What Janine is Reading (and Seeing at the Theater) in Late Winter 2017
Unforgiven by Mary Balogh
Recently I reread Balogh’s 1997 release, Indiscreet, and found that it still works for me. Since I’d never read the other two books in the Four Horsemen trilogy and they had all been recently reissued, I then decided to move on to book two, Unforgiven.
Unforgiven follows the courtship, if it can be called that, of Kenneth Woodfall, Earl of Haverford, and Moira Hayes, whose father was a baronet. Kenneth and Moira are neighbors who had been sweethearts in their youth but are now enemies. Not only does the enmity between their families go back three generations, it is bolstered by a more recent contretemps between Moira’s late brother and Kenneth’s sister. Moira’s brother has since perished in the Napoleonic Wars and Moira blames Kenneth for his death.
Moira, now 26, has turned down all suitors and when her father’s heir, a distant cousin named Sir Edwin Baillie, proposes, Moira accepts because if she doesn’t, she and her mother will be left homeless and destitute.
Not knowing the full story of the enmity between their two families, Sir Edwin insists that he and Moira patch things up with Kenneth. After dragging Moira to a Christmas party at Kenneth’s country house, Edwin departs early to visit his ailing mother. Moira tries to walk home but is caught in a bad snowstorm. Kenneth finds her and they take shelter in an old, uninhabited hermit’s hut, where they share body heat to keep from freezing to death.
What happens next had my mind boggling. Even huddled together in blankets they are so cold that Kenneth decides sex is necessary to their survival. To say this felt like a contrived plot twist is to understate the case. After the deed is done (twice), Kenneth realizes he should have thought of some other way to keep warm! He offers to marry Moira the very next morning but she turns him down, although she insists she will call things off with Sir Edwin.
The ludicrous basis for sex wasn’t the only issue I had with this book. The reasons for Moira’s repeated refusals to marry Kenneth even after it became clear she was pregnant weren’t explained well, but worse than that, she couldn’t seem to have a conversation with him without picking a fight.
It’s not until the last third of the book that Moira and Kenneth start putting real effort into making their relationship work, and not until the final ten percent that they put an end to the sniping. As much as I usually like Balogh’s writing, and despite some moving scenes midway that had me crying, I don’t think I’ll be rereading this book. C-/C.
A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
In my last reading list column, I mentioned that I started rereading the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner in preparation for the May publication of book five, Thick as Thieves. Now I come to book four, A Conspiracy of Kings.
Sophos, a character last seen on page in the first book, The Thief, is reintroduced to readers here in a new role. Readers of the first book may remember him as the boy Gen once referred to as “Useless the Younger,” a slightly bumbling but kind-hearted apprentice to the King of Sounis’s Magus – trusting, loyal, and prone to blushing. Sophos is still all three of these last things, but he’s older and instead of being useless, he is now filled with a sense of purpose.
What altered his course is a story Sophos relates, a story that begins with his own mishandled kidnapping. As with all of Turner’s books, to say too much about the plot of the book would be to spoil it.
As I related in my last reading list post, during my most recent reading of The Thief, The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia, I enjoyed these books even more than I had the first time I read them. This fourth book, however, was a little less enjoyable the third time around.
I noticed that the two Mede ambassadors, Akretenesh and Melheret, were similar to Nahuseresh, the Mede ambassador who appeared in The Queen of Attolia, and also picked out a few inconsistencies in this book. A couple of plot turns late in the novel came across as contrived. Another issue is that although likeable, Sophos, the main character here, simply isn’t as amazing and fascinating as Eugenides, whom we only see in short glimpses in this novel, and who conceals himself for much of that time.
There is still a lot to like here, though. Sophos is both interesting and appealing, and it’s great to see him finally come into his own. His dreams are intriguing (I can’t say more so as not to spoil), and his long-hinted at romantic relationship with Helen finally gets some play here and is quite touching. There’s also some nice humor, a few great scenes with Eugenides, and a resolution that is satisfyingly twisty. The first time I read A Conspiracy of Kings I gave it an A-; this time it’s a B+.
I’ve also seen some good movies this winter:
This was a well-written, well-acted and well-directed movie with a very fresh angle on the space race. It chronicles the professional lives of three of the African-American, female NASA employees in the 1960s. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae were excellent in their respective roles as mathematical calculator Katherine Johnson, supervisor Dorothy Vaughan, and engineer Mary Jackson.
The movie depicts both the racial discrimination that the women had to fight and their successes in the face of it. There is careful attention to period details, and as a friend of mine said, even Kevin Costner wasn’t as annoying here as he usually is. It is a triumphant, feel good story and my only criticism is that while the story material was fresh, the screen storytelling techniques were pure Hollywood. But I liked it a lot. B+.
This movie tells the story of Saroo Brierley, an Indian boy who is lost as a child and is then adopted by an Australian couple. As an adult, Saroo is haunted by his memories of the family he left behind as a child and begins a search for them via Google Earth.
Sunny Pawar who plays Saroo as a child is particularly good, but Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman and several other actors were excellent too. There was some nice cinematography, and the film was highly emotional. The second half felt a bit claustrophobic, which couldn’t be entirely helped, since the story was more interior there.
One weakness is that the secondary characters felt limited by the screenplay to strictly their purposes in the story, and no other function. I didn’t get a feel for their lives outside those roles, such as their jobs or their secondary concerns, and this made them feel less true-to-life. I still liked Lion a lot, though. B.
A United Kingdom
Director Amma Asante’s film based on the real life interracial courtship and marriage of Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana (David Oyelowo) and Englishwoman Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) in the late 1940s was both romantic and moving. These two people had nations opposing their marriage, but they persevered in fighting for Botswana and for their love.
Oyelowo’s Seretse was wonderful in his love for his people as well as for Ruth. And wow, can this actor deliver a speech. Pike was equally effective and moving as Ruth. Among the supporting cast, Vusi Kunene as Seretse’s uncle Tshekedi, Terry Pheto as Seretse’s sister Naledi, Laura Carmichael as Ruth’s sister Muriel, and Jack Davenport as Sir Alistair Canning, the man who does all he can to separate Seretse and Ruth, were particularly good.
In addition to its focus on social justice, A United Kingdom is a very romantic movie, and I enjoyed it a great deal. B/B+.