rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
( Jun. 4th, 2011 09:25 am)
Amazon is having a 99 cent - $2.99 sale on selected Kindle books. Here's a few that may be of particular interest:

Predators I Have Known, by Alan Dean Foster. Yes, the Pip and Flinx guy. Based on the sample chapter, this is an awesomely and absurdly alliterative account of real-world predators he has known, as he happily traveled around the world to get a look at tigers, sharks, etc. I have a weakness for that sort of thing, and bought it. $1.99.

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris's nonfiction book, Smart on Crime. She has an interesting background - her family is Indian and Jamaican, and important politicians on the Indian side - and the sample chapter is well-written and thoughtful. Will probably be depressing, as she is in favor of prevention and the American system as a whole seems to have zero interest in that, but I got it anyway as she seems to have some ideas I haven't heard before. $2.99.

Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer. For the love of God, skip the horrible anti-Semitic pawnbroker chapter. Otherwise, a really funny romantic comedy with great characterization. $1.99.

The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy. I have an enormous, slightly guilty fondness for this lush, engrossing, often very funny, and utterly cracktastic Southern Gothic epic about a family whose eccentricity, dysfunctionality, and mental illness goes so far over the top that it reaches the stratosphere. The movie doesn't really do it justice. Contains some racist characters, rape, self-harm, and many other disturbing things. Also contains some really excellent food porn. $2.99. Cut for GIANT SPOILER )

ETA: Those Who Hunt the Night, by Barbara Hambly. Really excellent vampire novel for 99 cents... but comments say there are huge formatting problems. Caveat emptor. I'm mostly mentioning it to alert everyone that she wrote a third novel in the series, Blood Maidens, which I did not know of till just now. Very exciting!
I just started reading Georgette Heyer's These Old Shades. The back cover promised me that it's about the notorious Duke of Avon, whose nickname is "Satanas."

So imagine my surprise when this is what Satanas is doing in the very first paragraph: He walked very mincingly, for the red heels of his shoes were very high.

Satanas must work very hard at debauchery to earn his name, given that he minces along in red high heels!

So, I guess this one is Georgian, not Regency, huh?
I just started reading Georgette Heyer's These Old Shades. The back cover promised me that it's about the notorious Duke of Avon, whose nickname is "Satanas."

So imagine my surprise when this is what Satanas is doing in the very first paragraph: He walked very mincingly, for the red heels of his shoes were very high.

Satanas must work very hard at debauchery to earn his name, given that he minces along in red high heels!

So, I guess this one is Georgian, not Regency, huh?
Continuing my theme of accidental paired reads, I recently read two Regency romances with strong comic elements, both by women, both of which I absolutely loved and would recommend whether you normally like romance or not.

Venetia, by Georgette Heyer, is now one of my two favorite books by her. The other is Cotillion, with The Unknown Ajax, Sprig Muslin, and Frederica close behind.

I had heard that Venetia is "the one with the rake;" this is true, but what's most notable about it to me is that, like Cotillion, it's about a romance that begins as a friendship, and is about how that meeting of true minds is the basis of the relationship, rather than the more common pattern of sexual chemistry first, compatibility later. Which is not to say that Venetia lacks sexual chemistry, as it's one of the few Heyers where the romantic leads do really seem to be sexual beings.

Venetia is older than most Regency heroines; her no-good father never let her come out, then dropped dead, leaving Venetia, at the age of 25, stuck in the middle of nowhere with no company but her brilliant and handicapped younger brother, two equally appalling suitors, and a whole bunch of books. But then the rake Damerel, who has been leading a dissipated life after running away with and then leaving a married woman, returns to his ancestral house. Which is next door.

I don't want to say too much about the story, since it has some nice surprises, but this is one of the most well-written, psychologically penetrating, touching, and funny Heyer novels I've read, and that's saying a lot. Unlike a lot of hers, this one is gripping from the very first page, even though there's little overt conflict. The obstacles keeping Venetia and Damerel apart are subtle, mostly psychological, and provide tension while allowing their relationship to slowly blossom. I am convinced that they will be very happy together, which is not true of all romantic couples. Damerel is smart, sexy, and kind, with believable angst for seasoning; Venetia is outspoken, witty, and goes her own way, but is not a modern woman in period dress. I really can't recommend this book highly enough.

