Tuesday, June 30, 2009

CLASSIC REVIEW: "Emma," by Jane Austen

Alternate Title: How to Lose A Match in Ten Days

The Chick:
Emma Woodhouse. Firmly established (in her own mind) as the reigning social queen of the village of Highbury, she takes it upon herself in true noblesse oblige fashion to find suitable matches for all of her friends and followers - particularly her slavish devotee, Harriet Smith.
The Rub: Her longtime friend Mr Knightley disapproves of her manipulations, and believes Harriet has very few realistic chances. Also, for all her ingenuity and energy, her romantic guesses can often fly far short of the mark.

The Dude: George Knightley. A close family friend of the Woodhouses (and brother to Emma's sister's husband), Knightley has known Emma her entire life. Everyone else spoils and pets Emma but he's always been honest with her about her faults.
The Rub: Does his disapproval of Emma and grumpiness towards Emma's crushes mask a more sentimental emotion? Also: age gap!

The Plot:

Emma: Harriet should marry Mr Elton!

Knightley: You're wrong.

Mr Elton: *marries Bitchy McMapleGroveBitchFace*

Emma: ... Harriet should marry Mr Churchill!

Knightley: Wrong again.

Frank Churchill: *announces secret engagement to Jane Fairfax*

Emma: GRRR! This is so unfair! Harriet is much more genteel then people realize, they think she's lower in status just because she's illegitimate! It's degrading to women! She deserves a highborn husband!

Harriet: I heart Knightley!


Knightley: You were saying?

Emma: Fine, go ahead and marry Harriet if you love her so much, see if I care...

Knightley: Wrong again.

Harriet: *marries Robert Martin*

Emma: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Age Gap Between Protagonists (16 years!)

3 Wrong Guesses

4 Romantically Lacklustre Rivals

1 Selfish Hypochondriac Father

1 Secret Engagement

Several Stolen Turkeys

1 Chatty Kathy

The Word: It was very interesting to read Emma when my last Jane Austen novel was Mansfield Park. And considering what I know of the plots of Jane Austen's other novels from their wonderful adaptations, Emma herself seems to be the odd one out in Austen's stable of heroines. Why?

Because she's perfectly comfortable and holds a high standing in society. Unlike Elizabeth who is threatened with poverty thanks to an entailment (Pride & Prejudice), Elinor who's living in reduced circumstances (Sense & Sensibility), Fanny who is the poor relation (Mansfield Park), Anne who is an unmarried spinster (Persuasion), and Catherine who is one of many children of a financially-strapped clergyman (Northanger Abbey), Emma is not only not in any economic danger, but in no social danger either.

She's rich and she's spoiled and she's popular and can get away with doing just about anything, really, which might explain why some readers find her to be the most annoying of Jane Austen's characters, although I strongly disagree.

Emma is essentially the social belle of the small town of Highbury. Comfortably furnished with a handsome fortune, she cares for her needy hypochondriac father and attends parties and nurtures her favourite hobby: matchmaking. The novel opens after the wedding of Jane's governess Miss Taylor to a Mr Weston. The whole town talks about Miss Taylor's advantageous match, and Emma prides herself on the belief that the match was partly her own doing.

However, now that her best friend and confidante has married, Emma needs a new BFF and social project, so she settles on Harriet Smith - a parlour-boarder at the local school with uncertain parentage but extraordinary beauty. Harriet is pretty and good-natured (if a bit dim), and Emma, convinced that Harriet is the daughter of a gentleman, believes Harriet deserves better circumstances than she's had handed to her and starts planning a match between Harriet and the local vicar, Mr Elton.

Mr Knightley becomes involved when he discovers his upright, if lowborn, tenant Robert Martin proposed to Harriet and was refused thanks to Emma's advice. Knightley and Emma enter into an argument about Harriet's future that essentially outlines both characters' strengths and faults and sets the stage for how they change and adapt throughout the novel.

Knightley thinks that because Harriet is illegitimate and stupid, she should take what she's offered and be grateful she was lucky enough to receive an offer at all. He thinks that Emma's ambitions are only setting Harriet up for a fall and that she's trying to pass off a sow's ear as a silk purse. Emma, meanwhile, thinks that Harriet is pretty and kind, that these qualities make her perfectly suited to be anyone's wife, and that she deserves a chance to play the field the same as anyone else (well, almost anyone else).

What makes this argument interesting is that Emma's rejection of the social strictures that make Harriet inferior doesn't mean she rejects all social boundaries. The truth is that Emma sets and abides by her own social standards - in her mind, anyone who is her friend is automatically worthy of status, while those who annoy and frustrate her are lower in status. And, naturally, this makes Emma the highest in status of all, in her own mind. This explains how she believes Harriet's illegitimacy shouldn't pose an obstacle to her match with Mr Elton, but when Mr Elton reveals his affections for Emma, she's outraged that he'd presume to believe a clergyman worthy of marrying the great Miss Emma Woodhouse. While it seems to be a very hypocritical view at first, it's consistent.

However, most of Knightley's predictions do come to pass. When Mr Elton turns out to be a dud, Emma fixes on a number of other matches (such as Mr Weston's son Frank Churchill) only to be proven wrong again and again. However, even though Emma turns out to be frequently wrong it doesn't mean that Knightley's character remains unchanged.

Emma is an engaging and refreshing 19th century character. She can get away with distorted and personalized views of Society because she's in no position to be cast out of it - she's wealthy, landed, and established. This also means, of course, that she's often haughty, conceited, spoiled, and self-important. I adored her.

I found myself relating to her on a number of levels, for all her flaws. Why I mentioned Mansfield Park at the beginning of this review is that Emma is the exact opposite of MP's Fanny Price - she speaks her mind, often far too much, and loves being the centre of attention (and resents when she isn't). Her dislike of Jane Fairfax is childish and entirely believable - even Emma can't come up with a really good reason why she hates Jane, other than the fact that Jane is a bit of a cold fish, socially speaking, and that everyone who's making a fuss over Jane is not making a fuss over Emma. I've sometimes found I dislike and attempt to avoid people who have certain tics that annoy me, and I do resent not being the centre of attention sometimes. I found that while Emma is haughty and often oblivious, she's honest about herself and will go to great lengths to help those she loves.

What Emma essentially learns at the end of the novel is that her own special view of the world is not always accurate or helpful. Her assumptions about Jane, Harriet, and herself have to be modified by the book's end. Her biggest change comes with her view of Robert Martin - she initially wants to keep him and the Martins away from Harriet because she believes their society would be degrading to Harriet. She thinks him a dirty, unmannered farmer and is honestly surprised that his letter of proposal to Harriet is well-written!

However, as Emma gradually realizes when her plans for Harriet and Elton fall through - her own level of society isn't exactly beneficial to Harriet either. Harriet's tossed about like an emotional rag doll quite a bit in this novel, and Emma comes to recognize that higher-class doesn't always mean better. Her actions result in severe emotional pain and humiliation for Harriet, and force Emma to admit that she might not know what's best. At the end of the novel, when Harriet marries Robert Martin, Emma is relieved, because she finally realizes that marrying a man who adores her is the best thing for Harriet, rather than marrying a man who could elevate her in a society that didn't treat her well to begin with.

Amusingly enough, Knightley comes to the exact same realization (higher class isn't necessarily better), but through a different chain of events. Just as Emma has to rethink her assumptions about Robert Martin, Knightley has to reconsider his assumptions about Harriet. He initially dismisses her out of hand because she's poor, illegitimate and dim. However, because Harriet is always around Emma, Knightley has to get to know her as well.

His epiphany hits home when Elton returns from Bath with a nasty, arrogant, and vulgar wife. Despite Mrs Elton's extreme unpleasantness, she's Harriet's social superior - but Knightley has to concede that Harriet would have made Elton the better wife. Throughout the novel Knightley gradually warms towards Harriet and treats her with greater respect, culminating in a wonderful scene where he asks Harriet to dance after Mr Elton publicly snubs her.

But, whatever Harriet might eventually think, Knightley has eyes only for Emma. Despite the age gap between the two, they are well suited for each other and while Emma's realization about her feelings for Knightley occurs rather suddenly and late in the book, Jane Austen does a good job of setting up how close the two are and how poorly they'd do without each other. Emma needs Knightley because he's the only one who's honest with her - he doesn't spoil her or placate her like her other friends do, and if she acts out of turn he will take her to task for it, while loving her anyway. Knightley needs Emma because oftentimes he can be too cynical and distrustful of people at the outset, and he requires a shot of Emma's tendency to see the best in people every once in a while to hold his pessimism in check.

