January 2017 – In which I begin

And I I embark with #thePlan v.2017 and I find that I have had less trouble reading the Enlightenment and Education segments, because they are easily defined. As far as Entertainment, well, let’s say George R.R. Martin is getting a lot of love from me.

On to Enlightenment – this month’s effort was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.the-handmaids-tale

Dear Margaret: Thanks for the sleepless night. I sat down to read this book and I did not get up until the book ended.(Notice, for later reference, that I say the book ended, not that I finished with the story). The tale is told by Offred and it intermingles information about a violent coup that wipes out the American government, her life before becoming a handmaid, and her time as a handmaid.

Now, if you think handmaid means brushing some lady’s hair and picking up her clothes, think again, but it just isn’t so. Offred is assigned to a husband and wife in order to produce children, which they cannot. She must wear a uniform and conform to strict rules in order to be a fit host for the potential child. (This is particularly relevant to me today, as one of my state legislators actually said women were hosts for unborn children and we must certainly have them all – I guess he read this book too. Or he’s an asshole. Take you pick.) And there are not just handmaids, who wear red. There are Marthas who serve as servants (they wear a really drab green). Important men – Commanders. Their wives (dressed in blue) have worked out an elaborate scheme to feel necessary in the order.

So Offred goes from a somewhat normal life, in which she has a husband and child to a mad dash to try to get out of the county. The authorities take her child and she does not know what has happened to either her husband or her child. Someone ratted them out. This society is full of bitches that rat people out.

So, she goes to become a handmaid. She goes through the training and placement. While is an eye-opening method of training, the training is nothing to actually being the handmaid – waiting on call for the Commander and the weird ritual of conception. It seems as if these rules are inflexible – but rules are made to be broken. And Offred breaks them. And her commander breaks them. And her friend breaks them. And so on.

Just as a side note, I did not notice a single pet in this work. Childless, petless people. No wonder they are rats.

The tale is a fascinating and disjointed narrative into the depths of the human condition and Offred jumps around, as one thing reminds her of another. And she wonders – always – what happened to those in her life before she was a handmaid. There are no answers. There will never be answers, but who blames a woman for wondering what happened to her child and making up alternate stories about the fate of her beloved spouse? Oh, yeah, they had a cat too. Once.

So Offred talked to me all night and I listened – fascinated, appalled, confused, and so very sad. There was no way of shutting her up – until I reached the end of the book and she stopped talking.

I don’t know what happened to her in the end. It is only fitting. Praise be.

On the Educational front, I read Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last. I read it for work book club. It’s a new thing.

leaders

The author takes the stance that humans have not evolved that much and operate primarily on manipulation of neurotransmitters. Psychologists call this behavior modification. It’s not a bad book – as leadership books go, it has more points than many I’ve read. I feel as if I could use some of the techniques to my advantage and that’s enough for me in this category.

And Entertainment.

Dear George R.R. Martin, I am back to A Clash of Kings (Book #2)

a-clash-of-kings

 

Question, George – Bran the Shipbuilder sailed across the narrow sea about a bazillion years ago and never came back. What would actually happen if he landed in Essos and made a life there? Does that explain Varys? Yes, I have had time to construct far left theories about everything. I see plots where there could simply be stories. I am obsessed. I have always been fond of character driven works and this is the biggest and grandest spectacle of character (and the lack thereof) that I have every chosen as a drowning pool.

Next time, I’ll try to read something from #thePlan. At the moment, I am busy pretending I am Brienne of Tarth and I have some control over my destiny (which no one else I read this month does, so does that make me one-up on them?

Nevertheless, The Handmaid’s Tale. Mind. Blown. Good pick.

Stars:

The Handmaid’s Tale: 10/10. I don’t stay up all night to read unless the book in completely absorbing.

Leaders Eat Last: 7/10. It has its merits but I am wary about the “Circle of Safety.” It just sounds hokey.

A Clash of Kings: 9/10. It tales at least 3 readings to figure out characters and potential side trips in Westeros and Essos.

 

 

 

In Which One Wonders What It Actually Takes to Get Published

So, I read a book this weekend. The book shall remain nameless because I don’t want to really slam the author. After all, she has done something I have not – gotten a book finished and out there for consumption.

