What Jayne’s Been Reading and Watching Recently
Most books that I finish get their own reviews but here are some that either I didn’t finish or I didn’t think warranted a separate review.
The Terrorist – Caroline Cooney / Fabulous writing. Intense, page turning, I was 50 pages into it before I even realized it when I finally came up for air. In this YA book, young Billy, who died from a terrorist bomb in London, is made memorable, in fact so memorable, that he seemed that way for a long time. As long as his family will miss him terribly, I suspect. They are stunned, disbelieving, in denial and full of rage. This leaps off the page as does his older sister Laura’s rage and determination to find the people who killed her brother. This is a powerful evocation of grief and loss and revenge. I’ve reviewed another Cooney book here that has romantic elements. B
Mistletoe Kisses with the Billionaire – Shirley Jump / Confined by all the category conventions. I kept reading because there was one big difference and that is that the hero is the one who came back to the little town first and who seems like he’s more likely to stay. He’s the conscientious one to the heroine’s “I gotta get out of this place” persona which is the reverse of what I’m used to seeing but it’s still not enough to overcome every small town convention and a matchmaking grandmother. Sorry but I bailed at the 1/3 mark.
Brooklyn Love – Yael Levy / 4 women who are followed through the ups and downs of searching for love and marriage in the world of Orthodox Jews in NYC. It expanded this world for me which is what I look for in new-to-me settings and situations. However, the ultimate fate of two out of the four women is – to say the least – a major downer. One finds happiness in her unexpected marriage, one looks to have found her Mr. Right, but the minute a scandal hits his family, one immediately tosses in the towel on the man she was all set to upend convention in order to marry and the last woman appears to be headed for a life of married living hell based on what we’ve seen of her fiance. Wow, way to end the story. D
The Nabob’s Widow – Elsie Lee / When Elsie Lee’s name is mentioned, voices intone in hushed or squeeing reverence, “The Nabob’s Widow!!” Comments to a post here continued this tradition and I decided to finally readit and find out for myself how good it is. With that decision made, I headed to a couple of online USBs I have bookmarked and, taking a deep breath, began the search. I found a used paperback copy in pretty good shape for a price that didn’t make me wince too badly and clicked my way to a purchase. It arrived and I sat, reverently gazing at this Holy Grail of trad regencies. I hoped it would do for me what it appears to have done for so many others – turn me into one of those bouncing, happy readers who gush whenever the book is mentioned. Alas, the book falls into the category of “would have liked it better years ago.” Reading it now…I think my high expectations might have had a hand in why the 1/3 of this book that I managed to slog through did almost nothing for me.
I wanted to slap Dianthe. She’s like a pint-sized Mary Poppins – too perfect. Plus – call me a prude – but when I read a trad regency from the mid 1970s, I don’t expect to see the word c*nt used. Also, the Christmas celebration – complete with tree (which I thought wasn’t an English custom until after Prince Albert arrives in the early 1840s) is a minor annoyance. But what’s really the sand in my Vaseline is the fact that the hero’s sister’s son is mentioned – several times – as being the hero’s heir. Is his title one that can be held suo jure? Oh, and the cats. I’m a cat person, I grew up with Siamese but it didn’t take me long before I was sick of ’em. I stopped at this point and conferred with Sunita who said it was doubtful that soldiering on would change my opinion much. With that I decided that I have too many other books to continue to waste my time and raise my blood pressure.
The Duchess War / Courtney Milan – Since I’d never read any of her books and she’s such a favorite among my fellow reviewers, I figured I’d better get with the program. I started this book and immediately felt as if I’d been dropped into the ocean with no life preserver and the waves were crashing over me. Nevertheless, the set up for the hero and heroine to be pushed together was original and kept me going. Until I hit the scene where the heroine is urging her best friend to marry the cad who was looking into Minnie’s past just because Lydia needed to marry. This after Minnie spouted off statistics to Robert, the hero, about the percentage of unwed women in England and how she needed to marry. How depressing. The hero is an odd duck too spouting off information about political agitation in Leicester to an out of work worker’s organizer. WTF? I don’t mind nuggets of information but don’t just drop them in the story with a clunk. And all the SECRETS and mysteries and the “club” of left handed future heroes…. Sorry but I have too many other books to try and too little time already. DNF
A few things I watched recently:
Garrow’s Law and City of Vice are both UK productions set during the 18th century that explore historical personages and institutions. I knew almost nothing of 18th century English barrister William Garrow before starting this series but watching justice be meted out – or not – in cases based on actual ones in which he was involved is fascinating. I can certainly say that the juries are out for a whole lot shorter amount of time than the case I sat on. City of Vice tells the story of how the Bow Street Runners were founded by the Fielding Brothers in an effort to stamp out the rampant crime afflicting London. It is also supposed to be based on actual crimes and cases. Most of the crimes dealt with in both series seem to center on sex and violence so these are not series I would recommend if you’re looking for placid village cozies.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams – Werner Herzog takes us to the Chauvet Cave in France where some of the oldest cave paintings in human history were found. The documentary goes slightly off the rails when he attempts to wax rhapsodical about philosophy and “what ifs” but this wonderful glimpse of the beautiful images there is well worth sitting through that.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi – another documentary here. Do you like sushi? Watch this to see a master at his craft as he perfects the product he and his staff offer at his restaurant in Tokyo.
Top Secret Rosies: Female “Computers” of WWII – Here is the story of some unsung heroines of WWII who used their brains and mathematical skills to help win the war.
Ken Burns – Prohibition – Burns’ documentaries are hit or miss with me. I enjoyed this one though I could have done with fewer images of barrels of booze and beer being bashed. The recollections of those who lived through it are the best part.