That being said, while I enjoyed this book more than Mansfield Park, and was much more satisfied with the ending, this book did become a bit of a slog. It's very long (the longest of Jane Austen's novels), the plot tends to meander, and I felt it could have done with some editing. After the halfway point I admit I found myself in the "reading really fast to get to the end already" phase, and the pacing sagged up until the end.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Who All's Coming to RWA Nationals?

I am! The Romance Writers of America's National Conference in Washington, DC is coming up in a little over three weeks, and I'm super excited - not only for the workshops, not only for the literacy booksigning, not only for the goody room, but also to meet any of my blogger friends who are going!

If you're going to RWA Nationals in DC - why not leave a comment? Maybe we could even meet up!

If you aren't going, but you've gone before - what was your favourite part of the conference? What would you recommend?

If you're a Washington native - what cool things are there to see in DC?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Romance Movie Review: "Penelope"

Alternate Title: Miss Piggy Takes Manhattan

The Chick: Penelope Wilhern. Born under a curse that left her with the face of a pig, Penelope has lived an isolated life in her family's elaborate mansion, waiting for the time when her curse could be cured by marriage to one of her own kind (that is, a blueblood).
The Rub: She's spent so much time waiting to be married and free of the curse, all the while keeping herself hidden away so as not to embarrass her lauded family, she hasn't had the chance to live a life of her own.
Casting: Christina Ricci.

The Dude: Max Campion. A down-on-his-luck gambling addict, he's hired by an ambitious reporter who wants Max, the blue-blooded scion of the once-esteemed Campion family, to offer himself as Penelope's suitor in order to snap a picture of her and prove her existence to the tabloids.
The Rub: Max doesn't intend to fall in love with Penelope, but he can't marry her because he has a secret past that makes him unworthy of her.
Casting: James McAvoy.

The Plot:
Penelope: Hey! Anyone want to marry me and break the curse?

Suitor #1: *flees*

Suitor #2: *jumps out a window*

Max Campion: Hey, you're nice.

Penelope: Let's get married!

Max: Uhhhh, exit stage left! *flees*

Penelope: Oh fuck this. I'm out! *leaves home* *lives life* *gets famous*

Penelope: *poof!* Well hey, I cured myself!

Max/Johnny: Sorry I couldn't marry you, but I couldn't have fixed your curse.

Penelope: No worries. Still wanna get married?

Johnny: Hell yes!

Penelope: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 If not Totally Bad, Than At Least Morally Dark Grey Parent

1 Intrepid, One-Eyed, Little Person Reporter

1 Centuries-Old Curse

Several Cowardly Suitors

1 Sprinting Butler

1 Punky Best Friend

1 Hidden Camera

1 Lacklustre Romantic Rival

The Word: Oh, how I loved this film. I'm a fan of fairy-tales, you see, in nearly all their forms and versions, and Penelope is a movie that unabashedly bases itself on fairy tales while keeping to rules of its own. The story is thus:

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Penelope Wilhern. Penelope was born under a curse cast on the Wilhern family centuries ago - she was born with the face of a pig, and only by uniting herself with one of her own kind could the curse be broken. Her parents, members of the kingly Wilhern family, figured this meant that if a young man as blue-blooded and aristocratic as Penelope herself would agree to marry her, despite her looks, then Penelope would be free and the Wilhern name would no longer be disgraced.

Penelope grew up alone in her parents' mansion, waiting for the day a handsome prince would agree to marry her. Once Penelope came of age, her parents hired a matchmaker and suitor after impeccably-bred suitor was brought before her. Despite Penelope's charm, intellect, and enormous dowry, suitor after suitor fled in terror.

One of those suitors, a slimy prince named Edward Vanderman (Simon Woods), tried to go public about the Wilhern's "pigfaced monster" but was denounced as a fool and a lunatic. To recover his good name, he and an intrepid reporter named Lemon (Peter Dinklage) hired Max Campion, an impoverished gambling addict who was nevertheless as indigo-blooded as they come, to offer himself as a potential suitor in order to take a picture of Penelope with a hidden camera and prove her existence to the world.

However, once the luckless prince met the ugly princess, love bloomed quickly and unexpectedly. Even more unexpectedly, once Penelope stepped out from behind the one-way glass and revealed hereself, Max didn't run away. However, Max refused to take her hand in marriage, and fled - albeit not before smashing the hidden camera and destroying all evidence. Penelope was heartbroken.

However - despite her heartbreak, Penelope has an epiphany. Her conversations with Max revealed a whole world she'd never seen, a whole world she'd been missing because she'd been too busy hiding in her mansion and waiting for someone else to come and decide her fate. Wrapping a scarf around her remarkable nose, she escapes her mansion for the first time to live her own life.

This delightful, gorgeously-shot, and romantic movie asks the question: what if Cinderella put down her mop? What if Rapunzel climbed down out of her tower? What if the fairy tale princess wanted to discover what life was like without a prince or a cure or a spell to help her?

This movie answers all those questions with style and flair. Penelope, as played by Christina Ricci, is an engaging character. While she's honest about herself and how she looks, she knows she deserves better reactions than the ones she normally gets - and she's also not above doing whatever it takes to survive on her own (even if it involves selling photos of herself to the press to make ends meet) and away from her parents.

And her parents - her father (played wonderfully by Richard E Grant) is loving and supportive, but her mother ... Well, let's just say that if anyone is this movie's villain, it would be her. Played with nice comedic timing by Catherine O'Hara, while Jessica Wilhern loves her daughter Penelope and ultimately means well, to her, it's all about appearances. It becomes clear in the movie that she cares more about her daughter's face (and how it reflects on the Wilhern family name), than her daughter herself. It gets to the point where she would rather marry Penelope off to a slimeball blueblood who hates her so long as Jessica finally gets the perfect daughter she can show off in public.

And James McAvoy - well, let's just say he makes a (dare I say it?) perfectly charming prince. The film does a good job of indicating his gambling addiction and his self-loathing before his encounter with Penelope inspires him to change his ways. He takes the job the reporter offers because he needs the money to gamble, but when he's offered the girl he loves, coupled with her enormous fortune, he still has the strength of mind to do the right thing and say no. One of the main "twists" of the movie (SPOILERS) is that it turns out he isn't Max Campion. Mistaken for his gambling partner, our hero is really Johnny Martin - the son of a humble plumber. He knows (or thinks he knows) that Penelope needs to marry a blueblood in order to break the curse and he can't bear the thought of letting his selfish feelings for Penelope destroy her dream.

The set design and direction of the movie all contribute to give the film a trippy, colourful and absurdist tone that suits the fairy-tale aspect of the story perfectly. It's a bit like the late and lamented Pushing Daisies that way. Colours are big and bright, reactions are exaggerated, situations are amplified - and all without losing emotional weight and resonance. Visually speaking, Penelope is pure eye-candy. Writing-wise, it's brain-candy. Romance-wise, it's heart-candy.

I want candy. You want candy. See this movie.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Romance Movie Review: "27 Dresses"

Okay, so people familiar with my archived posts know that I used to review movies I saw, but I kinda dropped out of doing that as I started to focus more on book reviews. Well, now that I recently got a job at a video-rental place and now can rent several movies a week for free, why not write reviews of the romantic comedies? I have noticed that I tend to evaluate romantic movies differently now that I'm an avid romance novel reader, so let's see if I can review movies in a similar fashion.
Alternate Title: James Marsden Gets Laid (FINALLY!)

The Chick: Jane (IMDB gives her no last name, and I can't remember it). Jane is the ultimate bridesmaid - organized, responsible, and with a slight enough figure (and sense of dignity) to fit into just about any bridesmaid dress. She lives to organize and experience weddings - and she should know, she's done it 27 times.
The Rub: Her own love life is sliding rapidly from bad to worse - she's helplessly in love with her oblivious boss. The same boss who falls in love with and proposes to her sister. Who wants Jane to put on her 28th dress for their wedding. Awkward.
Casting: Katherine Heigl.