Your Wicked Ways, by Eloisa James, is not up to that standard, but that's a very high standard and I did enjoy it a great deal on its own merits. It's a page-turner-- I read it in one sitting-- and interestingly revisionist of some typical romance tropes.

Helene and her husband Rees, both composers, have been living separately for the last nine years, ever since their impulsive and youthful Gretna Green elopement ended in bad sex, recriminations, and general disaster. Rees has become a rake and is living with an opera singer; Helene is living with her mother. But Helene is desperate to have a baby, and Rees is desperate to finish an opera that's going very badly. After a slightly contrived series of events, Helene ends up striking a bargain with Rees: she'll secretly move into his house for a month and help him with the opera, if he'll do his best to impregnate her. The house, by that time is not only hosting the opera singer (once a mistress, now just there as a singer), but Rees' vicar brother and the apple-selling waif he rescued from the streets. Neither Helene nor Rees is looking forward to the impregnation part, as their terrible early sexual experiences convinced them both that Helene is frigid. But they've both matured a lot in the intervening years...

If you can get over Rees' initial and utterly caddish behavior, and he does change a lot over the course of the book, this is a really sweet, funny, and sexy story. It has a lot of elements that I particularly like: learning how to have sex rather than instinctively knowing (on both people's parts-- nine years later, Rees still has no idea how to please a woman), a romance based on a meeting of minds (a great deal of the courtship of Rees and Helene takes place around the piano), and likable supporting characters. No one is perfect in this book, but no one's a villain either-- not Rees, not his mistress, not Rees' upright brother, not even the French rake whom Helene briefly dallies with.

This is the last book in a sequence of four, but stands just fine on its own. One of Helene's suitors shows up again the first book of a different sequence, Much Ado About You.
Continuing my theme of accidental paired reads, I recently read two Regency romances with strong comic elements, both by women, both of which I absolutely loved and would recommend whether you normally like romance or not.

Venetia, by Georgette Heyer, is now one of my two favorite books by her. The other is Cotillion, with The Unknown Ajax, Sprig Muslin, and Frederica close behind.

I had heard that Venetia is "the one with the rake;" this is true, but what's most notable about it to me is that, like Cotillion, it's about a romance that begins as a friendship, and is about how that meeting of true minds is the basis of the relationship, rather than the more common pattern of sexual chemistry first, compatibility later. Which is not to say that Venetia lacks sexual chemistry, as it's one of the few Heyers where the romantic leads do really seem to be sexual beings.

Venetia is older than most Regency heroines; her no-good father never let her come out, then dropped dead, leaving Venetia, at the age of 25, stuck in the middle of nowhere with no company but her brilliant and handicapped younger brother, two equally appalling suitors, and a whole bunch of books. But then the rake Damerel, who has been leading a dissipated life after running away with and then leaving a married woman, returns to his ancestral house. Which is next door.

I don't want to say too much about the story, since it has some nice surprises, but this is one of the most well-written, psychologically penetrating, touching, and funny Heyer novels I've read, and that's saying a lot. Unlike a lot of hers, this one is gripping from the very first page, even though there's little overt conflict. The obstacles keeping Venetia and Damerel apart are subtle, mostly psychological, and provide tension while allowing their relationship to slowly blossom. I am convinced that they will be very happy together, which is not true of all romantic couples. Damerel is smart, sexy, and kind, with believable angst for seasoning; Venetia is outspoken, witty, and goes her own way, but is not a modern woman in period dress. I really can't recommend this book highly enough.

Your Wicked Ways, by Eloisa James, is not up to that standard, but that's a very high standard and I did enjoy it a great deal on its own merits. It's a page-turner-- I read it in one sitting-- and interestingly revisionist of some typical romance tropes.

Helene and her husband Rees, both composers, have been living separately for the last nine years, ever since their impulsive and youthful Gretna Green elopement ended in bad sex, recriminations, and general disaster. Rees has become a rake and is living with an opera singer; Helene is living with her mother. But Helene is desperate to have a baby, and Rees is desperate to finish an opera that's going very badly. After a slightly contrived series of events, Helene ends up striking a bargain with Rees: she'll secretly move into his house for a month and help him with the opera, if he'll do his best to impregnate her. The house, by that time is not only hosting the opera singer (once a mistress, now just there as a singer), but Rees' vicar brother and the apple-selling waif he rescued from the streets. Neither Helene nor Rees is looking forward to the impregnation part, as their terrible early sexual experiences convinced them both that Helene is frigid. But they've both matured a lot in the intervening years...