A hearty second to your comments about Cave of Forgotten Dreams. It was, deliberately, the first thing I watched on my first great big flatscreen TV. The images and handprints of the prehistoric artists are amazing, the idea that some of the images were meant to appear to move as light passed through the cave was mindblowing, and that all-too-brief glimpse of the innermost chamber with perhaps the oldest image of all–a female figure later covered over by animal images–brought home how vastly old the experience of being human is. As for Herzog’s commentary and little side trip…well, I expected him to roll completely off the rails at some point, so it was easy just to let him talk and to focus instead on imagining all those generations past.
I couldn’t tell whether the D for Brooklyn Love is solely for the disappointing endings for some of the heroines, or an overall judgement of the storytelling. It’s a setting I’d like to read a novel about, but from the review, I wasn’t sure whether that’s D for “don’t even bother” or for “don’t read if the ending will piss you off.”
I just started reading The Duchess War and so far I’m liking it. I wonder if it helps that I’m invested in the hero and his half-brother due to having read The Governess Affair first. That one is a great starting place with Milan and may appeal to you because it’s not about aristocrats. I’d be happy to loan it to you if you have a kindle or kindle app.
I just had to say that I adored The Duchess War. It was one of my favorite books this year, because both the hero and heroine were so different. Loved the writing too.
Now I have to reread The Nabob’s Widow and see if it holds up for me. I have to say, I wasn’t crazy about the cats back in the day, and I wasn’t even paying attention to the Christmas tree, so I do not have high hopes. I have reread other Elsie Lee books more recently and those continue to work for me, though, so you never know.
I have a review of The Duchess War almost done. I liked the writing and I was convinced by the romance, but the further I got into the book the less patience I had with the hero. Where others see sensitive and angsty, I see whiny and immature.
I watched a couple of episodes of City of Vice and then kind of lost interest, I’m not sure why.
I really want to see Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
@Carolyne: I thought Herzog did a better job as a commentator in a documentary he did on scientific experiments going on in Antartica than in this one. But the subject itself fascinates me enough that I bought the book about the cave years ago. It just took me this long to see the DVD.
The D for “Brooklyn Love” is mainly because of the awful ending. Regardless of what you think about the rest of the book – and Levy does have a nice writing style – the ending is just wretched. Even thinking about it enough to write this reply is pissing me off all over again.
@Janine: Thanks but I’ll pass. I literally have too many books to read already.
@Sunita: I’ve reread a few old favorites in the past year or two and some have held up while others were a grade or half grade lower. I’m not sure if it’s my reading tastes changing, or the fact that I’ve read so many books in the interim. It’s made me slightly leery of trying to “go back home again.”
“City of Vice” was dark and it got darker as it went along. I’m not sure if I would have wanted to continue past the 5 episodes I saw.
The Governess Affair is a novella, though, so you should try it. Seriously.
Well Jayne, at least you’ve stopped me salivating over The Nabob’s Widow — so expensive, impossible to find in UBSs.
It’s weird about me and Courtney Milan. I’ve read all of her novellas — liked them, particularly the one about the governess — and I’ve bought all her full-length books for my kindle but I haven’t read them. My e-TBR of Milan is getting massive. Maybe I can blast through one for the first TBR challenge in January. There are so many reviews everywhere that I start forming impressions and thinking I know what to expect … and then I don’t follow through.
I found The Duchess Affair to be the weakest of that series thus far. I really liked The Governess Affair and I love A Kiss at Midwinter which I review tomorrow. I love Unlocked, Unclaimed, and This Wicked Gift and have found her other works less compelling. When all is said and done for me, I will keep reading Ms. Milan. Her works aren’t always viable but when they are they knock my proverbial socks off.
Loved, loved the Duchess War. A hero who is fascinated by the heroine because she is super smart? Bring it on! Three cheers to the author for giving us a Beta hero worth rooting for!
I’ve never read any Elsie Lee books. Despite your feelings about this book, I still want to try one. But–gulp–the USB prices! She’s one of the authors I have on my miracle list, as in it would seemingly take a miracle for either the prices to drop or for them to be released as ebooks. But I’ll keep watching and hoping. (Other “miracle” authors include Patrician Veryan, Jan Cox Speas (although one of hers is now an ebook so there is hope), Jane Aiken Hodge, Constance Heaven, Grace Ingram, Ira J. Morris. . . sigh.)
BTW, I’ve read conflicting things about the introduction of the Christmas tree to Britain, including that George III’s wife (Queen Charlotte) or the Prince Regent’s daughter (Princess Charlotte) brought it over. I’ve also read that Queen Victoria often had one as a child. I’d also long heard it attributed to Prince Albert, but who knows?
@Susan: Hmmm, maybe the others brought it over and it took until Albert before it caught on with the general public? As you say, “Who knows?”
You have great taste in books. Speas is wonderful and I have a dear friend to thank for telling me about her books and another one to thank for finding me copies during her own UBS hunts. Veryan I finally had to bite the bullet and buy at the best prices I could find. Are “Practice to Deceive” and “Journey to Enchantment” still pricey? The one I paid the most for is “Poor Splendid Wings.”
I’ve read one or two of Elsie Lee’s 1960s romantic mysteries and enjoyed them. Boy, did those people smoke!
I just finished reading The Duchess War this morning. Loved it.
The thing about Garrow’s Law (which I enjoyed enough to buy both seasons of) is that they play REALLY fast and lose with history. They even transpose which side of the cases Garrow argued to make him appear more heroic.