The Dude: Kevin. A cynical writer tearing his hair out writing wedding announcements for the newspaper, he sees an opportunity for a story when he catches on to Jane's particular hobby.
The Rub: His growing affection for her poses a serious conflict of interest, but he needs this story if he wants to get out of writing descriptions of wedding receptions and bouquet tosses.
Casting: James Marsden.

The Plot:

Jane: I love weddings!

Kevin: I hate weddings!

Jane: I love my boss!

Kevin: I hate my job!

Jane: I secretly hate my sister!

Kevin: I secretly love weddings!

Jane: .... that's hot.

Kevin: ...and I secretly wrote a story about you.

Jane: LESS hot. But I'm over it! Let's get married!

Kevin: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist:

1 Inconveniently Dead Parent

1 Bitchy Sister

1 Slutty BFF

1 Drunken Performance of an Elton John song

1 Butchered Wedding Dress

1 Romantically Lacklustre Rival

1 Use of PowerPoint as Revenge

1 Dress-Up Montage

1 Bout of Car Sex

The Word: Jane loves weddings, and has ever since she was seven and a bit of quick-thinking on her part earned her the appreciation of the bride and a place in the wedding party. Ever since, she's been the go-to gal for her friends and coworkers who need someone to help organize the flowers, dress fittings, music, and showers. She thrives on the romance of the occasion, even if the scheduling can get a bit tight.

Kevin, a jaded journalist who's attending a wedding on an assignment (he writes the Wedding Announcements for a newspaper), notices Jane mysteriously disappear and reappear at odd moments during the reception and, following her, discovers she's actually attending two weddings at the same time - as she's a bridesmaid for both. Sharing a cab afterward, he confronts her on this and the two have a little spat as Kevin's distaste for the gaudy wedding industry lies at painful odds with Jane's worship of it. When she forgets her datebook in the cab, Kevin reads it and realizes that being a bridesmaid is more than an occasional commitment for her, but a genuine hobby.

Unbeknownst to him, after the hideous pastel-coloured gowns and centerpieces are tucked away, Jane's life isn't exactly a party. She works full-time as a personal assistant to a genial CEO whom she's secretly, desperately in love with. When her vapid super-model sister flies in and effortlessly catches her boss's attention, eventually resulting in a whirlwind courtship and proposal, Jane starts to come apart at the seams - especially now that her sister wants her to be the bridesmaid for their wedding.

As Jane's slowly losing it, Kevin comes around to return her datebook (and to write the announcement of her sister's wedding), and also to confront her on her bridesmaid addiction. Secretly, he's planning to write a story on it, hoping it will finally boost him out of the Wedding section at his paper where he's slowly been going crazy writing the same gooey wedding descriptions he says he hates.

However, the opportunity to reveal and discuss her lifelong passion restores some of Jane's mental health. While her infatuation with weddings isn't a secret, it's certainly a private part of her life that she doesn't advertize, and she gets a kick out of showing Kevin the (yup, you guessed it) twenty-seven bridesmaid dresses. She's worn tacky cocktail dresses, crinolines (for theme weddings), tuxes, spiked collars, saris, you name it, in every unflattering colour of the rainbow, and she's kept every piece until her closet's overflowing.

I really, really enjoyed this movie. Maybe more than I should have. I watched this with my mother, who gleefully insisted on correctly predicting every important plot scene. Formulaic? Yes. But I've noticed that it's easier to notice the formula in romantic movies than in books because it's a shorter format and deals with a smaller time frame, so I wasn't bothered by that.

What especially wowed me about this movie was the symbolism and the acting. I thought the symbolism of the bridesmaid fit perfectly with Jane's character. She's a bit of a control freak, but at the same time is afraid to control her own life - as a bridesmaid, she revels in organizing the wedding arrangements and making sure everything is just-so, but in the end she's still at the beck and call of the bride.

Similarly, by being the Ultimate Bridesmaid, Jane also settles for being the bridesmaid for her own life - she's always sitting on the sidelines watching, listening, and living vicariously through other people. She's always supporting and helping others but she never does anything for herself. While she does a lot of good (I started to wonder why she didn't start a wedding-planning business!) and thinks she's being considerate, Kevin recognizes that she's made herself into a bit of a doormat because she's too scared to reach out and try to grab something for herself.

Kevin, meanwhile, is a secret romantic who shuns romance because he believes it's just a front. He despises the lace and the sparkles and the taffeta, and the Big Giant Deal that society has transformed weddings into. His own marriage fell apart when his wife left him for his college roommate, and his heartbreak has taught him to hate the superficial gaiety of weddings that, he believes, only hides and obfuscates the truth, and maintains the idea of romantic fulfillment where none exists.

The kick is, I agree with both characters. I don't believe there's anything wrong with celebrating weddings, because they are a happy event that is supposed to unite two people for the rest of their lives. At the same time, the movie does a good job of showing how the expensive wedding industry, which encourages glitz and glamour and overindulgence, misses the point.

Now, for the acting. Katherine Heigl is amazing. She maintains a great balance between comedy and drama - portraying Jane's slow, desperate unravelling as her life comes apart in a truly sympathetic way while keeping it just light and exaggerated enough to maintain the humour and prevent her character from seeming too pathetic. After all, Jane is the character who's saddled with the movie's gimmick (she's been a bridesmaid 27 times! And keeps all the dresses!), and Heigl has to work harder to sell her as a character who's unique and eccentric while at the same time understandable and relatable.

Meanwhile, James Marsden is just fine (in every sense of the word). His Kevin is funny and rakish, and brings Jane down to earth even as she brings buoyant optimism back into his life. While his character is more conventional (to quote Jane: "How original - a man who's not a fan of marriage!"), he's a good match for Jane, and super-hot to boot. There's a scene where the two are stranded (and drunk) in a sleazy bar during a rainstorm and Kevin starts singing to the jukebox, that is worth the price of the movie rental alone. Plus, I feel I should point out that it is very refreshing to see James Marsden in a movie as the guy who actually GETS the girl, ending his streak of movies where he plays the Perfectly Decent Guy who Nonetheless Ends Up Romantically Shafted (see: The Notebook, Enchanted, X-Men, Superman Returns).

Yes, 27 Dresses is a bit formulaic at times, but it's still an excellent example of a heartfelt, honest, and amazingly uncontrived romantic comedy with great characters, great actors, great writing, and more importantly, great romance.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

"Love Letters From a Duke," by Elizabeth Boyle

Alternate Title: Liars, Tramps, and Thieves

The Chick: Felicity Langley. During four years of correspondence with the heir to the Duke of Hollindrake, she believes they've reached an unspoken agreement to become betrothed. Hearing that he'll be in London to officially accept the title of Duke, she cobbles together enough funds to set herself, her sister Tally and cousin Pippin, up in London as well, to finally meet him and fulfill her life's ambition of becoming a Duchess.
The Rub: Her new footman Thatcher insists on inspiring entirely new and untoward feelings in her - but her situation (as well as Tally's and Pippin's) is run on shoestrings and lies. If she fails to win the duke, she'll be ruined.
Dream Casting: Gossip Girl's Blake Lively.

The Dude: Aubrey Michael Thomas Sterling, Duke of Hollindrake, a.k.a. "Captain Michael Thatcher." After returning home upon his grandfather's death, the new Duke (who'd previously been fighting on the Continent under an assumed name), discovers his grandfather impersonated him through letters and betrothed him to someone he's never met, without his knowledge. Outraged, Aubrey arrives on the chit's doorstep to cry off...
The Rub: ...only to be mistaken for a footman thanks to his ragged travelling clothes. However, he maintains the ruse in order to discover how this very unconventional woman managed to ensnare his starchy old grandpa.
Dream Casting: Zachary Quinto.

The Plot:
Thatcher: Hey, uh, about your relationship with my grand-

Felicity: Hurry up footman, and get in here! It's not proper for a duchess' footman to gape so, for I'm going to be a duchess, seeing as I'm going to be marrying a duke. So that would make me a duchess. Eventually. Duchess, Duchess, Duchess - it's such a lovely word when I say it over and over, isn't it?

Thatcher: What kind of con are you running, lady?

Felicity: Con? Moi? *300 pages of flat-out lies, denials and cover ups*

Thatcher: You are nuttier than a Christmas pudding - and I find that strangely attractive.

Felicity: La la la! I can't hear you! DUCHESS DUCHESS DUCHESS!

Thatcher: But I'm pretty!