If you can get over Rees' initial and utterly caddish behavior, and he does change a lot over the course of the book, this is a really sweet, funny, and sexy story. It has a lot of elements that I particularly like: learning how to have sex rather than instinctively knowing (on both people's parts-- nine years later, Rees still has no idea how to please a woman), a romance based on a meeting of minds (a great deal of the courtship of Rees and Helene takes place around the piano), and likable supporting characters. No one is perfect in this book, but no one's a villain either-- not Rees, not his mistress, not Rees' upright brother, not even the French rake whom Helene briefly dallies with.

This is the last book in a sequence of four, but stands just fine on its own. One of Helene's suitors shows up again the first book of a different sequence, Much Ado About You.
This extremely funny and well-characterized Regency romantic comedy was the novel which got me hooked on Heyer, and it's still one of my favorites. I also think it's objectively one of her best.

Crotchety, penny-pinching Uncle Matthew announces that he is leaving his entire fortune to his fun-loving adopted daughter Kitty-- on the condition that she marry one of his many nephews. Kitty is violently opposed to marrying any of them, especially the handsome rake Jack, but she doesn't want to be left penniless either.

So she hits upon a cunning plan: she'll get her cousin Freddy, who has his own money and no romantic interest in her, to enter a sham engagement with her while she tries to figure out what to do-- and gets to live it up in London in the meanwhile. Kitty, Freddy, Jack, and numerous cousins, evil aunts, French gamblers, damsels in distress, cynical fathers, be-measled brothers, and practical women of low breeding all proceed to collide in London.

You don't have to be a fan of romance to love this book, as it's more of an intricate comedy of manners bordering on farce than a traditional romance-- in fact, all of the intersecting romances in the book are rather atypical.

The ideal reader for the this novel would have read enough romances-- possibly even enough other Heyers-- to have an idea of certain romantic conventions. That ideal reader will be surprised as well as delighted at the way Heyer turns a certain romance convention upside-down, and so creates the only Regency romantic hero who I would actually want to marry.

Read no more unless you've already read the book, or unless only big spoilers would convince you to do so: )
This extremely funny and well-characterized Regency romantic comedy was the novel which got me hooked on Heyer, and it's still one of my favorites. I also think it's objectively one of her best.

Crotchety, penny-pinching Uncle Matthew announces that he is leaving his entire fortune to his fun-loving adopted daughter Kitty-- on the condition that she marry one of his many nephews. Kitty is violently opposed to marrying any of them, especially the handsome rake Jack, but she doesn't want to be left penniless either.

So she hits upon a cunning plan: she'll get her cousin Freddy, who has his own money and no romantic interest in her, to enter a sham engagement with her while she tries to figure out what to do-- and gets to live it up in London in the meanwhile. Kitty, Freddy, Jack, and numerous cousins, evil aunts, French gamblers, damsels in distress, cynical fathers, be-measled brothers, and practical women of low breeding all proceed to collide in London.

You don't have to be a fan of romance to love this book, as it's more of an intricate comedy of manners bordering on farce than a traditional romance-- in fact, all of the intersecting romances in the book are rather atypical.

The ideal reader for the this novel would have read enough romances-- possibly even enough other Heyers-- to have an idea of certain romantic conventions. That ideal reader will be surprised as well as delighted at the way Heyer turns a certain romance convention upside-down, and so creates the only Regency romantic hero who I would actually want to marry.

Read no more unless you've already read the book, or unless only big spoilers would convince you to do so: )
A mid-range Heyer, not as funny as Sprig Muslin or as intricate and emotionally satisfying as Cotillion, but that's probably a matter of opinion as everyone seems to have their favorites. I did enjoy this one quite a lot for its brilliant character portrait of Sylvester himself, its lively supporting cast, and best of all, the heroine's secret.

Sylvester is a handsome duke, although his upswept eyebrows can lend him a sinister air. (Before all you non-Heyer converts stop reading right here, let me explain that these eyebrows of his are actually a plot point. Be patient.) He's polite, loves his mother, treats his servants well, and has been eaten alive by his persona of The Perfect Gentleman. But he hasn't noticed, and no one can quite bring themselves to tell him that he's arrogant and smug and insufferable and seems to have buried his heart in his twin brother's grave, because it's all so subtle and hard to pin down. And he is, after all, a perfect gentleman.