Just in case Melanie Greene is reading this – no, it’s not yours. I loved yours. Everyone needs to read Melanie Greene.

This book, however, was supposed to be a mystery/love story. Except neither mystery nor love actually happened. The main character (I assume) was supposed to be a feisty entrepreneur. Nope. She was a weak whiner who couldn’t see the forest for the trees. The mystery’s basis in family – well, if she couldn’t recognize a family run like it was a capo in the syndicate, I could. Even the names gave it away.

The mystery man – well, let’s just say that was the worst kept mystery in the world.

The new man – he loved her from afar and got friendzoned for his troubles.

Mexico – she went to Mexico and didn’t ask for bottled water. (And how Mexico too 22 hours from California by air is beyond me).

Every zig crossed a zag and every zag led neatly to a tie in one of the character’s lives. I mean really – the psychic was way interconnected with everything form Dissociative Identity Disorder (one character) to knowing the supposedly dead fiance was alive and living in Mexico (with pictures of his art to prove it). Don’t you think she could have gotten a picture of the artist?

And what in the holy hell was this whole brother-sister creates the evil “cousin/brother”? Too much Jamie and Cersei Lanniseter or something? O.M.G.

So nothing happens until Part III and by then, one does not even care.

So, as I’m reading this, I am thinking – damn, my idea is at least this good. Hopefully better. My writing is sure the hell better because I will never write “the tears leaked from her eyes.” Eyes are not plumbing fixtures. Tears might slide between wet eyelashes or pool and spill but they (in my book) don’t leak from cerulean blue eyes.

And, I would definitely ask for bottled water in Mexico.

Oh, and she didn’t even check to see if she had an international calling plan – she must have paid a fortune for all the texts and calls she made from Mexico.

The art of being able to believe comes into play here. I need to sit down and really write the damn book. I mean, if this book could get it done, so, surely, could mine.

 

 

In Which A Reader Selects Books

And so, dear non-readers who are neither reading this nor caring, I have come to a great decision – I must carry on with my quest. I must read and I must write, audience or not. (I know, mostly not). I am not really happy if I am not doing those two things, although knitting comes quite close in the running, so – there you have it. First, above all things, I must read.

Like all things with me, oh absentee-audience, I must have a plan and a theme to really get myself going for a while. So, I present to you (or me, since I am the only one reading this), #ThePlan v.2017. Thuswith (because I have never used that word and apparently it does not exist in the Word dictionary), I announce that 2017 will be the year of Enlightenment, Entertainment, and Education. For each of the first two categories, I have a selection of books that (I think) will fit the bill:

Enlightenment

  1. Johnny Got His Gun – Dalton Trumbo
  2. A Room With A View – E.M. Forster
  3. And Then There Were None –  Agatha Christie (And here I am taking feedback as to whether or not this book is in the correct category. Entertainment? I shall ponder. . .)
  4. Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
  5. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
  6. Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
  7. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Alexander Solzynitzen (or however you spell it. I will look it up)
  8. A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway (I *know* how to spell that one)
  9. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  10. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J. R. R. Tolkein (this is about the millionth time I’ve tried to read this. Wish me luck)
  11. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
  12. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Entertainment

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
  2. Cotillion  – Georgette Heyer
  3. Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie
  4. Wildfire at Midnight – Mary Stewart
  5. Middlemarch – George Eliot (Once again – category placement is questionable. I recall Silas Marner from the 10th grade. . .deep thoughts on this)
  6. Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell
  7. The Martian – Andy Weir
  8. Harvest Home – Thomas Tryon (Is horror entertaining or horrifying? What is it with me and horror? Shades of Apocalypse Now and Brando are swirling about in my head.)
  9. The Custom of the Country – Edith Wharton
  10. Ready Player One –  Ernest Cline
  11. North and South – Elizabeth Gaskelll
  12. Coraline – Neil Gaiman

Education

To be perfectly truthful, I haven’t picked out anything for this category. I know it will *not* be The Seven Habits for Highly Effective People. That saw was sharpened long ago and really never did me much good. I’m more along the lines of the Dalai Lama, The Last Lecture, live your dreams sort  of crap. At my age, education is an odd thing. Am I preparing to live or preparing to die? I don’t know yet. But I might as well be prepared for both, so there you have it.