Felicity: Oh, you are pretty. Fine, let's get married.

Thatcher: Oh, by the way - I'm a DUKE.

Felicity: You - you lied to me! How dare you - lying violates the sacred trust between people, it's the most foulest crime known to man, it's trampling of honest values, how could you--

Thatcher: Uh-huh. *makes Felicity read first 300 pages of Love Letters From a Duke*

Felicity: Oh, right, that's what I do. We're perfect for each other! Let's get married for real!

Thatcher: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Lusty Footman (or IS he?)

1 Proper, Wealthy Miss (or IS she?)

1 Dastardly Pirate (or IS he?)

1 Inconveniently Dead Father (or IS he?)

1 Very Bad Mother (or IS she?)

Several Thousand Blatant Lies

1 Stolen House

1 Big Misunderstanding

1 Slutty and Possibly Murderous Gold-Digging Nanny

The Word: Felicity Langley is going to be a Duchess. Her nickname is Duchess, she'll tell anyone who'll listen that she's going to be a Duchess, she's spent years training to become the proper Duchess, and she's all set to become betrothed to a Duke. After sending the heir to the Duke of Hollindrake a frank letter proposing marriage, she started a four-year correspondence with the man which leaves her absolutely convinced that an official betrothal is right around the corner.

Which is a good thing, because she's absolutely broke. Thanks to events which were apparently the result of earlier novels in the series (Something About Emmaline and This Rake of Mine), and are very poorly explained in this novel, Felicity, her twin sister Tally, and cousin Pippin, live on a very meagre allowance - not enough for a proper Season. However, when the old Duke of Hollindrake dies, meaning the new Duke has to come to London to be invested into the House of Lords, Felicity knows she and her cohorts can't stay in Sussex, but have to go to London to seal the deal.

However, unbeknownst to her, her secret penpal was never Aubrey Sterling (the new Duke), but his late grandfather. Aubrey, recently returned from the wars on the Continent (where he fought under the name "Thatcher"), discovers his grandfather's deception and, furious, takes himself off to Felicity's town house to break whatever arrangement his grandpa made. However, when Felicity opens the door, she takes one look at his tattered clothing and jumps to the conclusion that he is applying to be their new footman. After Thatcher's several initial attempts to correct her are deflected by cutesy how-convenient interruptions and outbursts, he decides to go with the flow, just so he can figure out the extent of her craziness.

Which is how he discovers that Felicity's "London Season" is really an enormous house of cards composed of so many lies, thefts, and half-truths that it's amazing (and not a little unrealistic) it doesn't come crashing down on her head at the slightest puff of wind. Her elegant town house? Stolen. Her bizarre chaperone Aunt Minty? A retired pickpocket rescued from the streets. Thatcher's wages? Not forthcoming in the least. The only thing supporting this rickety charade is Felicity's fervent belief that the Duke of Hollindrake is only waiting for the perfect moment to honour their agreement and sweep her off into wealthy, titled bliss.

This belief of hers troubles Thatcher not a little. At first, he's convinced she's an unscrupulous, power-hungry meddler, and continues to be her "footman" in order to find out how far deep her connection to his grandfather goes, but as he slowly starts to fall for her, his motive changes. Now he does want to marry Felicity, but he wants to be sure their marriage is based on love, and not on her single-minded determination to be a Duchess. So, while she struggles to keep her ducal goal in sight, Thatcher starts to charm her under the guise of a humble footman.

It was very difficult to get into this book for the first 200 pages. Theoretically, I understood and appreciated the novel's general concept. Our heroine is a woman who is openly determined to marry for wealth and prestige. Our hero is a Duke who, with a flash of his ducal coronet, could have the woman of his dreams falling over herself to get into his pants, but instead he wants to win her honestly with his own bare charms and convince her that romantic love truly exists. It's just a shame that the heroine and hero were so irritating and poorly developed.

While eventually I learned to tolerate Felicity, the novel's opening chapters with her were nigh unbearable. For the vast majority of the novel, she's either lying or denying. Whenever she's not privately lying, cheating, and stealing without a shred of remorse, she's publicly an officious, meddlesome, high-handed and self-righteous bastion of propriety. She really has no problem using whatever means at hand to obtain her ends, regardless of their legality, morality, or affect on other people. She squats in a house that belongs to other people, she hires a footman without any intention of paying him, and she spins all sorts of half-truths to convince people of her own importance, and all with the belief that once she's a Duchess, none of it will matter.

I suppose the ultimate hypocrisy of her goal (using improper means to convince others of her propriety) is supposed to be funny, but her unique mixture of self-absorbed righteous dishonesty was particularly grating. I'll admit I thawed a bit towards her after a couple hundred pages when it became apparent she was doing this to support (the equally penniless) Tally and Pippin as well as herself. She also earns points from me for being one of the first romance heroines I've ever encountered whose concern for the social and financial consequences of sex is strong enough to make her interrupt world-changing nookie.

I wasn't too impressed with Thatcher. While I understood and rather enjoyed his reasons for continuing the deception, his essential character remained frustratingly underdeveloped. Other than Felicity, all of the other characters in this novel seemed strangely ... half-baked. In some cases, an essential aspect of their background will be casually mentioned (such as Thatcher's reasons for going to war), only to never be brought up again. In others, a character will show up halfway through the book with no introduction (Nanny Jamilla, Thatcher's mum), only to flip-flop between different poles (is Jamilla a help or a hindrance? Is Thatcher's mum a cold bitch or an affectionate parent?). And other characters are just one-note (Tally's a romantic twit, Pippin's an incredibly gullible and stupid romantic twit).

In Thatcher's particular case, he remained mostly an enigma. Why did he go to war under an assumed name in the first place? At first, the novel (and Thatcher himself) suggests he did so to escape the immense responsibilities of being a Duke's heir, and he wanted to make his own choices. This rather bland "I just want to be free" Princess Jasmine argument ran the risk of making him seem a) lazy, b) irresponsible, and c) selfish. However, halfway through the book, Thatcher mentions in an offhand fashion that he went to war to escape his creditors, and this reminder of his rakish nature makes him feel unworthy of Felicity, and unworthy of the perfectly-perfect Ducal image she harbours of Hollindrake. Hey! Creditors! Unworthiness! That's interesting! Unfortunately, this briefly-mentioned point is never explained or brought up again.

As well, part of my enjoyment of this novel was hampered by the research I'm currently doing on servants. I originally picked up this novel because my own project (The Duke of Snow and Apples) also involves a footman who's really a duke, and I wanted to see how an established author handled their particular spin on that idea. My recent descent into research made this novel's errors all the more glaring. For instance, Felicity continues to call her footman Mr Thatcher. Every article and book I've read of nineteenth century servants to date tells me that footmen were always called by their first names - last names were reserved for upstairs servants (butlers, valets, and stewards).

Secondly, Thatcher's livery - the book seemed to suggest it included little more than a jacket, and wasn't that important. Not so, according to my research. Livery was essential - not just for servants, but for their employers. Footmen were hired for their height and handsomeness, and their purpose in public was to advertise their employers' wealth. Livery for a servant in 1814 would have involved (at least) plush breeches, stockings (to show off their sexy calves), buckled pumps (that's right, they wore heels), fancy striped waistcoats, sharp jackets with shiny buttons, and either wigs or powdered hair. A poorly-dressed servant reflected poorly on the employer, and for someone as concerned with appearances as Felicity, I thought it unrealistic that she didn't take that amount of care into Thatcher's clothes - especially since she hired him for the sole reason of maintaining appearances!

Am I the only one who thought it might have been funny if Thatcher had been forced to powder his hair?

Lastly, while I now know this book is the third in a series (The Bachelor Chronicles), the references to previous books were very confusing. I've always been of the opinion that romance novels, even the ones in a series, should be able to stand alone because essentially they are the story about the hero and heroine falling in love. Maybe there are people that disagree, but for me, there were giant gaps in my understanding of the Langley girls' background, parentage (wait, their dad's dead? Wait - he's not dead??), and situation (why are they poor if they have an inheritance?) that prevented me from fully comprehending the story.