But Sylvester is heading for a collision course with Phoebe, a young woman who met him once upon her lackluster coming-out, was struck by his eyebrows and air of entitlement, and wrote him into a Gothic roman a clef as Count Ugolino, the villain of the piece who has dark designs upon his angelic young ward. Little does she know that Sylvester actually does have a ward, his deceased brother's young son. But by the time Phoebe and Sylvester's lives have become thoroughly entangled, the book has already gone to press, complete with snarky portraits of all the society folk she's now going to have to see again...

Quite apart from the amusing correspondance to my own upcoming publication, this is was a good read. Sparks definitely fly between Phoebe and Sylvester, and one predicts a tempestuous and quarrelsome, but probably quite happy marriage. And everything involving Phoebe's book is fascinating, both as a historical document and, in terms of the plot, a slow-motion car wreck.

Sylvester is back in print. Check the romance section of any bookstore.
A mid-range Heyer, not as funny as Sprig Muslin or as intricate and emotionally satisfying as Cotillion, but that's probably a matter of opinion as everyone seems to have their favorites. I did enjoy this one quite a lot for its brilliant character portrait of Sylvester himself, its lively supporting cast, and best of all, the heroine's secret.

Sylvester is a handsome duke, although his upswept eyebrows can lend him a sinister air. (Before all you non-Heyer converts stop reading right here, let me explain that these eyebrows of his are actually a plot point. Be patient.) He's polite, loves his mother, treats his servants well, and has been eaten alive by his persona of The Perfect Gentleman. But he hasn't noticed, and no one can quite bring themselves to tell him that he's arrogant and smug and insufferable and seems to have buried his heart in his twin brother's grave, because it's all so subtle and hard to pin down. And he is, after all, a perfect gentleman.

But Sylvester is heading for a collision course with Phoebe, a young woman who met him once upon her lackluster coming-out, was struck by his eyebrows and air of entitlement, and wrote him into a Gothic roman a clef as Count Ugolino, the villain of the piece who has dark designs upon his angelic young ward. Little does she know that Sylvester actually does have a ward, his deceased brother's young son. But by the time Phoebe and Sylvester's lives have become thoroughly entangled, the book has already gone to press, complete with snarky portraits of all the society folk she's now going to have to see again...

Quite apart from the amusing correspondance to my own upcoming publication, this is was a good read. Sparks definitely fly between Phoebe and Sylvester, and one predicts a tempestuous and quarrelsome, but probably quite happy marriage. And everything involving Phoebe's book is fascinating, both as a historical document and, in terms of the plot, a slow-motion car wreck.

Sylvester is back in print. Check the romance section of any bookstore.
I've been meaning to do this for a while, ever since I noticed that a) Harlequin has been reissuing Georgette Heyer's entire backlist, and b) many Heyer fans do not read genre romance, so they haven't noticed.

There will be no mentions of Firebird on this list. We all know Firebird rocks. So does Starscape.

SPRIG MUSLIN, by Georgette Heyer.

And all her other books. (Be wary of a horrid anti-Semitic scene in the otherwise splendid THE GRAND SOPHY. In fact, I would skip ahead from when Sophy goes to visit the moneylender to when she leaves. All you need to know is that she gets what she wants from him.) But I'll use this as an example, because it's so utterly charming.

It's a two-couple Regency romance, but is really more of a comedy and parody of the entire romance genre, but particularly of the "spirited runaway girl" trope. The runaway girl is indeed spirited, but has absorbed the contents of far too many romance novels and taken them far too much to heart. Disasters ensue. The other heroine is practical and wears glasses. In my favorite scene, the spirited girl traps an aspiring playwright in a discussion of a play he ought to write about wicked Queen Katharine, which would include an on-stage autopsy with a tar-soaked sponge to represent her wicked black heart.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0373836244/qid=1092340592/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-3433239-3391102?v=glance&s=books

THE HOUSE OF THIRTY CATS, by Mary Calhoun

A children's book about a girl named Sarah who lives near an old cat woman's house. The local kids, who are a bit scared of her, will ring the doorbell if they want a kitten, and then run away when she gives them one. But when a mousy librarian gives Sarah George MacDonald's THE PRINCESS AND CURDIE, awakening Sarah to the wonders of fantasy-- and when Sarah later catches her reading a book on witchcraft-- she realizes that people may have hidden lives that are more surprising and wonderful than the personas they show to the world. When Sarah goes to get a kitten, she goes inside the house of thirty cats, and finds a world that's just as astonishing and beautiful as any fantasy. When town authorities try to shut down the house, Sarah decides to find homes for the cats by matching their personalities to those of the townspeople-- not their personas, but their true selves.

