Book: Private Arrangements

Title: Private Arrangements
Author: Sherry Thomas
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 351 pgs.

Summary: Everyone in London envies Lord Camden and Lady Gigi Tremaine’s marriage. It is the epitome of the proper marriage, as they never make a scene, they respect one another’s freedom, and they aren’t too lovey-dovey. Oh, and they haven’t seen one another for ten years. Now that Gigi wants a divorce, Camden returns to London with an obnoxious request in exchange for her freedom to marry again.

Excerpt:

pg 1 – Only one kind of marriage ever bore Society’s stamp of approval.

Happy marriages were considered vulgar, as matrimonial felicity rarely kept longer than a well-boiled pudding. Unhappy marriages were, of course, even more vulgar, on a par with Mrs Jeffries’s special contraption that spanked forty bottoms at once: unspeakable, for half the upper crust had experienced it firsthand.

Why should you read this book?

This book is a romance, no doubt about it. The intimate scenes are hot, and most importantly, imperative to the relationship between Gigi and Camden. As a married couple that hasn’t seen one another for ten years, there are past disputes that have to be resolved, old wounds re-opened, and ten years of desire to be satiated. Which they do, but always with a purpose.

For those of you writing romance, read Thomas’s book for an example of well-written intimate scenes that not only further the plot, they shove the plot forward with gusto, making you feel everything the characters feel and more. This is the first romance in a long time where I felt like the author really knew what they were doing. I’m definitely adding Thomas’s backlist to my TBR.

Book: A Pale Horse

Title: A Pale Horse
Author: Charles Todd
Genre: Historical Mystery
Length: 360 pgs.

Summary: It is 1920 London, and Inspector Ian Rutledge is freshly traumatized from the Great War. But he pushes it, and the persistent voice of a dead man, away so he can focus on this new mystery. The body of a man in a broken gas mask is found dead in the ruins of an old Abbey in Yorkshire, and no one knows who he is or how he came to be there. Rutledge is sent first to Yorkshire, and then to Berkshire’s White Horse in search of the man’s identity and murderer.

Excerpts:

pg 4 – In the darkness the voice of Hamish MacLeod answered him. A dead man’s voice, but for nearly four years now it had seemed to Rutledge as real as his own. Had had never grown used to hearing it, and yet with time he had come to terms of a sort with it. It was either that or madness. And he feared madness more.

pg 61 – Just as in the war, death pursued him as a policeman as well. It was his chosen profession, but he found himself thinking that the men who had built such splendor had left a greater legacy than most. Names long since forgotten, they lived on in what their hands had wrought. Not guns or tanks or deadly gas, but in stone, defining the human spirit’s capacity to create rather than destroy.

Hamish, good Covenanter that he was, preferred unadorned simplicity.

Why should you read this book?

Part mystery, part literary fiction about a man back from the gassed trenches of the Great World War (WWI to Americans), this book was excellent. I understand it is one in a series about Ian Rutledge, and this book drew me into his world and mind so well that I want to read the entire series. Will he get over his past with Hamish, his dead friend?

Read this book for an example of how to intersperse research and setting between self-reflection, dialogue, and plot. We know where we are and what we’re doing, dropped into a mystery and unsure Rutledge will be able to prove who the killer is, and whether we’re right about our own suspicions. But like I said, this isn’t just a straight mystery. We learn so much about Rutledge in the way he reacts to people, and how he holds conversations with Hamish when alone to appease his guilt. I truly enjoyed this book, and learned a great deal from the writing style.

Book: The Somnambulist

Title: The Somnambulist
Author: Jonathan Barnes
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 353 pgs.

Summary: Edward Moon, the great detective magician, is past his prime and no longer guaranteed a spot at the tables of the upper crust. When a bizarre case falls into his lap, Moon is sure this will be his greatest and last adventure; his constant and silent companion, The Somnambulist,  warns Moon that this will end badly as assassins from other worlds intervene.

Excerpt:

pg 1 – Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and wilfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you’ll believe a word of it.

pg 92 – Forgive me if the above sounds condescending—I add this last detail only for the benefit of the ignorant and for tourists. I should hope my readers educated enough to recognize the significance of Wren’s achievement without it being explained to them, but regrettable it remains the case that one must always make allowances for dullards. I cannot police the readers of this manuscript and it is a sad and tragic truth that I have never yet succeeded in underestimating the intelligence of the general public.

Why should you read this book?

Well, the inside cover tells me to “remember the name Jonathan Barnes…for he has burst upon the literary scene with a breathtaking and brilliant, frightening and hilarious, dark invention that recalls Neil Gaiman…read on…and be astonished!”

I’m sad to say that I was not impressed, no matter how the inside cover encouraged me to be suitably astonished and bewildered. I was bewildered, but only because I continued to read the book despite the very annoying, self-indulgent narrator who liked to tell me that the entire chapter I just read was a bald-faced lie. This narrator reminded me of all the arrogant guys in my life that I’ve avoided, and it was only by fierce willpower that I got to the end, which was, thankfully, interesting and well-written.