Overall, there was little to like about Love Letters From a Duke. However, I did like the concept - I liked the idea of a woman who took charge, and I liked how the Duke pursued her as a footman to win her on his own merits - and while this concept was imperfectly executed, to a certain extent it was mildly entertaining.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

"Slightly Scandalous," by Mary Balogh

Alternate Title: A Very Long Engagement

The Chick:
Lady Freyja Bedwyn. The only man she ever loved broke her heart by marrying another. Now that their first child is about to arrive, Freyja flees to Bath to escape having to participate in the unbearably cheerful celebrations. Now she's bored out of her mind. When irrepressible scoundrel Joshua Moore asks her to fake a betrothal, she sees an excellent opportunity to take her mind off her troubles.
The Rub: She intends for it to be a brief, amusing affair - after all, Josh is fun, but far too infuriating and presumptuous. However, unforeseen events pop up all over the place that necessitate prolonging the charade, and Freyja fears she can't keep her heart guarded forever...
Dream Casting: Scarlett Johansson.

The Dude: Joshua Moore, Marquess of Hallmere. Formerly a poor relation in the house of Hallmere, he was treated cruelly by his vicious aunt and weak uncle until he was unexpectedly elevated to the title of Marquess. Now his aunt is determined to retain power by marrying him off to her daughter Constance. To evade her manipulations, he concocts a sham betrothal with the hot-headed Freyja Bedwyn.
The Rub: His aunt, used to having her own way, refuses to be driven off. If he won't give her daughter a title, she will use any means, fair or foul, to see him stripped of his own - even if it means dredging up old suspicions about the mysterious death of her son.
Dream Casting: Twilight's Cam Gigandet.

The Plot:

Freyja: Oh, Bath is going to be so boring.

Joshua: *runs into Freyja's room at the inn* HIDE ME!

Freyja: *punches Joshua in the face* Go to Hell!

Later, in Bath:

Joshua: Did you miss me, sweetheart?

Freyja: Go to HELL. The SEQUEL.

Joshua: Wanna fake a betrothal?

Freyja: Hell, why not? I'm bored.

Joshua: It'll just be a few days....

Joshua's Grandmother: Let's throw a party!

Joshua: I mean, a week...

Freyja's Duke Brother: We're making this official.

Joshua: Maybe several weeks....

Joshua's Evil Aunt: Hee hee hee, I'm going to secretly accuse you of murder!

Freyja: Oh Hell.

Joshua: Why don't we just get married for real?

Freyja: What the hell? Sure!

Joshua: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Former Poor Relation

1 Evil Aunt

1 Double-Evil Crazy Perverse Incestuous Rapist Pedophile Cousin (deceased, thank GOD)

Several Uses of the Hero as Human Punching Bag

1 False Accusation of Sexual Assault

2 True Accusations of Sexual Assault

1 Mysterious Death

2 Happenin' Betrothal Parties

1 Mentally Challenged but Definitely Not Evil Cousin

The Word: More than anything, reading this entry in Mary Balogh's consistently enjoyable Slightly series makes me want to read A Summer to Remember, a stand-alone book that apparently featured the Bedwyns before their own series came to be. Why? Because this book makes a lot of references to the events of that novel (although in a very well-written, unconfusing way that can still be easily understood even if you haven't read Summer), and they seem to have had an incredible effect on our protagonist, Freyja Bedwyn.

From what I can gather, Freyja was once in love with Kit (the hero of Summer), and kinda lost her shit when he ended up marrying Lauren (the heroine of Summer). At the beginning of Slightly Scandalous it is very clear that she still hasn't gotten over being spurned and has nothing but nasty backhanded things to say about Lauren, but is nonetheless still embarrassed at her own loss of control.

However, Kit and Lauren seem to have gotten along just fine, as Lauren is soon to give birth to their first child. As Kit and the Bedwyns are long-time neighbours, Freyja knows if she sticks around until the baby's born she'll be roped into the celebrations and she's absolutely certain she'll lose her shit all over again if she has to smile and simper and pretend to be ecstatic over Kit's boring-as-hell bride and her brand-new crying poop factory.

So she accepts a distant friend's invitation and hightails it over to Bath. While she's staying in an inn on the way to the spa town, a strange man bursts into her room and hides in her wardrobe to escape from a con artist who's attempted to trick him into marriage with his granddaughter. Freyja is a duke's daughter, she will have none of this, and when the stranger tries to charm and seduce her into complying she introduces his face to her fist and screams like a banshee until he jumps out the window.

She encounters him again in Bath, is somewhat less than pleased, but after a few misunderstandings and making a very public ass of herself, she admits that the stranger, Joshua Moore, Marquess of Hallmere, is a worthy opponent. She finds his manner infuriating and despises that he refuses to be bested (and frequently gets the best of her), but at least he's entertaining, which is more than she can say for the rest of Bath.

Joshua, however, is only in Bath to briefly visit his grandmother before he returns to his rogueish travels. While he is now the Marquess of Hallmere, as a child he was the abused orphan nephew of the previous Marquess, and has no desire to return to the ancestral estate or take up the reins beyond hiring a competent steward and answering a few letters. However, his past catches up with him when his aunt arrives in Bath with her eldest daughter in tow. Used to ruling her domain with an iron fist, the Marchionesse is determined to maintain her power by marrying Joshua to her daughter Constance. While Joshua is fond of Constance, he refuses his aunt point-blank.

His aunt is not one to be cowed, however, and he knows she'll just find some other way to enforce the desired marriage. Impulsively, he asks Freyja to join him in a sham betrothal. Freyja believes such a lark is just the thing to pluck her out of her doldrums, and accepts. They both take great delight in thwarting the manipulative, evil Marchionesse, but plan to break the betrothal as soon as the Marchionesse skips town.

Fate, however, has other plans - particularly when Joshua's grandmother and Freyja's brother Wulfric (the Duke of Asshat) find out about their betrothal and start making official plans, plans that require Joshua and Freyja to maintain the sham for just a little bit longer, a few days, a few weeks, in order to spare people's feelings and Freyja's reputation. And the longer they stay together, the harder it is for them to remember why their arrangement has to be temporary in the first place.

Now, while I enjoyed this romance as I inevitably end up enjoying all of Mary Balogh's novels, this one developed far more slowly than most and the first half of the novel was rather frustrating - the protagonists continue to bicker and banter but never really encounter or fight with any romantic feelings. While it's normal for many romance protagonists to refrain from admitting their feelings until later in the book, I'm used to protagonists at least experiencing some of the warm and fuzzies (even if they don't identify them as such) before the halfway mark. For a large chunk of the novel, Joshua and Freyja's relationship remained very shallow and flippant. While they eventually do thaw (and in very satisfying ways), this happens fairly late in the plot (as compared to other romance novels).

However, I never found this book boring or wholly unentertaining, and I attribute the bulk of this to Freyja. Her first scene with Joshua at the inn quickly bumped her up to the top of my list of favourite romance heroines - Joshua uses a mixture of seductive charm and rational thought to try and convince Freyja to keep quiet, but Freyja is the sister of a Duke! She doesn't have to be rational! And instead of simply fuming in silence like a lesser romance heroine, she shrieks like a demon and punches him in the face.

Now, on the occasions when I've compared my reviews of Mary Balogh's books with hilarious reviewer Mrs Giggles, I've often found her to lump most of Balogh's heroines into the Dreadful Martyr category. I don't think she would have any cause to label Freyja as a martyr in any way, shape, or form.

Why? Because Freyja is that rarest of romance heroines - she is a self-acknowledged, mostly unrepentant bitch. She is a blue-blooded aristocrat who expects the best of everything, and will fucking cut you if you ever insinuate she deserves less. Yes, she lost Kit to Lauren in A Summer To Remember, but she still believes (at least at the beginning of the novel), that Lauren is a prissy, dull-as-dirt and wholly uninteresting china doll who snuck under her defences and won Kit because she got lucky. When we do get to meet Lauren, she's all warmth and smiles and teddy bears but Freyja? So not falling for that sappy good-girl act. Take a long walk off a short pier, and take your perfectly-perfect womb-parasite with you, bitch!

Mostly, my adoration of Freyja comes from the fact that she's open and honest about what she feels, she doesn't cut herself down to size, and (with a few exceptions) she prefers to handle her problems by head-butting them straight on. She's not a doormat who feels sad about the bad things that happen to her because sad things will inevitably happen to her - she's a self-confident, remarkably self-aware woman who believes (rightly, for the most part), that's she awesome, and so she gets angry when sad things happen to her because awesome people deserve better, dammit! Damn right, I'm envious of Lauren's happy marriage, because I deserve a happy marriage! Damn right, I'm pissed Josh's aunt makes fun of my ugliness, because I deserve to be treated with respect! Damn right, I'm going to punch Josh in the face if he dares to pity me, because I don't deserve to be pitied! Seriously, I'm the daughter of a fucking duke, what part of that do you have trouble understanding???!!!

