The Rhetoric of Death–Judith Rock

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Jesuits, Huguenots, Paris of Louis XIV—-the stage is set for state-sponsored murder and religious intrigue.  Enter Charles du Luc, a Jesuit master whose family is split between Catholics, one of whom is Bishop of Marseilles, and Huguenots, one of whom he has just helped escape to Switzerland to escape persecution and another of whom rots in a cell at the king’s pleasure.

Charles’ well-placed bishop relative secures him a place as rhetoric (and dancing, seen as connected at this time) master at the school of Louis le Grand, which enjoys the patronage of the king.  Charles is there mere days when a student leaps out a window during dance practice and disappears, following which the student’s younger brother is run down in the street, seemingly on purpose.  Charles’ curiosity and keen skills of observation lead him to investigate both incidents and explore the potential connections, even when he is warned off by his superior.  Soon he finds himself questioning events as well as his own vocation and the policies of Louis XIV in persecuting the Huguenots.  His path is made difficult by a fellow Jesuit, the last male member of the Guise family, hardcore partisans of the ultraconservative Catholic party in France.  Charles manages to solve the mystery, resolve his doubts about his vocation, and remove the obstreperous fellow Jesuit from his path.  He cannot resolve Louis’ troubled policies, but, through the course of the murder investigation, discovers that the situation is not as grim as the surface would indicate.

Rock sets us up for more mysteries involving Charles.  She creates such an interesting set of characters and beautifully draws the reader into the world of Louis XIV’s Paris that a bit more fictional murder seems in order.

Finished 7/21/13

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Sweet Tea and Secrets: An Adams Grove Novel–Nancy Naigle (eBook)

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Jill has run away from the small town of Adams Grove and into the arms of wealthy Brad in Savannah in order to escape a heart broken by the betrayal of her childhood sweetheart, Garrett.  The novel opens with her return to town for Grandma Pearl’s birthday party.  Through this party Naigle introduces us to the key players in the novel and to Jill’s backstory.  Jill’s parents died on a research trip when she was young and Grandma Pearl, with help from friends in Adams Grove, raised her.  Pearl introduced Jill to her current beau, Brad, but now questions that introduction and encourages Jill to give Garrett another chance.  We see why Pearl questions Jill’s choice of Brad when Jill returns to Savannah for a fundraiser dinner benefitting Brad’s foundation, for which Jill does public relations and fundraising organization.  Brad is highly focused on material wealth and image, which seems counter to Jill’s small-town values.  His scewed priorities become clear when he fails to tell Jill that Pearl has passed away as they prepared for the big benefit event.  Furious, Jill retreats to Adams Grove to gain some space and attend the funeral, and ends up staying to deal with Pearl’s strange bequest, which pushes she and Garrett together, very intentionally.  Add in a physical threat (someone keeps breaking into Pearl’s house and seeking to intimidate Jill for an unknown reason), the discovery of Pearl’s late, mysterious, pearl-seeking husband, and the plot is moving.  

Naigle’s characters are well-drawn and inviting. The plot flows naturally and pulled me from page to page.  As the title implies, Naigle has written other novels set in Adams Grove.  I enjoyed this one, a quick summer read, so much that I may check into Adams Grove again.

Finished 7/13

Finding Favor–Lana Long (e-book)

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This is Lana Long’s first novel and is self-published.    Finding Favor is classified as young adult fiction and is another Jane Austen-inspired work, this time from Mansfield Park.

Favor is about to turn eighteen and pursue her love of horticulture.  She is living a life of material privilege, but emotional deprivation in the home of her guardians, the Browns, who took her in after the death of her father left her an orphan.  Favor knows little about her family, other than what is contained in a series of journals that contain family stories of her father and grandfather.  Favor’s mother is not a significant concern for her, which receives little explanation.  Mr. Brown, a cold corporate type, knew Favor’s father, but in what capacity, she is unsure as he refuses to discuss her past.  The Browns have three children:  Tom, the party-boy eldest; Ethan, the sensitive middle child; and Madison, the spoiled baby with daddy issues.  Actually, all three children have daddy issues as Mr. Brown is cold and distant to his biological children as well as Favor.  Madison has tortured Favor at school and at home, going out of her way to emphasize her role as outsider.  The reason for this cruelty, however, is later revealed to be her jealousy over the (negative) attention Favor receives from Mr. Brown.  Negative attention is better than being ignored.  

Favor is in love with Ethan, but the novel opens with Mr. Brown presenting her with a contract that requires her to stay out of Ethan’s life in exchange for the Browns funding Favor’s college years and using their contacts to secure an important internship.  Favor agonizes over the contract and finally signs it on her 18th birthday.  The split from Ethan is made easier when he falls for a neighbor’s granddaughter, newly returned from years in Paris (of course), Mary.  Mary is sophisticated and very into saving the world, as long as someone is watching and the saving helps her make connections that will allow her to advance her career.  