Read this book if you’re interested in taking complete advantage of the first person narration so your reader questions what is true and what isn’t. And if you want to leave them confused and a little annoyed by the end of the last page.

Book: Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England

arsonistsguidetonewenglandTitle: An Arsonists’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England
Author: Brock Clarke
Genre: Adult Fiction
Length: 303 pgs.

Summary: Sam Pulsifer, the son of two English teachers, bumbles. He realizes this while in jail for an arson conviction (which killed two people) which no one believes was a complete accident. Finally released from jail, Sam attempts to blend into mainstream life again, only to find there are just certain things you can’t live down…. burning down Emily Dickinson’s house as a teenage, for one. Years go by and Sam’s father shows him a collection of letters, all from people who want Sam to burn down the houses of other famous American authors for their own reasons. When these houses start to catch fire mysteriously, Sam’s the most likely culprit, and it’s up to him to prove otherwise.

Excerpts:

pg 82 – Because isn’t this what work is good for? Not so much a way to make your money, but a way you can feel normal even (especially) when you know you are not?

pg 89 – Because this is another thing your average American man in crisis does: he tries to go home, forgetting, momentarily, that he is the reason he left home in the first place, that the home is not his anymore, and that the crisis is him.

pg 155 – She reached over and gently put her hand on his yellow neck and left it there; he shivered noticeably, as though her touch were the best kind of ice.

Why should you read this book?
This book, I read somewhere, was supposed to be a dark comedy about a man who “bumbles.” Well, I agree that the narrator bumbles, he’s self-destructive for no discernable reason, which I find unfuriating and eventually boring, rather than funny. When I read, I tend to read for escapist reasons, or to see a new perspective, or to learn something about humanity (yes, even in romance…). This book only told me that people don’t change, they are selfish and self-descructive, and it’s better for everyone that we learn this as soon as possible.

As such, it’s a little hard for me to think anything other than the fact that Clarke is self-indulgent. While this book is well-written, I think it’s safe to say I’m not the target demographic. If you read it, let me know what you thought because I was all set to love this book and I hate disappointment.

Book: Neverwhere

Title:Neverwhere
Author:Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fiction
Length:370 pgs.

Summary: Stuck in a relationship and job where he is a whipping boy, Richard Mayhew breaks free of his daily not-caring ritual when a bloodied girl dressed in rags literally drops at his feet. By helping her, he loses track of his entire existence (literally), and must embark on a journey through “this city of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels, if he is ever to return to the London he knew.”

Excerpts:
pg 7 – There are four simple ways for the observant to tell Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar apart: first, Mr Vandemar is two and a half heads taller than Mr Croup; second, Mr Croup has eyes of a faded china blue, while Mr Vandemar’s eyes are brown; third, while Mr Vendemar fashioned the rings he wears on his right hand out of the skulls of four ravens, Mr Croup has no obvious jewelry; fourth, Mr Croup likes words, while Mr Vandemar is always hungry. Also, they look nothing at all alike.

pg 49 – To say that Richard Mayhew was not very good at heights would be perfectly accurate, but it would fail to give the full picture. Richard hated clifftops, and high buildings: somewhere not far inside him was the fear–the stark, utter, silently screaming terror–that if he got too close to the edge, then something would take over and he would find himself walking to the edge of a clifftop and stepping off into space. It was as if he could not entirely trust himself, and that scared Richard more than the simple fear of falling ever could. So he called it vertigo, and hated it and himself, and kept away from high places.

pg 93 – Varney looked like a bull might look, if the bull were to be shaved, dehorned, covered in tattoos, and suffered from complete dental breakdown. Also, he snored.

Why should you read this book?
I love Neil Gaiman. This is the second book I’ve read by him (Stardust was the other). I saw the movie MirrorMask and loved it. Gaiman’s tone is clever and funny; when you read his books you feel like he is sitting there telling you a story, rather than you reading a book (especially so with Stardust, where the characters are more archetypal). His descriptions are precise, accurate, and oftentimes hilarious because he doesn’t give any of his characters a break; see my excerpts above for an example.

If you like Doctor Who or Monty Python, this is a book for you. If you write fiction that takes any hint whatsoever from fairy tales, mythology, or legends, Gaiman is an excellent example to read to get a feel for what other writers are doing. (Another good example would be Marquez, but I’ll save that for when I review Of Love and Other Demons.) Gaiman, to me, is what I imagine the Grimm Brothers were to their contemporaries. All three men take inspiration from life, make the most mundane or horrible facts fantastical, and demand in the nicest way possible that you get something out of the story by the end. I highly suggest reading the author note at the end to really drive this point home.