Joshua was a little harder to relate to. He (refreshingly) avoids the alpha-male route in dealing with the headstrong Freyja, and instead he reacts by making jokes, being flippant, and reacting to nearly everything with amusement and good humour. While there definitely is a darker, sadder aspect underneath his rakish grins, his instinctive oh-how-droll reactions to events occasionally become repetitive.

However, he is an excellent opponent for Freyja. While Freyja is open and forceful, Joshua's an artful dodger, a master of deflection and avoidance. Not just verbally. His wanderings and travels and reluctance to settle down are simply his ways of coping with his own problems and failures. He fiddles around with the idea of returning to Penhallow (the Hallmere ancestral seat) and taking up his full duties as Marquess because he's not ready to face the memories of the ill-treatment he endured, the obligations he shouldered, and the relatives he failed while he lived there. Freyja believes a problem punched hard enough in the nose will eventually go away - Joshua thinks dancing around a obstacle long enough will make it disappear.

I enjoyed watching these two slowly take lessons from each other, both of them benefiting from the process. And, yes, while I thought their relationship was slow to start, once it did really start it set a good pace. Freyja is such an extreme, headstrong, kneejerk character, but Balogh's masterful writing manages to make Freyja's acceptance of love a capitulation of sorts, without being a total surrender of her character.

As in the previous books, many of the Bedwyns show up again, and while they spent a little too much time explaining the married ones' backstories, their presence wasn't a total intrusion (like they were at the end of Slightly Wicked). There were a few pernickity things that bothered me - mainly Joshua's mentally-disabled cousin Prudence. While she demonstrates the mental capacity and attitude of a child, by the end of the novel she enters into a romantic relationship with a young man who is mentally an adult, and I wasn't sure what to feel about that. However, the secret about her past was subtly done - I truly didn't see it coming but reading back, the hints were all there.

All in all, though, I can't help but sigh over yet another lovely Mary Balogh novel. While they're not all equal (The Secret Pearl and "Spellbound" remains my favourites), I have yet to encounter a novel of hers that I didn't enjoy. She just creates such a vivid and wonderful Regency atmosphere, and characters you can believe in. With Slightly Married and Slightly Wicked we got nice-girl heroines, but in Scandalous we actually get to see into the mind of a less-than-nice girl, only to discover she's still an awesome person overall. And one as deserving of a happy ending.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A Response to Anonymous, Re: Stealing

Dear Anonymous,

Very recently on my blog, you left a string of strongly-worded comments on my entry It's Not Cheating! Also: I hate Pirates, a post that talked about the disturbing rise of books being downloaded illegally online. And I can only say, wow. SO MUCH WRONGNESS. But, really, though, this is wrongness that should be discussed, explained, and corrected, because damn, it's ignorant.

First Comment:
AnimeJune You really rock girl!

"WOW this makes me angry! Up to HUNDREDS of books given away without a single royalty? WHAT THE HELL?"

Well said!! Just like the ?????? that are swapped and reswapped in book clubs, sold and resold in garage sales, sold and resold in second-hand book stores, BORROWED & BORROWED & BORROWED & BORROWED FROM A PUBLIC LIBRARY, lent to friends, family members and coworkers.

YES my dears - Given away without a SINGLE ROYALTY? WHAT THE HELL?

So what's really your point? I guess you guys are simply just comfortable with legalized 'stealing' then? As long as the law says its OK to enjoy creative content without having to pay for it, then 'I'm an honest person if I used those means appears to be your and yes Pamela Clare's mentality' - swaps, library, second-hand book, and God don't try to stop me from sharing a book with my friend. Right!!

The next time any of you return anything to the store that wasn't damaged or spoiled - eg the dress that you wore only that one time; the shoe that just doesn't go right with that suit but you only figured that out after you had wore it; the meal that you didn't like; the book that you read the first few pages of or just skimmed through and decided it was not for you and I can go on - I guess you weren't stealing eh - you just used it for a time for free. Right. HELLO!

Yeah put a block on the blog!

Have a great day y'all.
Wow, I don't think I can respond to this whole passage all at once, so let me take it paragraph by paragraph, line by line:

AnimeJune You really rock girl! Why thank you.

"WOW this makes me angry! Up to HUNDREDS of books given away without a single royalty? WHAT THE HELL?" Quotation marks? Who are you quoting? I've been through my post and the comments of others and this sentence never comes up. Hmmmm.

Well said!! Just like the ?????? that are swapped and reswapped in book clubs, sold and resold in garage sales, sold and resold in second-hand book stores, BORROWED & BORROWED & BORROWED & BORROWED FROM A PUBLIC LIBRARY, lent to friends, family members and coworkers.

YES my dears - Given away without a SINGLE ROYALTY? WHAT THE HELL?

So what's really your point? I guess you guys are simply just comfortable with legalized 'stealing' then? As long as the law says its OK to enjoy creative content without having to pay for it, then 'I'm an honest person if I used those means appears to be your and yes Pamela Clare's mentality' - swaps, library, second-hand book, and God don't try to stop me from sharing a book with my friend. Right!!

Sweetie, let me inform you on royalties - authors are paid by the COPIES of books that are sold, not the number of times they are read. Why? Because there is NO way outside of a copy of 1984 to effectively track how many times a book is read. So there's that.

Secondly, when you buy a book, an author gets a royalty and you get a piece of property that is yours to do with as you wish. You can set it on fire. You can eat it. You can do whatever you want to it. You can sell it. You can even lend it out - why? Because whatever you do with it, there is still only one copy that has been legally paid for. The author already received their cut out of the purchase of that property.

However, what the law says you cannot do is make copies of what you have bought. No one has a problem with you lending out a book - but there is a problem if you make a bunch of photocopies of that book and give them away - why? Because now you aren't dealing with one copy of a book that has been legally paid for. You have created copies and are distributing material that hasn't been paid for.

When you put a book up on the internet for download, every time someone downloads it they are automatically making an illegal copy. This isn't the equivalent of something like Paperbackswap.com or a used book store (that sells copies that were at one time legally purchased). Downloading is stealing, because now there are copies of a book in existence that have not been paid for.

And it is certainly not the equivalent of borrowing books from a library. I've sent an e-mail to Wendy the Super Librarian to help me out on this because I feel I want to have the most informed argument possible when I tell you that BORROWING BOOKS FROM A LIBRARY IS NOT STEALING, IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM. It's certainly not legalized stealing.

And why? Let me explain it again to you - libraries LEGALLY PURCHASE all their materials. Authors support libraries hardcore (why else would the Romance Writers of America have an entire day planned at their National Conference for the support and celebration of librarians?). Authors get excellent royalties from libraries because libraries LEGALLY PURCHASE copies of their books, often several copies, and in the more expensive hardcover format if at all possible (because they last longer). By legally purchasing those copies, these books become the library's property and it is entirely their right to lend them out to whomever they wish at their own discretion. And the author gets paid for every title they acquire.

The next time any of you return anything to the store that wasn't damaged or spoiled - eg the dress that you wore only that one time; the shoe that just doesn't go right with that suit but you only figured that out after you had wore it; the meal that you didn't like; the book that you read the first few pages of or just skimmed through and decided it was not for you and I can go on - I guess you weren't stealing eh - you just used it for a time for free. Right. HELLO!

Lending books from a library and buying books from a used book store or lending books is not the same thing as stealing. There are slightly blurred lines in some situations with dresses and shoes, I agree - you've pointed them out. But that doesn't apply to libraries and used book stores and people who lend books: because all of these have acquired their books legally through ways that give the authors money. Learn the difference - books are creative property, that is true, but when they are bought they also become personal property and people also have rights over their own personal property. HELLO!

Please, if you're so informed of the ways of the world, explain HOW people are supposed to know how many times a book has been read and identify the people who have read these books to make sure they pay up in the way you think they should? Please, do explain, I'm sure we're all listening intently.

Anonymous continues:
AnimeJune you really rock girl!


Ahem - just let's ask the authors. Do you collect royalties every time someone borrows your book from that FREE place called the public library?