So, here is I sit, talking to myself. I toss my words to the winds and let them blow where they will. Or not. It is neither here nor there to me at this point.

And, absentee-audience, I add one true disclaimer.

*Disclaimer: While I intend to read 36 books according to #thePlan v. 2017, all bets are off if George R. R. Martin publishes The Winds of Winter. I reserve the right to call a hiatus and read all six books two times, should that publication occur. 

So, my table is set and I am ready to embark on a year of reading and writing. May my reading be pleasant (and George R.R. Martin adds one – or six – more books to read) and my writing be improved. You may not read it, but I write it.

It is enough.

 

 

 

 

Blog Hop: The Writing Process

Thanks Mel over at Overreader! You tagged. I believe this means I’m it. Well, it had to happen sometime. I always wanted to call myself an “it” girl.

Usually, I am writing about what I am reading – although I have to admit that the whole #36in12 concept didn’t work out so well. Nevermind all that now, because this is not about what I read but, rather, how I write. I have been tagged in the writing blog hop by the aforementioned Melanie, who possesses far more literary acclaim that I can ever hope to attain.  But enough about Mel (although you should all subscribe to her blog over at Overreader), immediately after you subscribe to mine – on to me.

 

 

Python

 

 

1. What are you currently working on?

Well, currently I am working on not ending a sentence in a preposition.

The finer points of grammar aside, my current project is a return to my roots. I have been dabbling in the romance world for a while, without much luck but with a lot of enthusiasm. I think what has been wrong with my romance is that I have a great deal of difficulty with a “happy ending”. After a hiatus, I started digging around in my pile of “stuff” and came across my first novel, penned ambitiously when I was in my early 20’s. My little foray to classic literary fiction turned out to be not as bad in concept as it was in execution. I freely admit the execution was not very good. Too much youth and fervent emotion went into that 125,000 word epic. Adding a little over twenty five years of hard-earned experience has made this as-yet-to-be-named novel  a little less earnest and a little more matter-of-fact. Kenneth, a middle-aged therapist, is caught in a trap of his own making. His midlife crisis, in the form of a young secretary, is about to catch up with him. Meanwhile, his wife, Barbara, is tired of her country-club life and lonely evenings with the scotch bottle. She sets out to establish herself as a person with a career and not just Kenneth’s wife. Add to the mix Kenneth and Barbara’s only child, Gillian – a precocious 16-year-old waiting to leap into the world and leave the troubled waters of the family domicile. The central theme of isolation, how it comes about, what purpose it serves, and what can be done about it merge together. Each character looks through their internal glass darkly, while the surface of life runs smooth. Well, until it all blows up anyway. I dig the ending.  Anyway –  literary fiction – isolation – Ken, Barbie, and Gilly (did I really just name them that? note for the rewrite – rename these people!) –  and just a tinge of the smoke-edged sardonic indifference of the universe. I’ll bet you’re dying to read it.

I am not currently working on any other project, except the ones I’m actually paid to write. You know, the job and all.

2. How does your work differ from others in this genre?-

I would describe myself as an old-fashioned writer. I was born and bred on the classics of literature – I think I cut my teeth on Just So Stories and it went down hill from there. Modern literary fiction seems to jump from here to there and from person to person. I have not definitely settled on a narrator, but you can be pretty sure that it will feel almost old-fashioned with a hint of modern cynicism. I think this is a slice of life type work as opposed to a sweeping epic – the the slice is an old fashioned pasty with plenty of meat and not much for dessert. My experience with modern literary fiction has left me wanting a straight-up story line. This one is straight-up.

3. Why do you write what you write?

I am a journeyman writer for a living. I write by trade – those documents that are called for in the business world. When I write for me, I write what I write because I love the swings and moods of life. I am fascinated with the gray area that lives between right and wrong and diving into that sea is refreshing. Sometimes, the self-examination that comes with the process is exactly what I need in real life. Sometimes it is not. I don’t look for a happy ending – I just look for the place from which we can all progress – a little wiser, a little sadder, and a little madder. I believe all movement is not forward, but progress is always being made. It seems to be reflected in The Novel that Has Not Yet Been Named!