Book: The Deception of the Emerald Ring

Title: The Deception of the Emerald Ring
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Historical Fiction, Chick Lit
Length: 387 pgs

Summary: Modern day – Eloise Kelly, like any good graduate student, is neck-deep in research for her dissertation about the Pink Carnation, attempting to prove the English spy existed. 1803 England – Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe, an English operative in league with the Pink Carnation, is ordered to Ireland to prevent an Irish rebellion and catch the Black Tulip the same night he means to elope with the beautiful Mary Alsworthy. When the carriage door opens, however, it’s not Mary that steps out but her sensible sister Letty determined to stop the happy couple. The ensuing scandal forces Letty to marry Geoffrey, and when he leaves her on their wedding night for Ireland, she’s decided enough is enough and follows him, unaware she is about to stumble into the world of espionage, and even romance.

Excerpts:
pg 2 – One day. It had only been one day by the calendar, two years in terms of agonized phone staring, and about half an hour in boy time. It is a truth universally acknowledged that time moves differently for men. There was, I reminded myself, no reason why Englishmen should differ from their American counterparts in this regard.

pg 100 – There’s nothing so attractive as a blank slate. Take one attractive man, slap on a thick coat of daydream, and, voila, the perfect man. With absolutely no resemblance to reality.

pg 310 – He looked down into her flushed face, framed with its tangle of hair that alternated between copper and gold in the candlelight, and knew that no number of compliments would convince her. With her sturdy common sense, she would write them off as pure flummery. To a certain extent, she would be right. She would never be a beauty by the accepted standards. Pretty, yes. Even lovely. But she lacked the stateliness and symmetry society demanded of its chosen goddesses. …One might admire a well-carved statue, but it would be deuced uncomfortable to cuddle up with at night.

Why should you read this book?
This is my favorite book out of the Pink Carnation series, perhaps because the historical heroine, Letty, isn’t a madcap adventurer like Amy, or a self-indulgent younger sister of a great English operative… she’s a nobody, a younger sister that no one thinks of despite the fact that she makes sure everything is good for everyone else. Finally, we get to see a little about what other people think of this Pink Carnation character, who have no connection with the operative. This romance, despite its hasty beginning, is more organic to me, much more believable, because it seems the characters are actually meant for one another. There are obvious clues that let you think this, whereas the other books…well, the first one was “lust first, love after,” and the second was “childhood friends turned lovers.”

As always, an entertaining series, well-written, a good amount of history and other allusions thrown in, something great if you want a bit of fluff in-between your heavier reading. I look forward to reading the next book, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. Writers should read this book for a believable burgeoning romance between previously unknown persons.

Book: The Masque of the Black Tulip

Title: The Masque of the Black Tulip
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Regency Romance
Length: 406 pgs

Summary: Eloise Kelly, our favorite history graduate student, continues in her determined quest to unmask the Pink Carnation, an English operative during the Napoleonic Wars that some don’t think existed. This time, she’s accompanying Colin Selwick to his ancestral home to read the archives in his family library for more information on the Pink Carnation, and in her research reads about Henrietta Selwick’s romance, which unmasks the infamous Black Tulip, a French assassin!

Excerpts:
pg 121 – We nodded at each other in complete historical complicity. His hazel eyes caught mine. That look was an entire conversation in itself, one of those odd moments of unspoken communication when you know beyond a doubt that you’re on the exact same page.

pg 214 – A human! Addressing me! I could have hugged her. There’s nothing more demoralizing than standing alone at a party–unless it’s tagging along after someone who palpably doesn’t want you there. I’d be damned if I was going to trail after Joan and Colin to the drinks table. If he wanted to extricate himself, he could bloody well do it himself.
He didn’t seem to be trying all that hard.

pg 257 – It wasn’t that the silence was uncomfortable. Quite the contrary. It was the peaceful sort of silence that attends long acquaintance, the comfort that comes of knowing you don’t need to say anything at all. And that very lack of discomfort made me profoundly uncomfortable.

I pinned down that thought, and followed it, writhing and slippery, to its source. It was the sham of instant coupledom. That was the problem. … It’s something that anyone who’s been single for a time will recognize, the pretense of intimacy that comes of being the only two singles at a couple-y dinner party, or, in this case, sharing a house for a weekend. It’s an intensely seductive illusion–but only an illusion.

Why should you read this book?
So this is the sequel to The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, and as I found that book a fun, easy, amusing read, I thought I’d give this a chance. At times insightful, and at times a cringe to read (adverbs are a pet-peeve of mine, as are onomatopoeias), I liked the romance of this book better than its prequel, and liked the actual writing of it less. Something about how the modern characters kept quoting things to one another… I know I do that, and a history graduate student would probably do that, but it got a little heavy-handed. Same with the allusions to mythology in order to explain how the characters felt around one another. There were times where I felt we got a little too much of the history student (Willig is currently working on a PhD in history), and not enough of the novelist. The fight around the climax had me rolling my eyes, but the chase scene had me smiling in approval. Still a good read for an afternoon, despite my little complaints. It’s always hard to make the second as good as the first, so writers, read this series to look out for sophomore pitfalls.