This is a lovely book, and an example of how much characterization of a large cast of human and cat characters can be packed into a few words.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0786816929/qid=1092341001/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-3433239-3391102?v=glance&s=books

HOTEL FOR DOGS, by Lois Duncan

Another children's book, this one by a writer who later became famous for YA suspense. (Of those books, I really like DOWN A DARK HALL and STRANGER WITH MY FACE.) Like CATS, it's a "secret garden" novel in which children create a private little world for themselves. A girl who is forced to leave her beloved dog behind when her family moves to Albuquerque, and in with an aunt who's allergic to dogs, hides a stray dog in the abandoned house next door. Then her brother hides a dog who ran away from its abusive owner. More and more kids who can't have pets of their own hide more and more dogs in the house, until matters come to a highly satisfying climax. Incidentally, the protagonist wants to be a writer, and her dedication and perseverance is a model for any as-yet-unpublished author.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0786816945/qid=1092341477/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-3433239-3391102?v=glance&s=books

More later...
I've been meaning to do this for a while, ever since I noticed that a) Harlequin has been reissuing Georgette Heyer's entire backlist, and b) many Heyer fans do not read genre romance, so they haven't noticed.

There will be no mentions of Firebird on this list. We all know Firebird rocks. So does Starscape.

SPRIG MUSLIN, by Georgette Heyer.

And all her other books. (Be wary of a horrid anti-Semitic scene in the otherwise splendid THE GRAND SOPHY. In fact, I would skip ahead from when Sophy goes to visit the moneylender to when she leaves. All you need to know is that she gets what she wants from him.) But I'll use this as an example, because it's so utterly charming.

It's a two-couple Regency romance, but is really more of a comedy and parody of the entire romance genre, but particularly of the "spirited runaway girl" trope. The runaway girl is indeed spirited, but has absorbed the contents of far too many romance novels and taken them far too much to heart. Disasters ensue. The other heroine is practical and wears glasses. In my favorite scene, the spirited girl traps an aspiring playwright in a discussion of a play he ought to write about wicked Queen Katharine, which would include an on-stage autopsy with a tar-soaked sponge to represent her wicked black heart.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0373836244/qid=1092340592/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-3433239-3391102?v=glance&s=books

THE HOUSE OF THIRTY CATS, by Mary Calhoun

A children's book about a girl named Sarah who lives near an old cat woman's house. The local kids, who are a bit scared of her, will ring the doorbell if they want a kitten, and then run away when she gives them one. But when a mousy librarian gives Sarah George MacDonald's THE PRINCESS AND CURDIE, awakening Sarah to the wonders of fantasy-- and when Sarah later catches her reading a book on witchcraft-- she realizes that people may have hidden lives that are more surprising and wonderful than the personas they show to the world. When Sarah goes to get a kitten, she goes inside the house of thirty cats, and finds a world that's just as astonishing and beautiful as any fantasy. When town authorities try to shut down the house, Sarah decides to find homes for the cats by matching their personalities to those of the townspeople-- not their personas, but their true selves.

This is a lovely book, and an example of how much characterization of a large cast of human and cat characters can be packed into a few words.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0786816929/qid=1092341001/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-3433239-3391102?v=glance&s=books

HOTEL FOR DOGS, by Lois Duncan

Another children's book, this one by a writer who later became famous for YA suspense. (Of those books, I really like DOWN A DARK HALL and STRANGER WITH MY FACE.) Like CATS, it's a "secret garden" novel in which children create a private little world for themselves. A girl who is forced to leave her beloved dog behind when her family moves to Albuquerque, and in with an aunt who's allergic to dogs, hides a stray dog in the abandoned house next door. Then her brother hides a dog who ran away from its abusive owner. More and more kids who can't have pets of their own hide more and more dogs in the house, until matters come to a highly satisfying climax. Incidentally, the protagonist wants to be a writer, and her dedication and perseverance is a model for any as-yet-unpublished author.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0786816945/qid=1092341477/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-3433239-3391102?v=glance&s=books

More later...
.

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