4. How does your process work?

I took a right-brain/left-brain inventory several years ago. It found that I am neither right brained nor left brained, but somewhere stranded on the sandbar of my corpus collosum. What does that mean? It means that I have no way of knowing how an idea will come to me. Sometimes inspiration flashes an image at me and I grasp it quickly, before it fades away. Sometimes, a voice in the back of my mind whispers a piece of dialog to me (and it builds character with the sounds and timbres of each voice). When these things happen, I grab them in notes or pictures or sketches. I don’t write in a linear fashion. I write in scenes that will eventually be woven into a pattern that has a logical beginning, middle and end. With my current project, I am still searching for the thread that ties my images together. That flash has not yet come to me. I’m thinking it might be one of two things – a third-person observer-narrator or an image that I can weave through the warp and woof of the story. I tend to think it’s an image and I tend to think I know what it is. Scenes fall into place in the middle of the night, when all is quiet and there are only me and my imaginary friends playing.

I have a great critique partner, who works historical fiction in a pretty cool way. She is also a big-idea kind of gal and she is able to give me some sound, thoughtful critiques that definitely improve my work. My oldest and dearest friend always tells me I’m wonderful, so I let her read all my stuff too. Of course, I have my friends Melanie and Cristina. You can find Cristina over at Quiet Content, and she is so tagged now.

Going Gothic

I blame it all on Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. I truly do. As a young girl, my mother regularly received, in a neat cardboard box, a bound volume of best sellers that had been abridged for some unknown reason. I still have the one that introduced me to Victoria Holt – it was Kirkland Revels – and that was all it took for me to race off into the realm of the modern gothic romance.

In order to be considered a gothic tale, the plot has to be twisted and turned, the hero has to be one of those Byron-esque brooding types, and the poor central character must make a series of choices that leads to certain doom.

For this little foray into the #36in12 (by the by, I am quite behind in my quest), I have selected three gothic novels that are no more than 75 years old. I figure, in literature terms, the works are in their infancy of life. Some, sadly, fell along the wayside and into the bargain bin years ago, but they hold a soft spot in my heart.

Rebecca

Rebecca (1938) by Daphne DuMaurier

DuMaurier has to be the Queen Mother of the modern gothic. I had sworn off this book numerous times, resisting it’s pull into the darkest of all places – the human heart. Next door to that, Manderley.  The have been many positive and negative reactions to our herione-who-must-not-be-named but I had a kind of sympathy for a former version of womanhood. The second Mrs. de Winter is an everywoman character – struggling with poverty, lack of self-worth, awkwardness, and dependence. Much has been made of her terminal introspection but I recall vividly being twenty-one. It was much the same for me. Still, she had a sad sort of reflected glamour as she was a paid companion to a horrid woman and spent a while in Monte Carlo – back when Monte Carlo was the place to be. There she meets our brooding hero, who promptly sweeps her off her feet, marries her out of hand, and plunks her down in Cornwall – at Manderley. The lush, rich, velvety texture of the descriptions lay traps for the reader and we wander from tapestry-hung halls to stone cold dread. The first Mrs. de Winter has never left the place, although she has long since been dead. Rebecca is not a real ghost,though, but a larger-than-life character who seemed to be conjured up in people’s minds in any way she needed to be. A chameleon, she infests Manderley and its environs, and she-who-must-not-be-named is tilting at windmills until she learns the vile and wicked truth, which, naturally, cements her love. Never short of self-sacrifice, the nameless everywoman endures, although I cannot say she triumphs. Would that I could.

It was a dark and deep read – one to cozy up to on a winter’s day with nothing better to do than listen to the wind squall and pet the dog. Not, I would say, a book for drinking wine. Rather, for the first half, a cup of cocoa with a dash of peppermint. For the second half – whiskey, straight up. The break-neck speed of the denouement  is at utter odds with the rising action which, lacking much action, relies heavily on some of the most evocative descriptive work I have ever read. I have to say that I missed much, having picked up and put down this book about a thousand times in favor of something with a bit more action in the rising action. Rebecca will stand the test of time and probably will never fall off the radar of books that simply must be read in every woman’s life.

Which leads me to my next entry:

bride of pendorric The Bride of Pendorric (1963) by Victoria Holt. Victoria Holt was actually not Victoria Holt, nor even Phillippa Carr, nor Jean Plaidy. Actually she was Eleanor Hibbert, born in England in 1906, which makes her a contemporary of Daphne du Maurier. But, for clarity’s sake (and my sentimental fondness), I will call her Victoria Holt. She was a lady who, perhaps, had too many names. While I have not been an exhaustive student of her body of work, I did give all the work done in the 1960’s and early 1970’s a good go. The Bride of Pendorric is, perhaps, my second favorite of her books – the first being Menfreya in the Morning. All that being said, the twists and turns of the Bride are fast and furious. Favel Farrington meets Petroc Pendorric on the storied island of Capri, where she is the studio manager for her artist father. She is 18 years old. Why are they all 18? Like any good gothic heroine, she is swept immediately from her feet and married out of hand and, once again, is shunted off to Cornwall to become a resident of the ancient Pendorric estate. Favel has done little research on her new family, being so wildly in love with the most handsome Cornishman on the block, so to speak. She possibly should have, since her father mysteriously drowned shortly after her wedding, leaving her a penniless orphan. Still, she is swept into the world of the Pendorrics, who, it seems, are quite prone to twins. Roc’s mother was an identical twin. Roc is a fraternal twin. His sister, Morwena, has identical twin daughters. Any good reader of gothic literature knows that there will be some serious twinscapades going on and they do. All the elements are here: the seductive nurse hovering over an elderly, wealthy neighbor, a pounding sea at every turn, mysterious violin music floating down from an uninhabited wing of the house and general terror at every turn. Favel treads the waters of Pendorric in somewhat of a calm manner, navigating through suspicion, death, trickery, and distrust until a blazing fire makes everything clean.  At times I wanted to slap Favel and at times I wanted to hide her away from the evil the apparently only happens in Cornwall. I cared about what happened to her and that was a trick that Victoria Holt did really well for a long time – she created characters that I cared about. Holt went on writing and writing and writing, since she was three or four authors all at the same time. Her charm wore thin after a while and now she is to be found in old library rummage sales and on E-Bay. Not a giant of literature but a marvelous beach read with a big umbrella drink.

I have to step away from gothic heroines for a moment, because they seem so very helpless and go to the male version of a gothic romance:

The Walking StickThe Walking Stick (1967) by Winston Graham, who is better known for his Poldark series set in Cornwall (where else?). I also blame this book on the Reader’s Digest Condensed books because it was included with the volume that had Kirkland Revels in it. Sometimes, I think I am the only person in the world who has read this book and has a violent, passionate attachment to it. Graham abandons Cornwall and its ghosts and moors and vicious seas and sets his stage in London, where Deborah Dainton works for a large auction house similar to Christie’s. Deborah fits the gothic heroine mold in some ways – she has a distinct limp due to childhood polio, her parents are terribly modern and much too busy with their own lives to take much interest in anything but sheltering her from her infirmities, her sisters are beautiful doctors, and Deborah walks with a stick, does not drive, and works in the basement of the auction house, cataloging tiny valuables. It is no small wonder that she is swept off her foot by Leigh Hartley – a sort of 60’s Byron-type – a flashy artist who is full of secrets. He is nothing that the upper crust, uber-cool parents want for their daughter and she valiantly tries to fend off his advances, but to no avail. Abandoning the marriage-out-of-hand method, Leigh manages to get Deborah to move into his other-worldly artist’s warehouse loft on the Thames, where she feeds the swans that swim to their balcony and he deftly reels her deeply into plots and plans about which she had no notion.  Deborah comes a long way with Leigh, learning to drive, to dance, to ice-skate, and to walk without her stick. But that progress comes at a terrible price. As Deborah pays the price, she keeps that stiff upper lip that is so very British, while the lifeblood drains from her heart and, ultimately, her life as she has ever known it. Deborah is a victim and she is not a victim, much like any Cornwall captive. Her demons are in her own soul and they prey on her equally as much as the first Mrs. de Winter preyed on the second. No glory for this little book. It probably had it’s best day when Reader’s Digest proposed to crop out those boring character details and get straight to the heart of the matter. I found my copy years ago, at a library rummage sale, and have never seen one since.  If you see it in a dusty library,  give Deborah a chance. She takes gothic and makes it cool. Perhaps this is best read in the corner of a quiet bar, with a cosmopolitan at your side – as you lift your eyes from the page to take a sip, your eyes will search for the Leigh Hartleys in the crowd.