Does anyone at all ever collect royalties whenever a media item is borrowed from the library - music CD, DVD etc?

Educate yourselves and admit that all you library users are taking bread out of your favorite authors mouth. And how generous of them to allow you to do it as long as you agree with them that those other people who use those internet libraries are dishonest SOBs.

Does anyone have a brain to even acknowledge the contradiction here?
Okay, so Anonymous here is repeating himself or herself (I assume it's the same person because they have very distinct style of writing), but there is one passage I need to deal with personally:

Educate yourselves and admit that all you library users are taking bread out of your favorite authors mouth. And how generous of them to allow you to do it as long as you agree with them that those other people who use those internet libraries are dishonest SOBs.

Really, Anonymous, EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT THE RIGHTS OF PERSONAL PROPERTY. I've already explained that authors receive royalties from every copy that the libraries purchase of their book (and that afterward the book becomes the personal property of the library).

Libraries don't just lend out books - they also promote books and reading, and preserve books. People who find an author as a "lucky dip" at a library goes on to buy the author's books for themselves - that's promotion. That's been the case for me with Laura Lee Guhrke, Sophia Nash, and Jo Goodman. I borrowed their books at the library, enjoyed the hell out of them, and went and bought their books. Also, libraries preserve books. They're the reason there are still copies of Bibles from the 1600s and first editions of Pride & Prejudice that exist in good condition for people to look at and read.

And internet libraries? What do you mean, internet libraries? Downloading books from the internet is not the same as a library - one commenter did theorize that people living in places where bookstores and libraries are hard and expensive to come by use downloading sites for that reason - to make "lucky dips" without paying the exorbitant price of importing a physical copy of a book they might end up hating.

But there is a significant difference - every copy a library lends out has been bought and paid for. The very act of downloading a book from the internet CREATES a copy that is ILLEGAL because it HASN'T been paid for. Even if the originator of the book file bought her book legally - she's not distributing one copy that she's paid for - she's making a THOUSAND copies of a book when she's only paid for ONE. See the difference?

Consider yourself educated.

Anonymous' next comment was pretty much a repetition of their previous comments, so let's look at the delightful message after that:

I'm quoting you again AnimeJune

'Writers do not make a lot of money, and whether or not they get published again depends on their numbers of legitimate, tallied sales. Publishers don't care if 300 copies of an author's book have been downloaded online if only 50 copies have been bought in real life - because the publishers don't get money from those 300 books and they only publish writers who are financial viable.

That means the authors you love to read might not be picked up again by publishers because they're not making enough sales - and that means no more great novels from those authors.'

Shouldn't the authors be leveraging to have greater control with the publishing houses then? As you say the publishers don't care.

Turns out that the author actually only gets about 1/5th of the sale price of the book - all the rest goes to the publisher, advertising, media etc. And darling these starving authors are quite content with that!

So for argument sake. Let's say a book sells for $5.00. 1/5 means the author gets $1in their pocket whereas the consumer puts out 5 times that much!!!!!

Authors need to start viewing their readers as their bread and butter and not their copyrighted content as such.

If I am to empathize with the plight of the poor authors, then maybe I would be less inclined to download a book from the internet if I could really believe that a much greater percentage of what goes out of my pocket goes directly to them.

I seriously object to paying 4/5th the price of a book to people (publishers and associated support industry) who themselves don't respect the creative process or the amount of work you and these authors say they put into writing a book. As you and the authors say - the publishers only care about the amount of $$ they collected, very little consideration is given to the merit of the work.

When authors start to really respect their creative content and demand better conditions, start marketing their books themselves etc., then maybe I'd be inclined to do the bleeding heart deal for them.
Um, wow. I'm going to have to break this down again:
Shouldn't the authors be leveraging to have greater control with the publishing houses then? As you say the publishers don't care.

Turns out that the author actually only gets about 1/5th of the sale price of the book - all the rest goes to the publisher, advertising, media etc. And darling these starving authors are quite content with that!
And HOW would they do that exactly? Publishing is a business. What the publisher puts out has to make money, or else they won't be able to afford to publish more books. Seems simple enough to me. Also, in your mind - it's okay to steal from authors if they "are quite content" with not getting a larger cut of their book? How does that work?

I seriously object to paying 4/5th the price of a book to people (publishers and associated support industry) who themselves don't respect the creative process or the amount of work you and these authors say they put into writing a book. As you and the authors say - the publishers only care about the amount of $$ they collected, very little consideration is given to the merit of the work.
Boo hoo, little child.

You OBJECT to paying for people who aren't the author? Well, I OBJECT to thieves - because when you're reading a finished, published novel - you're not only benefiting off of the author's work, but off the work of many, many other people within the publishing industry!

When you buy a book, you're not buying the author's story handwritten and unabridged on looseleaf - you're buying a BOOK, which means you're also buying the paper, binding, and ink that the publishers have paid for. You're paying the printers who put the physical words on the paper. You're paying the marketers and advertisers who brought this book to your attention in the first place. You're paying the artists and designers who created the beautiful cover. You're paying the editors who made the sure the writing flowed smoothly and helped the pacing and got rid of typos and errors and made sure the presentation of the margins and spacing make the text easy and pleasant to read. You're even paying the artist who owns the copyright on the typeface! They have ALL put in work and effort into that book you're holding, and they deserve to be paid for the goods and services they have provided.

Think of when you pay to see a movie - your money isn't just going to the screenwriter whose story you didn't like or the actors who were terrible or the director who's a hack. You're also paying the salaries of the lighting designers and the costume designers and the grips and electricians and crew members who all contributed to the final product.

And when you download a scanned book for free, you're not just cheating the author - you're cheating all the people who helped make the final product of the novel itself. I didn't mean that publishers don't respect the creative process at all - but publishing is a business, and if a book makes no money, then they simply can't afford to keep publishing. It sucks, but it's true. While I agree money shouldn't be the all-encompassing, most important thing - they can't ignore its importance if they want to continue to be a viable business.

Finally, I must deal with this little gem:

When authors start to really respect their creative content and demand better conditions, start marketing their books themselves etc., then maybe I'd be inclined to do the bleeding heart deal for them.
And your "bleeding heart deal" - is that supposed to mean you paying money in return for goods and services that you have received, one of the most fundamental economic laws? Cry me a river, dude. Your entire justification, er, I mean argument is based on your ignorance of the publishing industry, the rights of personal property, the purpose of libraries, and the production of books. Let me see if I can boil down your essential argument:

I can steal books because:
  1. You guys are all stealing books just as bad as me, nyaa nyaa nyaa
  2. I'm not really stealing from authors, I'm stealing from poo-poo-head publishers who suck and hate art anyway
  3. Authors already kick themselves in the face, so what's wrong with me kicking them in the face?

I hope I helped answer your questions. Hugs and Kisses,


Monday, June 01, 2009

"Devil's Cub," by Georgette Heyer

Alternate Title: I Like My Rakes the Way I Like My Coffee - Bullet-Riddled

The Chick: Mary Challoner. Her spoiled sister Sophie is infatuated with the rakish Marquis of Vidal, and plans to trap him into marriage, but Mary knows a duke's son would never stoop to marry a common bourgeois. When Mary intercepts a note for a secret rendesvouz meant for her sister, she goes in Sophie's place to prevent her sister from ruin.
The Rub: Unfortunately, Mary fails to plan for Vidal's boiling fury when he discovers her deception - and is abducted to France against her will.
Dream Casting: Sense and Sensibility's Hattie Morahan.

The Dude: Dominic Alistair, Marquis Vidal, a.k.a. the "Devil's Cub." Dominic's reckless and provoking antics have always estranged him from his father, the Duke of Avon, but when he shoots a man in the chest in a gaming hell during a drunkenly-arranged duel, that's the last straw. Dominic's ordered to flee to the Continent to wait out the scandal - but it doesn't mean he can't spirit off some lightskirt to entertain him on the way.
The Rub: He's outraged to find he's absconded with the wrong sister, but, assuming Mary must be as skanky as her sis, he whisks her off to France, certain a few pretty dresses and baubles will shut her up. However, he rethinks his assumptions of Mary's willingness when she shoots him in the arm.
Dream Casting: Brandon Routh.

The Plot:

Duke of Avon: Son, you shot a man in a duel! Go to your Continent RIGHT NOW, young man!