The plot outline is there from Austen, but Long’s characters remain one-dimensional.  Ethan is whiny; Favor is a martyr; Tom transforms from bad boy to caring brother who sacrifices his own happiness for Favor and Ethan; Madison’s cruelty is excused by her father’s inadequate parenting; Mrs. Brown’s years of neglect (and cruelty) to Favor are excused with three hugs and some tears.  Even Mr. Brown achieves character salvation by telling Favor the story of his connection to her family and promises to dole out more on a monthly basis.

It is also interesting to watch authors grow and see their writing mature.  I look forward to seeing this for Lana Long.

Finished 7/27/13

 

Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice–Jennifer Becton (e-book)

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I’m a serious sucker for anything Pride and Prejudice and this novel’s premise, following Charlotte after the death of the dreadful Mr. Collins, intrigued me.  Becton created a likeable continuation of Charlotte and recreated the pride and prejudice theme of mistaken first impressions and their near-ruinous consequences.  Charlotte reenters the society of Westerham in order to chaperone her younger sister, Maria Lucas, in hopes of finding her a husband.  Charlotte’s pragmatic view of marriage was challenged by Elizabeth Bennett’s love marriage to Mr. Darcy, and she now hopes for that love for her sister, Maria.  After Charlotte sheds her widow’s weeds, she is surprised at the attention of some of the men in Westerham society and slowly begins to consider a chance at love for herself.  An American, Mr. Basford, chaperoning his young nephew, Mr. Westerfield, provides Charlotte’s Mr. Darcy.  Unlike Darcy, however, Basford is too loose, nearly uncouth for provincial Westerham.  Events reveal, however, that those who seemed true gentlemen were scoundrels and those who seemed ungentlemanly were the true gems.  

Overall, Charlotte Collins is one of the better P&P sequels I have read.  It’s not a brain bender, but a fun dive back into the world of provincial Austen society for those seeking such an escape.

Finished 7/28/13

A Song of Fire and Ice (#1-3)–George R. R. Martin

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I am quite late to this George Martin party, but, having seen seasons one and two on HBO, I decided to read the Game of Thrones series.  I knew what to expect for the major plot points of books one and two, but book three was all new and it was here that I started to really think about what Martin was doing.  I’ve read that he was inspired by the War of the Roses, a late medieval English civil war between the Yorks and Lancasters, but, despite the knights and castles and map that looks something like England, GoT has much more to do with our own world than that of the Late Middle Ages.  By book three, the only hero who stays a hero is Ned Stark, who lost his head early in book one and about whom nothing horrible has been revealed.  Yet.  Except that he didn’t tell his bastard son where he came from and let his wife treat him as the proverbial red-headed stepchild.  Jaime Lannister pushes a small boy from a tower window because he witnesses an act of incest, but he finds his heart for the wench, Brienne, whom all others mock.  Cersei is a conniving bitch, but her conniving would be brilliant if she were a man and had not been shaped by that resentment.  No one wins the Game of Thrones.  Not those gaming for the thrones or those who just try to live quiet lives under their rule.  In book three, Storm of Swords, the smallfolk pay the ultimate price.  They are robbed, humiliated, raped, gutted, and left to the elements.  Or worse, left to live on when all around them are gone. The rape is so graphic and relentless in book three that I nearly stopped reading out of a survival instinct.  No one’s word means anything.  Castle walls are treachery, not protection.  The capital city, King’s Landing, is first sensed through the smell of shit and rot, not seen for its sparkling monuments to progress and humanity.  The Hound kills the butcher boy, but saves Sansa from gang rape at the hands of an angry mob.  He cries and asks her for a lullaby when faced with a city of fire, but dies crowing about his massacre of Micah and other innocents.  His brother, the “true” night, is an sight less welcome than one of the horsemen of the apocalypse.  The weirwoods are holy sights, the Seven seem to be reasonable gods, but their septons are corrupt.  The fire lord gets the job done, but demands sacrifices that defy common morality and is served by fanatics.   The Others walk, mammoths and giants exist, wildlings are democratic and undisciplined, and some people truly become their dogs.  

We live in an age that can believe in magic and zombies, but not a godly church; an age that worships the individual as well as discipline.  We have faith in democracy, but not democratic institutions or our representatives in them.  We have faith in individuals, but not people.  Game of Thrones is the fantasy epic for our cynical, distrustful, violent age.  

The little blurbs from reviewers at the beginning of the trade paperback version often cite T.H. White’s Once and Future King.  I read that novel decades ago, but it may bear revisiting just to test this comparison.  My memory of White’s Arthur is much more optimistic than I can imagine GoT ever becoming.  When Mordred kills Arthur we weep for the events that led each man to this place.  When Tyrion kills Tywin in the privy, we simply cheer.  Maybe the sunshine comes out in books 4-7.  Maybe.  Or maybe I just see it all more clearly.  

Finished 7-9-13