I spent much of my youth losing myself in that other-worldliness of gothic romance. They are a comfort and a curse to me  as I struggle to maintain one readable copy for just the right drink.

Hearts:

Rebecca 8/10

The Bride of Pendorric 7/10

The Walking Stick 9/10

 

Let Your Heyer Down

I begin my #36in12 – The Roots of Romance project with an author that I just cannot live without. For those of us who watch Downton Abbey, we can identify with Georgette Heyer (pronounced “Hair”). She is the Lady Edith type who began writing during World War I and had her first romance novel published in 1921. Her career continued, with little rest between works, until 1975, with the posthumous publication of My Lord John. If I count that correctly, she wrote for 50 years, turning out everything from mystery to historical epics. She is best known for her Regency romances, all set between 1740 and 1815.

How did I find this gem, you ask me? I am a child of the military and moved often in my early years. After each move, the  first thing I identified in any town or school was the location of the library. Ms. Heyer’s work took up an entire shelf of the library I happened to be perusing at the time – I was probably in my early teens then. I can’t remember where I was, but it is no matter. What matters is that I picked up These Old Shades, and it was all over for me. If I am sick, tired, hurt, sad, depressed, or any other time that a level of comfort is required, I turn to my massive library of Georgette Heyer and lose myself in another world. I am not alone in my obsession, I believe. There are closet Heyer readers all over the place. A lot of 10 vintage hardback Heyer works is currently at a $95.00 bid on eBay. She was never a literary darling, but her following is devoted. I would pay $95.00 for that lot of books. . .but I digress.

For the #36in12 project, I chose three representative pieces: The Masqueraders (1928), An Infamous Army (1937), and Frederica (1965).  I chose to use pictures from the older editions because these are the ones that I started out reading. I have owned several iterations since these, but sentiment is strong.


The MasqueradersThe setting is England, 1746. How do I know that? Because the main characters in this mad romp are recently escaped from the English rebellion seeking to put James II on the throne of England. It was, of course, unsuccessful, and the Stuart supporters, known as Jacobites, were under penalty of death in England. On a dark and stormy night, a young man and a young woman stop their journey at an inn, where they find a dastardly attempt to bring a young heiress to Gretna Green, the most scandalous elopement possible. The young man and young woman foil the fiendish plan, making their first enemy and their first friend.

I must be deliberately vague, because when Heyer creates a comedy of masks, she does it well. The Masqueraders are deeply in disguise and acting out a plan of which they know very little – only the parts they play and the two allies upon whom they can depend. However, they enter their parts with gusto, making their way into early Regency society, going to balls, card parties, shoots, picnics, duels, and the like. The Merriotts, Peter and Kate, take the town by storm, building fast relationships with the staid and sober Sir Anthony and the flighty heiress so lately rescued, Letitia. The appearance of a “lost heir” to an estate and title throws the town into a rumble, and the game plays out. The Masqueraders is one of Heyer’s best comedy of manners, because of the unlikelihood of all the disguises. I, the cynical reader that I am, am always astonished that I more than willingly suspend disbelief and enter into a world that is thoroughly researched and delightfully populated. Heroes and villains appear in the most unlikely places, bringing a seemingly hopeless tangle into perfect lines of order. As with most Heyer works, all is well that ends well. The fun is getting to the end.