Vidal: Fine - hey, Sophie, wanna come with?

Mary as "Sophie": This terrible yet inexplicably attractive rake thinks he can ruin my sister, well, he can think again!

Mary: *unmasked* Ha ha! Got you! That's your cue to say "I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling..."


Mary: .....eep.

Vidal: It's business time, baby. If you're quiet, there's a diamond necklace in it for you...

Mary: *shoots him*

Vidal: ..... I'll take that as a no. Guess we'd better get married then.

Mary: How about not? *flees*

Vidal (and several other secondary characters): *chases*

Vidal: Why don't you want me?

Mary: Because I'm not good enough for you and your parents hate me.

Duke of Avon: I don't!

Mary: Oh, well then - let's get married.

Vidal: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist:

1 Spoiled Sibling

1 Spoiled Cousin

1 Interclass Romance

1 Accidentally-On-Purpose Abduction

1 Accidentally-On-Purpose Gunshot Wound

1 Actually Accidental Rapier Wound

1 Secondary Romance (Juliana and Mr Comyn)

1 Angry Swordfight

6 Dozen Bottles of Wine

1 High-Speed Carriage Chase

1 Deadly Fever (Unsexy Variety)

The Word: My first experience with Georgette Heyer, False Colours (not to be confused with the homosexual romance by Alex Beecroft of the same name), was a "m'eh," but a pleasant "m'eh." While the language was lovely and the period details spot-on, the story was a bit light for my tastes. Despite the "terrible" predicament the protagonists were in, everyone was just so constantly genial. Still, Heyer's style and reputation were enough to make me give her another try - so I went with Devil's Cub, which from what I'm heard is to Heyer the way Lord of Scoundrels is to Loretta Chase and Bet Me (my first romance novel ever read and reviewed on this site) is to Jennifer Crusie.

The result: So much better than False Colours.

Dominic Alistair, Marquis of Vidal, is known as the Devil's Cub thanks to his outrageous behaviour in public and Society's remembrance of his father's equally infamous exploits. However, Vidal and his father (the Duke of Avon) often find themselves at odds - Avon apparently reformed after marrying Vidal's mother (the events that took place in Heyer's These Old Shades), and he strongly disapproves of his son's scandals, but his own wicked past prevents his son from taking his reproachful lectures too seriously.

Mary Challoner, however, takes Vidal's reputation all too seriously when he starts flirting with her shallow but beautiful ditz of a sister, Sophie. Their ambitious mamma Mrs Challoner sees this as an excellent opportunity to rope a duke's heir into marriage, but Mary knows better. The Challoners, despite their noble surname, are middle-class (Sophie and Mary's father was gentry, but was disowned on account of his ignoble marriage to a commoner). While Vidal might readily partake of Sophie's physical charms, Mary realizes all too well he has no regard for her lower-class reputation and certainly no desire for marriage.

When Vidal's temper gets the best of him and he shoots a man in a gambling hell, his father orders him to leave for the Continent. Before doing so, Vidal seduces Sophie, convinces her to be his mistress in Paris, and arranges to deliver a note with the time and place they should meet. However, the note is mistakenly sent to Mary instead. Determined to save her oblivious, selfish, and spoiled sister from ruin, Mary disguises herself and meets Vidal in Sophie's place, intending to unmask herself after a few miles and convince him the trick was Sophie's idea. Surely, she thinks, this will disgust Vidal enough to leave Sophie alone and Mary will return home a few hours later with no one the wiser.

However, Mary fails to factor two very important problems into her plan: Vidal's destination, and Vidal's fiery temper. Unaware that she's being driven to the English coast to take a boat for France, she's forced to maintain her deception far longer than she anticipated. And when she finally performs her big reveal, she's unprepared for Vidal's furious reaction. Outraged, the Devil's Cub declares that one slutty sister is as good as the next, and forces a horrified Mary onto his yacht.

Vidal, from his experiences with Sophie and Sophie's mother, arrogantly assumes that Mary is just as loose, frivolous and vulgar as they are. He assumes her story is a front for her own ambition to ensnare a duke's heir, and figures once they're in Paris and he can buy her a few dresses and jewels she'll shut up and let him have his way with her. However, he underestimates Mary's practicality and common sense.

While the inciting incident that starts the action may be Mary's abduction, the romance doesn't really get going until Mary, with a stolen pistol, shoots Vidal in the arm when he tries to approach her. Vidal reacts with amazed admiration and slowly dawning horror - admiration that Mary actually had the balls to pull the trigger on him, and horror that her story might be true and that he actually did abduct a virtuous woman against her will, instead of a scheming minx who was playing hard to get.

I'll admit it was difficult to like Vidal in the first couple of chapters (Mary and Vidal don't meet right away - there's quite a bit of preliminary set up). He's spoiled, arrogant, and callous - in the first chapter alone, he murders a highwayman, leaves his corpse on the road, and continues on to his party without feeling any remorse. He has a reputation for being a master marksmen, and has apparently killed many men in duels without any compuction. He's used to getting what he wants, when he wants it, and gets very, very angry when he doesn't.

However, after Mary shoots him, Vidal gets his first heaping spoonful of shame and personal responsibility. When the only people he hung out with were degenerate drunks and gamblers and wastrels like himself, Vidal never really understood the human consequences of his actions - only when he realizes how virtuous, practical, caring, and intelligent a woman Mary is, does he realize that someone inevitably always pays for his crimes, even if he doesn't. He actually unbends enough to propose marriage to Mary, and nothing surprises him more when she politely refuses.

Mary has grown used to being the practical one, and a bit in her sister's shadow. "Cursed" with too much common-sense, she never received as many suitors as the beautiful Sophie. Since her social-climbing mother considers marriage prospects to be above all else, Mary was treated as the lesser sister and was never expected to amount to very much. Mary, therefore, does not expect very much from life, and is used to dealing with less without being a martyr or very angst-ridden. This subtle characterization helps explain her refusal to marry Vidal. She does love Vidal for his passionate nature and disregard for what others think of him, but her own experience with her parents' interclass marriage (and the ostracisization her father underwent after marrying beneath himself) convinces her a marriage would only ruin them both. But that doesn't mean she gives up on a life for herself - if she can become a governess or a milliner and works hard enough, surely she can work her way up to something respectable.

With all of this dark broodiness and self-realization, there's also a lot of light madcap fun and humour, mostly from the secondary characters like Vidal's delightfully kooky mother and his friends and relatives as they react to Vidal's alleged elopement with Mary and chase after the pair to either support them, separate them, or lessen the scandal - all the while trying to keep the strict Duke of Avon from finding out.

And nothing beats Georgette Heyer's characterization. Even the secondary characters are well-described, and their motivations understandable. My favourite character- and romance-establishing scene emerges thus: along with the main romance, Vidal's high-strung and spoiled cousin Juliana leads the secondary romance with her lower-born paramour Frederick Comyn. When the two have a horrendous falling out, the heartbroken Comyn proposes marriage to Mary to get her out of her predicament with Vidal. Mary agrees, and they flee to find a priest.

Vidal finds out, and leaps into a carriage with a repentent Juliana to give chase and prevent the nuptials. The chase is not nearly as important as the misery both pairs of mismatched lovers experience together. Comyn and Mary are both the calmer, more practical members of their respective relationships, just as Vidal and Juliana are the more passionate and high-spirited. Trapped in a rambling carriage together, Comyn and Mary bore each other to tears, while Vidal and Juliana constantly snipe and bitch at each other. In this one hilarious passage, Heyer demonstrates without ever explicitly saying so how much Mary's life is enlivened by Vidal's presence, and how Vidal's temper is soothed by Mary's practicality (the same can be said of Comyn and Juliana).

Many have called Georgette Heyer the Grandmother of the Regency Romance (Jane Austen's the Great-Grandmother, don't worry), and now I finally know why. She takes tropes that are now so common and commonly misused in Regencies (reformed rakes, virtuous less-pretty sisters, stern aristocratic fathers) but backs them up with good storytelling, a well-rounded cast of developed secondary characters, and beautiful settings and details. I believed in Vidal and Mary as independent characters, just as I believed in their romance and why it worked. I was going to give this book an A- because the end got a little exasperating with the amount of interruptions and needless conversation and last-minute chases, but reviewing how much I purely enjoyed this book regardless, I settled on a full: