went to Wikipedia and looked it up. Where I read "it is the third in a trilogy centered around an upper-class English family, and takes place twenty years after the events of The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate." I instantly went WHAT!?! (But say it in your head as David Walliams does it so well on Little Britain playing Sebastian, the PM's assistant, WOT!?!) So many thoughts went through my head, mainly, wait, there's a third book followed closely by, but I have an omnibus, omnibuses aren't supposed to leave out books in the series. Then very quickly, "I MUST FIND THIS BOOK!" superseded all other thoughts. Luckily it was around the time of Deborah's 90th birthday when the publishing Gods decided to re-release Nancy's back catalog, so finding the book proved a lot easier then I thought it would, you can't say the same for Highland Fling, Christmas Pudding or Pigeon Pie. Of course I had to find time to re-read the first two first... which proved rather difficult... until now!

And oh, how I wanted to love it, or even like it, but seriously... it was horrid. I can see why the critics ripped it to shreds. In fact, because of critics, she never wrote fiction again. Personally, if you where going just by this volume, I am with the critics, I would have been begging Nancy to forever put down the pen. My main gripe? Well, seeing as this is a gaggle of characters that are not only known and loved but revered by some, I wanted them to stay IN CHARACTER. I mean, it's like everyone had a full frontal lobotamy and personality transplant. Uncle Matthew loving cocktail parties and he WILLINGLY went to France!?! This was the man who refused to eat under any roof but his own and hated foreigners. The entrenching tool being his weapon of choice against them, not witty dialogue... thankfully Nancy doesn't push it THAT far, seeing as he only goes to the cocktail parties for the food. Also, Aunt Sadie, her and Matthew were insperable, and here they are, sperated. Alfred actually leaving his cloistered life as an Oxford don to be an Ambassador? No. And then there's Fanny. I don't know what happened to the down to earth Fanny who had her life together, but obviously, she's gone, replaced with a twit who cares more about clothes and bungling parties then anything else. Also blithly killing people off in assides and not telling us why in most cases, goodbye Aunt Emily, Lady Montdore, Lord Montdore, two of Matthew's three boys... I'm sure there are more, but I can't think through all the eliptical carnage.

Besides changing every personality trait of the characters I loved, Nancy added too many new characters I couldn't care about at all, let alone distinguish one from the other. There where lots of French people, lots of non French people. The only person I kind of liked was her cousin Lousia's daughter Northey, who was basically Linda mac two, though Scottish. She even had Linda's badger obsession. If they ever decide to make this into a movie, if they don't case Karen Gillan from Doctor Who as Northey it will be the biggest wasted opportunity ever. On top of the lack of who all these characters are, the writing is confusing so that you never know who is talking. There can be pages and pages of dialogue, with no attribution, no "Fanny said" no "Northey said" no nothing. And you know what? The dialogue was so boring, I didn't even bother trying to figure out who said what. Yes Nancy, you bored me.

Yet what was the biggest bore and drain? Politics! I'm guessing the two main things that where being debated in the book was some rocks/islands and the forming of a European Army... someone else who has read this I would love confirmation as to this being the case. Politics in general bore me, made up French politics put me into a coma. I'm sorry Nancy, just because you where in love with a Frenchman who worked for de Gaulle, doesn't mean that instantly all his boring politics and life become interesting to the rest of us. Plus, it was more you in love with him and his world, he really couldn't care about you... so, why did you torture us with this book? Really!?! It was like you where purposefully destroying all the lovely memories I have of the previous two volumes. It no longer surprises me why this was out of print.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Book Review - Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: August 10th, 2010
Format: Paperback, 256 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Polly Hampton was hoping that upon her family's return from India that she would reach the cold climate of England and that everyone would be more refined and not at it all the time. By it, she means love and the affairs of the heart. Sadly, her friend Fanny fills her in, that indeed, daydreams of love fill most hearts even far away from India. The thing is, Polly does not want love. She doesn't want her mother constantly hoping for her to fall into a mad passion, even arraigning for notorious French seducers to ply their trade on Polly. Polly will play the part but her heart will never enter into it. Lady Montdore continually has Fanny as her own "spy" hoping that Fanny can detect a glimmer of love within her daughters cold heart. Lady Montdore has spent her life planning for her daughter to have "all this." Yet, when the truth comes out as to the long game Polly has been playing, "all this" doesn't even enter into it. Love takes many forms, and it doesn't matter if it's odd or unconventional, love is what matters.

Love in a Cold Climate is always combined with The Pursuit of Love in adaptations for the simple reason that the events are actually concurrent with the previous volume. Also, for some reason, they think it's more romantic or apt to call it by Love in a Cold Climate. While I do see the reasoning, I always feel that by doing this neither story is getting full justice. While Pursuit is Linda's tale, Love is more obviously, not just Polly's story, but Fanny's, whose life gets fleshed out. It's not just about living in Linda's world anymore, but Fanny's own world and how others view it. In giving us more time with Fanny, who, let's face it, is the character the majority of us will identify with, there is a stronger connection for me with this book. Fanny's love of Linda, and, really, hero worshiping of her, gave the first book less heart for me. Perhaps it's because I'm the more sensible one and will identify with whichever character that may be. Like in Sense and Sensibility, I am Eleanor, not Marianne. I am Fanny, not Linda. While Polly might be the "main" character for much of the first half, her flinty heart, the opposite of Linda's overflowing heart, puts Fanny center stage and gives me a more satisfying read. Also, less time at Alconleigh and more time with Fanny's father figure Davey, means you realize what a hoot Davey is. His humor and his love of gossip fuel the fires of this book to make it more fun and full of laughs then you would expect after reading only the first volume.

There is also so much in this book that appeals to the lover of Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey in me. In Fanny staying with the higher echelons at Montdore House we have grand feasts on such a scale that you may be salivating while reading this book. There are balls where the rooms are flooded (on purpose) to make it like Venice, where you can float on gondolas indoors, an image that I think will never leave me, despite how short that passage is! With the character of Cedric, we have open acceptance of a gay character in a 1930s setting! Yes, there is some not quite PC labeling of him, but for the time, it was very forward. While Cedric didn't sit that well with critics in 1949, the fact remains that Nancy had a fully realized, sympathetic character with a non-mainstream lifestyle who was loved, truly loved by Lady Montdore, and therefore secured his acceptance in the aristocracy.

Yet for all that, Nancy can never make one non-mainstream lifestyle acceptable. This is a fatal flaw in this book, and that is Boy (Harvey) Dougdale. In fact Boy has so loomed in my memory that, aside from the "Venetian Ball" he is the overwhelming memory I have of this book. Boy is not just lecherousness, he is a pedophile. I am sorry, but there is no humor in someone who is not just sick but, as Uncle Matthew would say, a sewer. He has preyed on all the young girls, and boys, and for this he is nicknamed the Lecherous Lecturer. Yet is anything done about this pervert in their midst? NO! In fact most people find it funny in a kind of deviant way, "Oh, that's just Boy". He is in fact pitied, yes PITIED, because his unwanted attentions to young girls has resulted in him marrying one of the young girls he molested with his "sexy pinches" and massages. Pitied because his proclivities sparked an unwanted love that drove this girl to pursue him to the alter, not just the roof for a little cuddle. Guess what, don't fiddle with little children, because no matter what others think, I will not pity you, I will hope that the little girl will murder you on your wedding night.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles De Lint and Charles Vess
Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 12th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The magic is all around you, if only you open your eyes....

Lillian Kindred spends her days exploring the Tanglewood Forest, a magical, rolling wilderness that she imagines to be full of fairies. The trouble is, Lillian has never seen a wisp of magic in her hills--until the day the cats of the forest save her life by transforming her into a kitten. Now Lillian must set out on a perilous adventure that will lead her through untamed lands of fabled creatures--from Old Mother Possum to the fearsome Bear People--to find a way to make things right.

In this whimsical, original folktale written and illustrated throughout in vibrant full color by two celebrated masters of modern fantasy, a young girl's journey becomes an enchanting coming-of-age story about magic, friendship, and the courage to shape one's own destiny."

It's cats! Well, it's also a wonderful storyteller combined with one of my favorite illustrators... but really, it's about cats, and your cat overlords demand that you go and buy it to read to them.

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson
Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 12th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Bluebeard fairy tale retold. . . .

When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.

Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.

Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale."

I've recently become very interested in the tales about Bluebeard. They seem to be very interesting and gruesome, but less mainstream. Therefore with my love of Fairy Tale re-tellings combined with this new interest, this is the perfect book for me right now!

Code: A Virals Novel by Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs
Published by: Putnam Juvenile
Publication Date: March 12th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Virals are put to the ultimate test when they find a geocache containing an ornate puzzle box. Shelton decodes the cipher inside, only to find more tantalizing clues left by "The Gamemaster." A second, greater geocache is within reach--if the Virals are up to the challenge.

But the hunt takes a dark turn when Tory locates the other box--a fake bomb, along with a sinister proposal from The Gamemaster. Now, the real game has begun: another bomb is out there--a real one--and the clock is ticking.

So first off, what's with this blase new cover design? Secondly, is Kathy now handing this series off to person of unknown relation to her but has the same last name?

Farewell to the East End by Jennifer Worth
Published by: Ecco
Publication Date: March 12th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Jennifer Worth trained as a nurse at the Royal Berk-shire Hospital in Reading, and was later ward sister at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in London, then the Marie Curie Hospital, also in London. Music had always been her passion, and in 1973 she left nursing in order to study music intensively, teaching piano and singing for about twenty-five years. Jennifer died in May 2011 after a short illness, leaving her husband, Philip; two daughters; and three grandchildren. Her books have all been bestsellers in England."

The final book that Jennifer Worth wrote about her life of midwifery, so enjoy it! At least once you finish the books you'll still have the tv show!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Book Review - Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: August 10th, 2010
Format: Paperback, 240 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Fanny's mother is known throughout the family as "The Bolter." Leaving your child behind to be raised by your siblings isn't that odd in a family that uses children instead of foxes in hunts, has their own distinct argot, and lives in such an old house that only one closet has the warmth to be bearable. It is in this "Hons" closet that Fanny and her cousin Linda spend all their time dreaming of true love. Because love is what life is all about. As they grow up their thoughts turn less from the fantasy of marrying the Prince of Wales and more towards any decent chap that can be lured to Alconleigh for their debut ball. Linda, growing up at Alconleigh has not had the luxury of an education that Fanny has living with their Aunt Emily. Linda therefore is so desperate to fall in love that she mistakenly falls for the first man who comes along. The wrong man.

While Fanny happily settles down with an Oxford don and starts having babies, Linda's marriage to Tony Kroesig is a sham. They have one daughter whom Linda can't stand, but she keeps up the pretense of happy families, until one day she throws off her Facist husband for Communist Christian. Yet again Linda has misstepped, thinking that she is in love once more, when really she is just in love with being away from Tony. Always wanting so desperately to be in love, Linda mistakes any male attention for the real deal. Could she be turning into Fanny's mother, The Bolter? Or will her desperate search for love pay off in the most oddest of ways?

I remember one winter day when I first picked up the Vintage omnibus of The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. The selling point to me was the big silver sticker they had put on the cover for Masterpiece Theatre. I covet those PBS tie-in editions of yore and here was a brand new one waiting for me to buy it. I have mentioned this before, but I am the book dork who must always read a book before watching the show, so I set to reading this before the miniseries was to air. This was a hard time in my life, I had just temporarily dropped out of college because of multiple deaths in the family and I took solace in this little escape. While I enjoyed the book, I was really looking forward to watching the miniseries more than anything. Of course, nothing goes to plan.

My main problem was I was living with my family and we had only two tvs. This was to air on a Monday night, which meant one of the tvs was designated for my little brother watching Monday night wrestling, which meant I had to negotiate for the second tv with my mother. My mother agreed to watch it, so long as it was good. She lasted less then five minutes before she claimed boredom and changed the channel. I was so fed up with everyone else getting what they wanted when all I wanted to do was watch one episode of Masterpiece Theatre that I went into my room and cried. I had waited months and my mom had let me have five minutes, a trait that more or less continues to this day. I had to wait more than four years to finally see the series... so, logically enough, my memory of the book has faded because of the incident that followed.

Therefore when finally getting around to planning Mitford March for my blog, I was excited for the re-read. I remembered very little in the years that followed my initial reading, many of my memories where tied up in the aforementioned incident and in the second volume of the book, more on that later, so I was pleasantly surprised by what I had forgotten and what I had remembered. The odd thing about this book is, truthfully, there really isn't a plot. Instead it is about the yearning and desire for love and how that can go unexpectedly right and horribly wrong. Of all the love stories told, the two that I enjoy the most is Jassy's and Linda's final love. Jassy, Linda's younger sister, has spent her entire life saving up money to run away, finally she does so in order to go to Hollywood and court an actor she has fallen for, who played a background artist in a pirate movie. The media sensation that follows is almost more entertaining then the end of the courtship, with her father viewing the reporters trying to sneak into his house as the first real and formidable enemies since he killed Germans with his entrenching tool in The Great War. While Linda's love of Fabrice is so unexpected when they meet at the train station as she is leaving her second husband, it is their banter and their easy natural conversation that makes you realize that it's not the money and it's not the looks, it's how you click that matters. Linda and I learned that love can be found in the most unexpected of places.

Yet, what I found most interesting about this book is how it was a mirror for the Mitfords themselves. The first time I read this book I knew about them in the vaguest of terms. Sisters, writers, one or two hung out with Hitler, whatever, it wasn't of concern to me, this was fiction. But as Nancy's sister Jessica points out in the introduction "we all know [Nancy's] got no imagination" because "there we were, larger than life, Mitfords renamed Radletts, reliving our childhoods as seen through Nancy's strange triangular green eyes." And the more you know about the Mitfords the funnier the book is. Nancy lampooning herself and her family. Jessica running off to Spain with a communist is both Linda and her little brother's fate. Up and leaving your husband, just like Diana did. Nancy's affair with a Frenchman. The families love of animals, their weird language all their own. This book is the Mitfords as seen through a slightly wobbly magnifying lens, and I love the book for this more then any other reason!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Nancy Mitford

Nancy Mitford is the most well known of the Mitford sisters. The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate are considered standard reading among Anglophiles. The eldest of the Mitford children, she was of the generation known as the Bright Young Things, the generation satirized by her friend and fellow Bright Young Thing Evelyn Waugh in his book Vile Bodies. Her debutante photographs where done by Cecil Beaton, the most sought after photographer and chronicler of the age. Unlike her siblings, she never took to politics and instead she threw herself into writing, mainly books that where parodies of her family with the characters thinly veiled.

Much like the people she wrote about, she never had fulfillment in love, placing her heart time and again with the wrong man. Yet where she wasn't a success in affairs of the heart the same couldn't be said about her writing career. "The Pursuit of Love was a phenomenal best seller and made her financially independent." This allowed her to relocate to Paris, where she spent her time writing biographies about French luminaries like Madame Pampadour and Voltaire. Yet it is her comedic sensibilities and sense of humor that people remember in both her novels and her various contributions to newspapers.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Book Review - Patricia Briggs's Frost Burned

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson Book 7) by Patricia Briggs
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 5th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Of all the horrors that Mercy's faced, she may be coming up against the most dangerous yet... the mall on Black Friday! Her step-daughter Jesse has somehow convinced her that after a great Thanksgiving feast that they should hop in Mercy's Rabbit and go shopping. When they get in a car accident and the Rabbit meets it's true death, Mercy's reservations have been made crystal clear. The mall is not for her. Yet was the jolt of impact the pain she's feeling, or did the pain happen before and perhaps cause the impact? The fact that the two of them cannot get ahold of ANY of the pack does not bode well. It soon becomes apparent that something really bad has happened. The pack has been kidnapped. Finding pack member Ben and then being approached by Bran's friend Asil, means at least Mercy has two "people" on her side. Yet a very dominate wolf like Asil near an injured wolf like Ben isn't the best thing. She's in an explosive situation, and if she can't get her little team to work together, perhaps things could go from bad to worse. The most worrying aspect of all is that obviously someone knows a lot about Adam and Mercy's pack. If they can all survive, can they find out who is pulling the strings and why?

Of all the Urban Fantasy series currently out there, I think that I can easily say that the Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs are my favorite. While I do love my Sookie Stackhouse, Charlaine Harris's series has it's flaws. I'm not saying that Mercy is by any means perfect, hardly, but I love that over time she has really developed and matured as a character. Forward progression can never be underestimated in a long running series. Because of this love I was beyond excited to see that Patricia Briggs was actually going to have an event near me (as in less then four hours in a car and only having to cross one state border). Of all my favorite authors she was the one I had yet to meet, so queue happy music and me driving off in my car to Illinois.

The event was lovely and it was interesting that someone who deals out a lot of death and destruction on their characters could be so giddy and bubbly. Not only did she put on a great presentation, but she took the time to talk to everyone in line (luckily I was in the first row, I can't imagine how long the others had to wait, but waiting in a bookstore is not a bad thing, except perhaps for your wallet). The thing I found very interesting was how into dissecting the cover art the fans are. Personally, I really like the cover art, it's what drew me to the books, but I didn't really sit for hours examining the tattoos and jewelry. Apparently I should have been, because the tattoos reflect which aspect of the supernatural world Mercy will connect with in the book, Fae, Vampire, Wolves... so that means they change! I basically came home from the talk and took out all the books and looked at each cover closely. It was such fun!

Now ever since her last book River Marked, which I know some people weren't too thrilled with, me being the exception, I've had more then a little obsession with the Otterkin. My friend Matt things I'm more then a little crazy on the Otterkin front, but, I got to talk to Patricia Briggs for five minutes all about Otters and Otterkin, so that was beyond awesome. Although, she did traumatize me more then a little with a story about a vicious Otter... so I guess Matt can gloat about that. The only thing that I didn't like about the talk was which section of the book she chose to read. Now, this would be more in the general gripes about that book, but I didn't really care for the sections from Adam's point of view... so when she read the first section from Adam's POV, well, I tuned out a little. I didn't like reading it the first time, so hearing it a second time was redundant.

So, I've dwelled enough on the talk, let's segue to the book itself. The beginning, well, it was a little cringe worthy. Yet another kidnapping. In fact... is there any book in this series that doesn't have a kidnapping? No, I'm not joking, I'm serious. Moon Called, yes, Blood Bound, yes, Iron Kissed, in a way, yes, Bone Crossed, yes, Silver Borne, yes... in fact, every one except River Marked... so I think it's time to lay off the kidnapping all together. I liked that they were able to get themselves out of a tight situation and therefore the kidnapping was quickly resolved. But still. No more kidnapping. Repeating this trope makes it look like lazy writing, and these books are anything but.

As I said earlier, I love that the characters grow and consequences stick. Mainly I like that the plot lines from the other related books, so far the Alpha and Omega series, but fingers crossed about that possible Ben spin off, feed into this book and the complex universe that Briggs has built. The fact that Mercy is living with the repercussions of the Fae basically declaring war on humans in Fair Game, by just vanishing off the face of the earth is interesting. Because the link to Zee is severed... but then again, Zee is a clever and old fae, so, rules that apply to others are more mailable to him, like iron in his hands. Also, the full extent of what exactly Mercy is and capable of is still shrouded. The encounter she has with a ghost brings a new level of scary... I can't wait to see what Briggs does with this further development. Obviously Mercy can do far more then turn into a coyote, and I can't wait to read it. Sigh, another book quickly devoured and at least another year to wait... perhaps it's time for a re-read? That should tide me over for awhile... right?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson Book 7) by Patricia Briggs
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 5th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Mercy Thompson’s life has undergone a seismic change. Becoming the mate of Adam Hauptman—the charismatic Alpha of the local werewolf pack—has made her a stepmother to his daughter Jesse, a relationship that brings moments of blissful normalcy to Mercy’s life. But on the edges of humanity, what passes for a minor mishap on an ordinary day can turn into so much more…

After an accident in bumper-to-bumper traffic, Mercy and Jesse can’t reach Adam—or anyone else in the pack for that matter. They’ve all been abducted.

Through their mating bond, all Mercy knows is that Adam is angry and in pain. With the werewolves fighting a political battle to gain acceptance from the public, Mercy fears Adam’s disappearance may be related—and that he and the pack are in serious danger. Outclassed and on her own, Mercy may be forced to seek assistance from any ally she can get, no matter how unlikely.

Mercy week! Feels like an eternity since the last book, yes, two years feels like that to me. FINALLY! Do a little dance, because I have to wait probably another two years for the next, sigh.

Written in Red by Anne Bishop
Published by: Roc Hardcover
Publication Date: March 5th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"No one creates realms like New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop. Now in a thrilling new fantasy series, enter a world inhabited by the Others, unearthly entities—vampires and shape-shifters among them—who rule the Earth and whose prey are humans.

As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow."

This looks right up my alley!

A Conspiracy of Alchemists: Book One in The Chronicles of Light and Shadow by Liesel Schwarz
Published by: Del Rey
Publication Date: March 5th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"LEAVE IT TO CHANCE. Eleanor “Elle” Chance, that is—the intrepid heroine of this edgy new series that transforms elements of urban fantasy, historical adventure, and paranormal romance into pure storytelling gold.

In a Golden Age where spark reactors power the airways, and creatures of Light and Shadow walk openly among us, a deadly game of Alchemists and Warlocks has begun.

When an unusual cargo drags airship-pilot Elle Chance into the affairs of the mysterious Mr. Marsh, she must confront her destiny and do everything in her power to stop the Alchemists from unleashing a magical apocalypse.

Discover the thrilling new series that transforms elements of urban fantasy and paranormal romance into pure storytelling gold."

This looks like it's going to be a big spending week at the bookstore!

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin Book 1) by Robin LaFevers
Published by: Graphia
Publication Date: March 5th, 2013
Paperback: Hardcover, 576 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage to the respite of the convent of St. Mortain. Here she learns that the god of Death has blessed her with dangerous gifts and a violent destiny. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others. But how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who has stolen her heart?

I loved this book so much that it was in the top ten of books I read in 2011. The sequel is finally coming out, so if you haven't picked up this amazing book by Robin, do it now, you won't regret it!

Bright Young Things: A Modern Guide to the Roaring Twenties by Alison Maloney
Published by: Potter Style
Publication Date: March 5th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 128 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For lovers of the glamour and scandal of the roaring twenties and the millions of fans eagerly anticipating the return of Downton Abbey (the third season opens in the twenties), an illustrated lifestyle guide to the fashion, the parties, the notrious personalities, and all the glittering trappings from the unforgettable era of the flapper.

Bright Young Things is a perfect guide to the roaring twenties--hot jazz and hotter all-night dance halls, high society's scandalous exploits, fresh new fashions, Prohibition cocktails, costume parties, and of course, the notorious flapper. Decorated throughout with art deco illustrations and packaged in a beautiful foil-stamped case, this book looks stunning resting on a coffee table and makes a fabulous gift."

For something I'm working on for this summer, this book could be perfect!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Mitford March

For some time now I have wanted to do a tribute month to the Mitfords. Now, while I really wanted to do this to coincide with Deborah Mitford's 90th birthday in March of 2010, she being the last living Mitford, as you can see I'm a few years off... but still, better late then never is what I say. For any Anglophile the Mitfords are an interesting subject. Six sisters raised in an unorthodox way, with their own argot, Honnish, with education being for boys, not girls, they never had a formal education, yet despite that hindrance, two of them went on to become celebrated writers, with Nancy Mitford regarded as one of the best writers of the 20th century.

In any time period the Mitfords would be called eccentric. The eldest, Nancy, went on to be famous for her novels saterising her family, Pamela's lesbian relationship didn't raise many eyebrows especially because her younger sister Diana married the heir to the Guiness fortune, then left him for Walter Mosley, the leader of Britian's Fascist movement. They eventually married in Joseph Goebbels' drawing room with Hitler in attendance. Unity was much like her sister Diana, in that she too flocked to Hitler, but was so torn when Britian and Germany declared war that she shot herself in the head, but didn't die till after the war. Jessica meanwhile was a staunch Communist and ran off with her cousin, whom she married, to the Spanish Civil War. Deborah on the other hand is quite docile, having married the Duke of Devonshire and taking care of Chatsworth, one of the great houses of England, and turning it into one of the most successful country homes and tourist attractions.

Of the six sisters, only Pamela and Unity never took pen to paper. While Nancy wrote fiction, it seems that the sisters main literary interest was in non-fiction. Writing biographies, not just of famous people, but also contrasting biographies of themselves. Besides their own writing, there has been a plethora of books written on them. Controversial, stylish and notorious... I can't think of a better gang of ladies to have their own month.

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