Infamous Army

Published in 1937, An Infamous Army centers around Heyer’s meticulous research about the Duke of Wellington and the Napoleonic Wars. The English aristocracy has migrated to Belgium as the English Army masses. They are poised for the final battle of Waterloo, but, while waiting, I got to revisit several of my very favorite people. The Earl of Worth and his wife Judith first appeared in Regency Buck (1935). They are in Belgium, along with many of their friends and relations. Charles Audley, a dashing aide to the Duke of Wellington, is Worth’s brother. He arrives in Belgium and is instantly smitten with the wildest of all women, Lady Barbara Childe. Babs is a scandalous woman who approaches life as one of the notorious Alastair family. Her vibrant red curls and flagrant disregard for proprieties hark back to her great-grandparents, who fell in love in These Old Shades. Babs is the perfect combination of Justin, Duke of Avon’s disregard for public sentiment and Leonie’s fiery temperament. These Old Shades, like The Masqueraders, centered on a wild disguise and secrets held by only one. Babs, on the other hand, holds no secrets, but creates controversy publicly, daily, and enthusiastically. The honorable Charles captures her attention and they enter into a tempestuous relationship, despite their entire acquaintances’ collective astonishment. Babs constitutionally cannot conform and Charles, kept busy with his military duties, cannot dance attendance. In the midst of the balls and parties and picnics, often conducted by military leaders, Heyer gives a detailed account of the massing of troops, equipment and accouterments of   war as the final battle is shaping up. Aside from Worth and Judith, there are appearances by Dominic and Mary, from Devil’s Cub, Justin and Leonie’s son and daughter-in-law, Harry and Juana Smith, from Heyer’s 1940 work, The Spanish Bride, Johnny Kincaid, also from The Spanish Bride, and many other characters that I have known and loved these many, many years. While some readers find the meticulous research tedious, I see the conduct of the Napoleonic war, with battle squares and wheel charges, and fixed bayonets. And Heyer does a magnificent job depicting the horror of mass casualty, senseless loss of life and limb, and the utter finality of war. I followed my characters through their movements and truly cared as they came across their fallen fellows. No family is exempt from loss and the true colors of every character are revealed by the horrors of true war. It is not everybody’s cup of tea, due to the massive amount of space devoted to military matters, but I could see the fog and smell the rain, and I almost slipped in the mud when I came to the fate of Lord Harry Alastair. The romances set against the backdrop of the final battle of the Napoleonic wars were almost a precursor to Gone with the Wind. I recall Mammy saying how Grandma Robillard had dampened her petticoats in France. So, too, did Babs Childe, which was scandalous enough, until war stripped away superficial concerns and cast a bright light on the character of each individual.

FredericaFinally, one of my favorite books and the first one I pick up when I am in need of comfort. Frederica, written in 1965, is one of Heyer’s last and most charming heroines. Arriving in London as a single, 24-year old girl well past her debut in society, she has her family in tow. Determined to give her beautiful but n0t-very-bright sister, Charis, at least one London season, she brings her two brothers, a large dog, an elderly aunt, and the family butler to room in a furnished house in London. She applies to the Marquis of Alverstroke, a very distant relative, for assistance in her quest, asking him to host a ball for her lovely sister. The Marquis, already beset by his sister and his sister-in-law to do the same for their daughters, agrees – only to give his relations their comeuppance, so to speak. He rightly judges that Charis will outshine either of the other two debutantes, and evilly plans to even the score with his close family. Frederica, as a character, is a self-possessed head of household with a strong independent streak. She has managed her family for many years, serving as a mother to her sister and brothers. The brothers, one scholar and one mechanical-mad adventurer, lead her a merry dance and the Marquis, abandoning his fashionable boredom, bestirs himself to assist her and them. A familial relationship springs up and an entire series of mixed romantic signals on pretty much everyone’s part lead to a side-splitting finale that has never been matched for sheer absurdity. The absurdity is so very human that it strike a chord in the romantic soul and engenders hilarity in the practical soul. Somewhere between names like Charis and Endymion, old footmen, eccentric aunts, large dogs who misbehave in public parks, and Restorative Pork Jelly, the terminally bored Marquis has reengaged with life and Frederica has won all without ever lifting a finger. There is life and love in the most unexpected places. When I am down and out, the idea that it will all work out in the end comforts me enormously.

In the end, it really does not matter that Heyer never found a place among the giants of her time. Agatha Christie had that one pretty much sewn up. But here is the thing – I have read every.single.book she ever wrote, including the histories and mysteries. She has never failed to charm me. Her use of language and her ability to create a world that feels real-even a lifetime later-has been unmatched in my reading adventures. Even last night, as I stayed awake way too late to finish the Battle of Waterloo, I still had a tear to shed for the loss of a character who only appeared fleetingly. It only took three minor scenes for me to mourn his death. The talent to create a world that feels real and where the reader cares deeply about what will happen to characters is rare and priceless. I am more than glad that Georgette Heyer stepped out of the traditional role of the aristocratic English woman in 1921 and gave me a safe place to hide.

In all fairness, here are the heart values

The Masqueraders 10/10

An Infamous Army 8/10 – I think many readers would get bored with the military machinations, but I did not.

Frederica 10/10 – Comfort reading at its finest

In Which a Book is Added to #theLIST

Why The Good Earth did not make #theLIST is beyond me. Perhaps I had forgotten, in these many years since high school, the masterful novel following the arc of life for Wang Lung, the poor Northern Chinese farmer. In a revised list, The Good Earth becomes a must – it is a book one should read before one dies.

Much has been written about the main plot points of the story, which begins on Wang Lung’s wedding day to an unseen slave from the House of Hwang, O-Lan. It begins with Wang Lung thinking that his wedding morning would be the last morning that he would be responsible for lighting the fire and heating the plain water that greeted the start of each day for him and his father. And it was the last day that he undertook a task in the household. Thus began the long road of change for Wang Lung. It seems that many reviewers get lost in Wang Lung’s relationship with O-Lan, who is a masterfully drawn sympathetic character. She probably speaks less than twenty lines in the entire work, but her presence is Wang Lung’s first step out of grinding poverty. Where Wang Lung dreams, O-Lan acts. Her stoicism seems admirable and her realistic appraisal of their situation is necessary to move Wang Lung to action.

Early on, Wang Lung is intimidated by the House of Hwang and has little respect for the Old Mistress and Old Lord – particularly the Old Mistress, who is lost in opium addiction. Little by little, Wang Lung raises his family from poverty – even through a stint of fleeing a famine that leaves his first daughter profoundly retarded. He toils in the city as O-Lan , his children, and his father beg. For a year, they make no progress, but fortunate turns of events in a revolution give him and his family the means and opportunity to return to a barren land. There, Wang Lung fills his spirit with working the land, and fills his pride by educating two of his sons. As his prosperity increases, he is able to hire laborers and turn his attention to those things that idle men do. He gives no real thought to the consequences of his actions on the family; he is led astray by prosperity.

Over the course of time, Wang Lung rises to the level of the Old Lord, living in town, in the courts of the House of Hwang, and generally at the mercy of his better-educated sons. Like his father before him, he lays in the son and attends to his fool, the profoundly retarded daughter O-Lan gave birth to during the famine. He strays from his love of the land to grow fat and oily while his sons quarrel and their wives quarrel and his servants quarrel. All his life, Wang Lung searched for peace. The only time he really ever had peace was in his early years with O-Lan and his final years with Pear Blossom. Peace comes hard for Wang Lung, and the final encounter with his sons does nothing to promise him peace in death.

Many reviewers stop with the death of O-Lan, who is the sympathetic character. But it is Wang Lung’s story. His journey from peasant farmer to wealthy Lord is both a testament to the value of work and a caution against losing sight of core values. Wang Lung follows his sons in their paths away from the earth, only to desire nothing more than to return to his earthen hut on the farm to die. Wang Lung seeks peace but there is no peace to be had.

This is not some panoramic epic set against the backdrop of revolution. To the poor, revolutions really have no meaning. The system of government barely scratches the surface of Wang Lung’s life. This is also no love story – this is real life, where love shifts and changes over time. This is no story of rags to riches or the emptiness of worldly wealth. There are a lot of things this story is not. In my eyes, it is the story of a man in a place and time. His joys and his sorrows are laid bare before the reader; his follies and mistakes are matters of fact, not tragedy. This is a story of a soul, not the story of a body. There is no judgement; there is only what is. I saw the world through Wang Lung’s eyes, from their youthful clarity to the aged filminess. And, at times, I saw myself. I am not horrified; I am edified.

Buck’s style is supremely clean – spare but rich. It comes as a breath of fresh air as I have waded through so many works that excel in rolling periods of prose. Buck’s simplicity in style reflects the simplicity that is Wang Lung. The Good Earth is the first in a trilogy that I must complete. As for #theLIST, I hereby evict Jules Verne and welcome Pearl S. Buck as a must-read.

10/10 Hearts. Everyone should read this. We will all see ourselves somewhere along the line, and not always as we would have liked.