Monday, June 30, 2008

"Duchess By Night," by Eloisa James

The Chick: Harriet, Duchess of Berrow, a self-described frumpy, forgettable country widow, bored from always being overlooked and pitied.
The Rub: Married a chess nerd. Who promptly killed himself after losing a game to his best friend, the Duke of Villiers.

The Dude:
Lord Justinian "Jem" Strange, an incredibly wealthy and scandalous peer whose Fonthill estate has been one constant drunken after-party for several years now. Dancing girls! Actresses! Bizarre mad scientists (perhaps a nod to Marvel fans?)!
The Rub: He's a widower and a single dad to an eight-year-old girl, which means that he has to keep his daddy-daughter space very separate from the rest of his house. Also, mild daddy issues.

The Plot:

Isidore, Duchess of Cosway: My husband has abandoned me to explore the Nile! I want to attend a scandalous party that will enrage him enough to come back to me!

Duke Villers: Let's go together! Harriet, why don't you protect your reputation by posing as a boy? I can teach you how to stuff your drawers ... not that I ever have.



Harriet: *manninated!*

Lord Strange (Jem): That Harry is disturbingly pretty - I must make him a man so that I won't be attracted to him anymore! Harry - have some raw beef!

Harry: Yum!

Jem: It's meat for men! There's nothing I like more than man meat - er, scratch that! Let's try horses.

Harry: Ouch - but yay!

Jem: Yes! Horses! Very manly! Nothing more manly than riding a viral stallion - DAMMIT! Let's look at my tower - my big, giant tower.

Harry: Your big, giant, tower that's standing upright at an angle, almost like it's -

Jem: NEVERMIND - let's try fencing.

Harry: Huzzah! Two men getting sweaty interacting with long shafts!

Jem: ............. why does everything I like have to do with phallic symbols?!

Harry: En garde!

Jem: *hack! slash!*

Harry: *shirt falls open*


Romance Convention Checklist1 Horny Widow

1 Single Dad/Widower

1 Precocious Youngster

2 Friendly Ho's

1 Almost Roll-In-The-Hay (sorry, hives)

1 Deadly Fever (unsexy variety)

1 Instance of Trouser-stuffing

1 Instance of Bra-stuffing

1 Obvious Sequel Setup (Isidore's husband returns!)

The Word:
Harriet, Duchess of Berrow is bored and sad, because her husband the Chess Nerd killed himself two years ago and no one has ever seen her since as anything other than a dull joykilling widow. Isidore, Duchess of Cosway is bored and sad because she's been legally married for twelve years to a man who's spent those twelve years on another continent entirely.

Isidore comes up with the brilliant idea to attend the never-ending house party at the estate of Lord Strange - a man whose connections are so unsavory she's certain it will provide the perfect incentive to send her ne'er-do-well husband back to clean up the mess. Isidore is tired of being married to a man she's never met and tired of being a virgin and thinks a skanky party is just the ticket to reclaim/punish her wayward spouse.

Harriet decides to dress as a man for the trip, partly to protect her own reputation, and partly on the advice of Duke Villiers who reveals that Lord Strange is not fond of people who exploit their high rank. The two gals are escorted there by Villiers, a friend of Strange who is too ill to supervise Isidore himself thanks to a still-healing sword wound.

The trio arrive, and "Harry" is introduced as Villier's eccentric mama's boy nephew. Lord Strange ("Jem" to his friends) is immediately concerned for Harry's safety in his den of iniquity, as he takes one look at Harry and pegs him for a vulnerable (albeit disturbingly attractive) innocent. Jem's alright hanging with slutty actresses and cads, but he draws the line at actual sexual exploitation, so he sets about trying to "man up" Harry to teach him how to fend for himself. Harriet finds herself having a great time in pants, and Jem finds himself more and more inexplicably attracted to Harry, and eventually certain things (namely, two ^_^) come out into the open and their romance blossoms for real.
This was the first Eloisa James novel I've ever read and the first chapters were a little overwhelming - both with exacting historical detail and character arcs (some of which obviously started in previous novels that I haven't read), so for new readers the first chapters before Harriet and Isidore depart for Fonthill are a bit dense. Afterwards, though, the narrative sets off at a nice clip.

James has a sharp writing style for description, characterization, and dialogue. Her characterization, in particular, is wonderful. My last romance was And Then He Kissed Her by Laura Lee Guhrke and now with Duchess By Night I'm beginning to think I'm getting spoiled by romances with heroines I am just as interested in as the heroes. Harriet is an engaging character - she's not a raving feminist, but she soon becomes very acquainted with the pleasures of wearing breeches over cumbersome skirts and panniers and towering wigs, and she is able to enjoy that without being one of those tiresomely "feisty" heroines who yell and curse and stomp their feet very prettily until they are kissed hard enough to shut up.

As well, she is a widow who loved her husband. Thank you Eloisa James! The "unsatisfied widow" plot contrivance can be tiresome. Realistic in some cases, yes, but often annoying. James excellently demonstrates how, though Harriet's marriage to the Chess Nerd was not nearly on the same level as her relationship with Jem, it was still a pleasant relationship by all accounts and the Chess Nerd's self-inflicted demise hurt her very deeply.

Jem, also, is not yet another one of those "caddish rakes" for whom sex is an exciting game, who seem to be popping up everywhere in regencies. Reading The Duke & I by Julia Quinn tended to be a little giggle-inducing because nearly every single male character over twenty (with one drunken exception) in that novel was identified as or identified himself as a rake. They can't all be rakes! I don't want to spoil everything about Jem's character, but his development was a treat to watch as a little bit more was revealed about him as the novel progressed.

As well, Eloisa James puts to bed another romantic cliche: the Perfect Single Dad. Jem loves his daughter dearly and is concerned for her welfare, but he's definitely not perfect and Harriet very quickly discerns some very real flaws in Jem's daughter's upbringing. I thought this was a lovely addition to the narrative as well as Jem and Harriet's romance. In other romances, the Single Dad is often an idealized character who already has a successful, Swiss-watch-precise relationship with his child, one that is barely disturbed in the least by the addition of a heroine. Not so here - James demonstrates how while Jem is a capable father, Harriet's presence improves and contributes to his relationship with his daughter and his daughter's upbringing, instead of simply, well, adding more love and a shot of estrogen to an already successful family.

All in all, Duchess By Night is damn near perfect. There are very few flaws but here they are: first of all, I thought the plot device of The Game (a ultra-secret card game that apparently decides the fate of England) seemed a little contrived. I thought its introduction into the plot was a little late and seemed only to add an extra element to Jem and Harriet's disagreement for the sole purpose of making a comparison between Jem and the dearly departed Chess Nerd that wasn't necessary. As well, Harriet's dislike of Jem's late wife seemed uncharacteristic and somewhat unpleasant. It was an irrational jealousy that I didn't think was necessary for Harriet's character and seemed rather odd because a) Jem's wife was eight years dead and thus hardly competition, b) Jem loved and appreciated his wife and their marriage was partly responsible for the man he turned out to be and c) she was the mother of Jem's daughter who Harriet adores. I didn't see the point of Harriet getting angry about something so irrelevant but, thankfully, most of her dislike was mentioned in passing and didn't get in the way of the overall pleasure of the novel. Definitely a must-read. A-.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Still Plugging Away

So, I've still been hammering away at Reading the Willow King. Talk about persistance, eh? I'll probably have to give it another title, though. Came up with a new idea, and just finished this big climax thing that makes my book (in my mind) so much better than it was originally going to be.

It's still hard to make myself sit down and steadily write. Sometimes doing it in a desk helps. Sometimes doing it in my dad's lazyboy helps (although not if I fall asleep, as often happens). I've mainly been doing it after supper - the entire day is dedicated to MY JOB, and I exercise in the afternoons (yes, now that I've said in public on my blog I will HAVE to do it! Yeah, that's the ticket...).

I'm a little worried about what I'm going to do once the TV season starts. Pick one show a day? TiVo the rest for weekends? I'm a TV-holic, true, but hey, that's how I managed to teach myself screenwriting (now if only I could actually write my screenplay, but NO, I must focus on my novel...). And then when will I read? I feel like the characters in The New Policeman, all the time is slipping away and I never have enough of it.

Monday, June 23, 2008


I resubmitted "House Hunting" to Weird Tales magazine, and I hope it arrives this time. Some weird glitch happened last time (perhaps I misspelled Weird? It's entirely possible) and they never received it so I ended up waiting for six months with jack squat.

Ah well.

Meanwhile, I've got "Joyful Noise" to have critiqued, and "A Clean Trade" to polish into a second draft. I'm getting back on the short-story wagon, even though my main focus is still my novel. My thoughts towards Vancouver Film School have paled considerably. It's horribly expensive, it's narrow in its focus, and it's a school that's more well known for animation than writing.

Meanwhile, I've been researching the University of British Columbia's MFA in Creative Writing program. In that program, I'd be able to study screenwriting AND fiction writing AND children's literature (or non fiction, or lyric and libretto, or radio play) - and I'd have a YEAR to work on a thesis which WOULD BE A NOVEL (or a screenplay)! How cool would that be?

I've been making movies in my head, but I've been making novels, too. Plus, from what I've seen of the U of BC's tuition, it's a much longer program and more well-rounded education than VFS. I'm a writer - that can include screenwriting, but I think my mistake was to focus only on screenwriting. I want to write novels too.

Anyway, it seems like a great idea and I have all the creative and academic requirements met already, including those wanted for a lot of their scholarships which could REALLY help. They also have courses about maintaining a career as a writer, how to edit a magazine, how to teach creative writing. All SORTS of things. It's so cool!

I'm getting ahead of myself, I know. My parents pointed this out - at one point I was JUST as excited for VFS.

I'm going to apply anyway - I have to do it by November, and I'll find out if I made it in February (which is before I have to pay my VFS tuition). If I make it (and I like to think I will), then I'll cancel it with VFS.

But first I have to get some more publications out - that'll up my cred.

"And Then He Kissed Her," by Laura Lee Guhrke

The Chick: Emma Dove, a thirty-year-old girl-bachelor who's spent five years as the incredibly efficient, meticulously proper, and woefully under appreciated secretary to wealthy publisher Viscount Marlowe. She makes his publishing company run smoother, buys send-off gifts for his mistresses, and can do just about anything...except get Marlowe to publish her manuscripts on etiquette.
The Rub: Her upbringing (by her cold father, and then later her affectionate, if rigid, aunt) has since been so strict that she has emerged with flawless manners and an encyclopedic memory for the rules of proper conduct ... as well as a life of dull spinsterhood living alone with her cat.

The Dude:
Viscount Harrison "Harry" Marlowe - one of the only members of the Peerage not in debt, because he happens to be the owner of a successful publishing company. He has instincts for what sells and what doesn't, and cannot imagine what his dull, sober secretary could possibly write that could sell.
The Rub: He and his family have been in disgrace ever since he spent five years petitioning Parliament to divorce his adulterous wife who ran off to America with her lover. Since that betrayal, he has no intention of marrying again.

The Plot:

Marlowe: Let's see - Miss Dove, did you send the diamonds to my ex-mistress? The sapphires to my sister? The printing list to my editors?

Emma: Yes. Did you read my manuscript?

Marlowe: Er, not for us, feel free to try other markets! -- *flees*


Marlowe: WHAT?

Emma: And you're selfish, careless, and a liar! Plus, it turns out ladies actually LIKE reading my stuff so now I'm insanely successful!

Marlowe: Good Lord! Who knew backbones could be so sexy? Know what's also sexy?

Emma: What?

Marlowe: Chocolate! And seduction!

Emma: Screw chocolate and seduction! I want sex!

Marlowe: Hurrah! Ah well, might as well get married, too.

Emma: YEAH!

Romance Convention Checklist
One Lonely Spinster

Five Nosy Female Relatives

One Persnickety Aunt who Influences from Beyond the Grave

Two Erotic Uses of Food

One Unexpected Literary Success

One Very Bad Parent (deceased)

One Very Bad Ex-Wife (fled)

One Gift of Naughty Books

The Word:
There are a few plot elements that aren't my favourite but that I've come to see as the norm in some forms of Regency romance. That is, while they occur so often in romance that I don't automatically mark a book as bad if it has these elements, in novels where they don't occur it's a pleasant surprise.

One is the Love At First Sight plot. You know, the Hero is gazing dispassionately across a crowded ballroom and spots the Heroine and is immediately struck by Catastrophic Upheavals of Unheard-of Emotions. They've happened enough in books where if the book is still well-written and entertaining, I'll still enjoy it, even if I tend to think it's a little unrealistic. What can you discern about a person in one glance other than looks? You can't tell if a person is funny or charming or sensitive or generous just by looking a person for two seconds. Which leads into my second not-favourite plot element:

The Pretty Heroine Meets the Pretty Hero plot. There are an awful lot of these, especially in Regency, where the Heroine is just gorgeously, unbelievably beautiful, as is the hero. I know that everyone is beautiful in their own way, but I've read so many stories about the supermodel gorgeous girl falling for the supermodel gorgeous guy to have supermodel gorgeous babies. I don't understand the relevance of good looks. WHY does the heroine have to be beautiful? WHY does the hero have to be handsome? Beautiful and Handsome do not necessarily equal Attractive. I mean, look at Jane Eyre - she's plain, he's boney-faced (and eventually maimed). They can still get it on. It happens so often that it doesn't really bother me - but it does mean that when a book doesn't use these, that it gets a little extra positive attention from me.

Case in point: And Then He Kissed Her. Marlowe has known Emma for years. For years, he's walked past her desk and she's typed his memos with brisk, humourless efficiency. In return, he paid her a man's salary and that was that. She was an employee. He simply never saw her in a sexual way. And she's not exceptional-looking, either. She's skinny, she has tiny boobs (that are hilariously dissed by one of Marlowe's busty ex-mistresses), she's plain and freckled. Besides which, Marlowe has become somewhat notorious (even amongst his family members) for preferring exotic-looking, curvaceous and, let's face it, slutty women as his sexual partners and Emma is so far out of his preferred category that even his family never suspected Marlowe or Emma to be having an affair (as many other members of the ton did, as it was incredibly unusual to have a female secretary).

Of course, a straw eventually breaks the camel's back - in this case, Emma discovers that Marlowe never read more then a paragraph of each of her manuscripts before chucking them in the dustbin. For once in her life, she gives in to her emotions (in this case, rage and disappointment) and quits without notice. When Marlowe's company falls into absolute chaos without Emma's constant assistance he tries to coax her back and she launches into a passionate diatribe about what an asshole he is.

And - aha! That is how love blossoms. I loved it. Emma's true personality was been so smothered by rules of propriety that when she was bound by employer-employee boundaries she was a dull little mouse that Marlowe never had a second glance for. However, once she quits and throws caution to the wind, her real personality is revealed to Marlowe, who wastes precious little time in falling in love with it and becomes determined to bring it to the surface in Emma as often as possible.

And that's when Marlowe starts noticing the beautiful parts of Emma. She's still not an Amazon, but once Marlowe starts paying attention to her, he notices the little parts of Emma that are beautiful - the colour of her hair, her smile, her eyelashes. The little parts of everyone that are beautiful. There's a lyric from Roger & Hammerstein's musical Cinderella that seems particularly relevant to discussions like these, where Cinderella sings, "Do I love you because you're wonderful? Or are you wonderful, because I love you?" That's kind of the thing here - I've come to accept the story where the hero is struck blind by the Heroine's beauty (and vice versa) to discover later that she comes with the bonus of a great personality. But I have to say, I really prefer the story where the heroine becomes beautiful because the hero loves her so much.

Not to mention this story was well-written and paced. This was one of those stories where I loved the heroine as much as the hero. The book is partly about Marlowe, but his change in his life view is relatively minor in comparison and happens relatively quickly at the end of the novel. Most of this book is about Emma's transformation from a repressed rule-follower whose devotion to propriety has gained her absolutely no advantage in life to a woman willing to ask (and fight!) for what she wants.

Laura Lee Guhrke also manages to jam-packing the novel with a wealth of period detail. This is relatively late Victorian period here, not Regency, but everything from the clothes to table arrangements to home decor are lavishly described while at the same time fitting in with the story and not appearing a huge chunks of awkward exposition. This book had a great setting as well as fantastic and emphatic characters. This book is a combination of nothing but good things, so it receives a well-deserved A.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Happiness Is....

Happiness is walking down Whyte Ave with no sunglasses or hat or sunblock, sipping on a Tim Horton's iced cappuccino that somehow achieves what a dozen rattling AC machines can't. My headphones are on and I'm listening to a summer album.

A summer album, in case you don't know, is music that evokes in me memories of high school letting out for summer, sunlight, barbecues, fairgrounds, television shows and movies about students in shorts dancing on beaches. It reminds me of the best parts of high school that I never really experienced and boyfriends and high hopes and lip gloss and iced mugs of rootbeer out on the porch. In this particular case, I'm listening to Katy Perry's One of the Boys.

The sun's beating down, a summer day for summer music, and I take out my hair tie that I use to keep my hair in a ponytail. I tie it up right after I shower because I don't have time in the mornings to blow-dry it, so letting it out at the end of the day my hair is still cool and smooth and smells like shampoo. I listen to my music and imagine that boys on the street and in cars have noticed this gesture and will think nothing of it until hours later when they're out of the sunlight and they wonder why they didn't come up and say something to me. Because it's a summer day and I'm listening to my summer music and my hair is down and I'm sexy, dammit.

I walk down Whyte Ave in the heat, by myself, starting One of the Boys over once I reach the last song. Sweat collects on the inside of my right arm that is bent from keeping my Sleeping Beauty totebag on my shoulder that has a blue "I Write Books" pin attacked to one of the straps. I'm imagining plots to my novels that aren't yet written, movies that aren't yet made, Broadway plays that have yet to be produced. I'm imagining writing awards and Oscars and Tonys and my acceptance speeches with my partner (as yet unnamed and un-visualized) who will doubtless choose such a time to propose to me.

I walk by stores arranged like a child's diorama project, with wide windows showing candy-coloured wares unsold by the likes of Walmart or Old Navy - whispy dresses sewn for Asian frames, sweaters for dogs (in this heat?), musical instruments, ice cream, bars that spill music and people out onto the street even though it's only 4:15 on a Friday afternoon. I pass boys, and I'm brave enough to dare to look a few of them in the face, a half-smile on my lips from the heat and the sunlight and the summer music and mental images of me holding a gold RITA statuette in one hand and a Birk's box in the other.

I step into Lush, partly for the coolness and partly to smell all the soaps and bathbombs made with cherry blossoms, honey, and glitter. It's too hot for baths in this season, so I walk out without buying anything. The air is shattered by honking. Turkey has won a football game. I least I think it is Turkey - a cavalcade of SUVs and trucks march down the street blaring staccato messages of victory while the occupants wave fluttering red flags bearing a white star and crescent moon emblem.

I pass more boys, mothers with babies, even a few beggars - but you can never be too sure. On Whyte Ave, if you toss a few dollars into prostrate person's coffee cup you have a 50 percent chance of helping a homeless person and a 50 percent chance of ruining the decaf no-foam mochaccino of some bohemian student artist who's too busy composing his next masterpiece in his head to shave or bathe.

The air smells like grilled beef, burnt sugar, perfume, and gasoline. Every once in a while I'll pass a big-box store with its polished facade in between the shops and boutiques, a Chapters or a Le Chateau, looking for all the world like the know-it-all teacher's pet hallway monitor pretending she's maintaining order amongst all her rowdy, dirty, classmates who are running wild, heedless of her presence.

Forty minutes in the sun, and I'm still drinking in summer music and hot sun and daydreams, and I arrive at the Wee Book Inn. Amid AC-maintained chill and The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack, I pick out romance novels from authors I've never read (and one I have). They're stories of Empire waists and Dukes and mansions, their covers stylized pictures of jewelry and feather quills, or else incomplete pictures of women in various states of romantic, expensive undress. I pay for them and I leave.

So now I'm back in the sun, and the Turks have come full circle and are honking their joy driving down on the opposite side of the street. I'm listening to summer music and my hair is long and cool and I'm walking down Whyte Ave by myself surrounded by boys and babies and beggars, carrying home five books I can't wait to read. It's a Friday afternoon, I have no homework anymore, and endless days to repent mistakes and make new ones and eventually get something right. I'm thirsty and tired and more than a little afraid of sunburn but I know I'm going home to rootbeer and baked potatoes and more writing.

That, is short, is what happiness is. At least for now.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Writing Updates

I realize that I've been writing more romance reviews than actual updates lately.

Well, for writing, I've been plugging away at Reading the Willow King like a good little novelist, even though I've got the ideas for a staggering 5 (!) fantasy-romance novels clogging up the creative pipe behind it. I've been trying to write steadily, but on my best days I'm never more than 2100 words, which is frustrating. A novel is at least 80 000 words! I'm more than halfway there (current count: 60 000 words), but then there's the second draft to be written, and the third draft, and then the workshopping, and then agent-shopping, etc. etc.

So let's just simplify this into one thing: writing books is hard.

On the short-stories side, I found out that Weird Tales never received "House Hunting," so I've been sitting on that thing for 6 months for nothing. :( But I think I'll resubmit anyways.

Also, as a break from my characters' near-constant bickering, I wrote a short story on the fly (on the fly in Animejune speak means: 4 days) about an idea about a washing-machine fantasy I've had in my head for a while. I churned it out, but the basics are there and I can put the pretty language in on the second draft.

Also, my Choir story based on my last tour with my Choir ("Joyful Noise") earned raves mum. But that's a start - she's a very literary intelligent and person and not afraid to drop criticism on me (she's called my fantasy at times, "derivative" and "childish") because she knows that then her raves are much more important. So I think I'll polish that one off and try submitting it too, and see how it goes.

I'm enjoying the new job at the Library as a Materials Processing Assistant. I've been at it for a month full-time without wanting to kill myself or having been called into the Management's office to discuss my "attitude," which means this job is already a million times better than any other job I've ever had. So I guess that means it ranks #2, right below Full-Time Novelist.

Right? Once I learn how to write more than 2000 words a day? Once I learn how to make myself write for eight hours a day like Nora Roberts? That'll happen, right? RIGHT?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"The Duke & I," by Julia Quinn

The Chick: Daphne Bridgerton, one of eight (!) liberal, wealthy siblings, all currently unmarried, although their formidable mother Violet is trying desperately to rectify that situation.
The Rub (yes, I'm changing "shady past" to "The Rub." It makes more sense - not all characters have hidden secrets but ALL have some major problem or other that needs to be resolved.): All the boys of the ton think she's funny and kind and caring, but see her as too much of a friend to consider a romantic attachment.

The Dude:
Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, a "rake" (the term is bandied about very loosely in this book) who is determined never to marry or have children, and avoid society as much as he can. However, as he's handsome and a Duke, every mother within a 50 mile radius is determined to marry him off to their daughters.
The Rub: Spent his childhood overcoming a vicious stutter, and lives in the shadow of his deceased, abusively neglectful father.

The Plot:

Daphne: I want to marry and have children, but men won't notice me!

Simon: I've vowed never to marry or have children, but women won't leave me alone!

Daphne: Let's pretend we're attached, then! Peer pressure solves all problems!

Simon: Alright, as long as I don't have to get married.

Daphne: *flashes boobs*

Simon: Hot damn! I mean, DAMMIT.

Simon and Daphne: *hasty wedding*

Simon: Alright, as long as I don't have to have children.

Daphne: *date-rapes!*

Simon: Yee-haw! I mean, DOUBLE DAMMIT! I hate my daddy! I hate my st-st-stutter! I hate myself!

Daphne: Well, I love you.

Simon: Problem solved!

Romantic Convention Checklist
1 Very Bad Parent

1 Inconvenient Speech Impediment

1 Drunken Love Interest (rejected)

3 Uses of Hero as Human Punching Bag

1 Drunken Love Interest (accepted!)

1 Inefficient Regency-Era "Sex Talk"

1 Very Nasty Surprise Due to Inefficiency of Aforementioned "Sex Talk"

3 Manly Protectors

2 Kindly Matron Servants

The Word:
This is the first entry in Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series, beginning with the fourth child, Daphne. Daphne is exasperated with the boys of the ton who have nothing but the greatest respect for her but no romantic inclinations. She rightly perceives that if Simon, a manly, respected Duke, pretends an interest in her, than other men will follow suit.

Simon, new Duke of Hastings, agrees to the ruse because ambitious mothers are chucking their daughters at him like so many rotten tomatoes and he's promised himself (thanks to some seriously dark daddy issues) that he'll never marry or have children. Of course, since Simon and Daphne have to be in close proximity with each other for the ruse to convince people (and Daphne's mother who, while ridiculously eager for her daughter to wed, is no fool) an actual romance quickly develops.

What happens beyond is the interesting part. The Duke & I is an intriguing character study, and not only of Daphne and Simon. Daphne thinks she's unintentionally deflected suitors by being too nice, but Simon sees how her three older brothers have also scared away prospective matches with their overprotectiveness. He also asks about halfway through the story that if the men of the ton had to be peer-pressured into noticing her, why she thinks they're so worthy of marriage in the first place. As well, it's an unflattering portrait of the Season of the ton, where mothers who are perfectly friendly people in real life are forced to become shrill-voiced saleswomen in order to give their daughters a future. In this period of history, if a woman didn't marry well, she had nothing.

In Simon's corner, he has to deal with some depressing issues about himself, and the utter loathing he has for the very idea of peerage thanks to his abominable father, who reveled in his authority as Duke. Simon hates everything to do with his father, including his position, and his hackles are raised at nearly every social function as some old Earl or friend of his father's always manages to corner him and offer condolences or congratulations for his dead father and position (respectively), which Simon has no intention of mourning or enjoying. Quinn very ably shows that, however justified his hatred of his father is, it has poisoned and corrupted his ability to act in his own interests. If his father liked something, Simon must hate it, and if his father hated it, Simon must like it. As the book progresses, Daphne has to help Simon realize how this mindset has actually prevented him from making his own choices.

In many ways (particularly in the narrative structure), I found The Duke & I to be similar to Lisa Kleypas' Secrets of a Summer Night. I always have spoilers in my reviews but this can get rather specific so read at your own discretion. In both books, the hero (both named Simon!) and the heroine get married about three-quarters through the novel, and, coincidentally enough, because the heroine is compromised in public. The placement of the marriage in the narrative is odd - in most novels the marriage (if a marriage is not part of the plot, like a marriage of convenience story) comes at the end because it serves as the resolution to the ultimate problem of whether the Hero and the Heroine can Make It.

But in both novels, the marriage actually exacerbates a problem. In Summer Night's case, Annabelle has to come to terms with how her marriage to a tradesman has alienated her from both the noble and the middle classes, and has to (at least partially) resolve the problem by proving that her marriage to Simon was the decision of a woman in love with a man, not the choice of an impoverished, pampered aristocrat who married an industrialist to keep herself in silk stockings.

With Duke, Simon's personal life decisions based on his abusive father's treatment of him are brought painfully to the surface by his marriage. Being man and wife puts Simon and Daphne in a more intimate position where Simon can no longer just say, "No children, and that's that," tip his hat, and gallop away. He can no longer withhold himself from Daphne, and the sudden exposure of his personal problems creates a breach that must be mended by the end of the novel. How this happens I won't be so crass as to give away. You'll have to read it yourself. But rest assured, it'll be a pleasant experience. B+.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

That's It, I'm Done

As of Today, I now have my Bachelor of Arts, with a Major in English and a minor in Comparative Literature. I don't know what to feel about that, really. I had four really great years and made friends and joined a bunch of clubs, and now I get the pay-off with a day of family, liberal amounts of positive attention directed at me, and presents.

So why aren't I exactly smiling? First of all, the ceremony was a horrendous experience, one so bad that it's only benefit will be to inevitably provide pathos to my writing.

What happened? The two most hated words in the English language for me: clerical error. After four years, I'd accrued a decent 3.8 GPA, which meant that not only was I Dean's List for the Arts Faculty this year, but that I would graduate with distinction. Not ONLY that, but I was due to receive a Convocation Award - the Alison White Prize for Children's Literature.

GUESS whose parchment didn't say "with Distinction" on it. GUESS whose name card at the Convocation ceremony (which is given to the announcer to introduce me) didn't have "with distinction" OR any mention of my prize on it. GUESS who didn't (and NEVER WILL) have the chance to have her BA accomplishments read out loud in front of everybody the way all the other overachievers got to!

Those were pretty much the worst two hours of my life, spent stewing in a boiling rage and disappointment. The thing is, I knew it was an error, I knew I still won the Alison White Prize and I still had a 3.8 GPA, and all my parents and friends knew too, but I wanted it read. I wanted to be introduced as "AnimeJune, winner of the Alison White Prize for Children's Literature, with distinction" in front of everybody. Sure, it's pride. Sure, it's vanity. But I worked hard for those grades and I EARNED it, dammit. And those fucking incompetent goons over in the Faculty of Arts let one of their fucking best students COMPLETELY slip through the cracks.

And I know that there's nothing I can do about it now. I know I shouldn't let it spoil my day. But I think I'm entitled to rant on this subject for a little while longer. At least I salvaged some of my due - I told the announcer that my card was supposed to read "with distinction" (I figured I was pressing my luck by adding the Alison White Prize), so out of kindness he read it out that way so my family could here. It still felt like cheating. I mean, I could have been anyone, I could have just said it as a lark (like the guy who told the announcer his middle name was actually "Super Genius" and had it read that way). It's weird, I know. I'm lame. But how often do I get to convocate? I mean seriously. The University forgot everything about me.

So I'm pissed, what can I say?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Half-Review of "The Brass Bed," by Jennifer Stevenson (for full review, check Green!)

The Chick: the ridiculously-named Jewel Heiss, a fraud investigator with extreme sexual proclivities who can't keep a partner because she's literally screwed and dumped every man in the office.
Shady Past: Oh noez! She's an orphan! She lost the family farm! Guess she better fuel all those abandonment issues into an insatiable appetite for weird sex! Also, likes to get it on with swans.

The Dude: Clay Dawes, a con man who's convinced dozens of lonely housewives that his ancient brass bed can cure their sexual dissatisfaction. In return, he allows them to convince him that they keep coming back because he's such a sweet guy, and not because there's actually a magical sex demon secretly possessing his bed.
Shady Past: Wah, wah, his mean ol' con man dad kept dumping girlfriends so Clay never had a mommie. Guess he better fuel all those Oedipal issues into an pathological desire to lie and manipulate people!

The Other Dude: Lord Randy, a Regency cad who sucked in the sack so his ex-girlfriend cursed him to remain in a brass bed until he magically gave one hundred women an orgasm - Jewel Heiss just happens to be the big one-oh-oh. So he has to give her several big "oh"s, if ya know what I mean.
Shady Past: Boo hoo, he's got Stockholm syndrome and doesn't like the fact that he's dependent on a woman for everything from freedom to Thai food. Guess he better fuel all those misogynist thoughts into an uncontrollable need to get nekkid and/or possess various pieces of furniture at comically inopportune times!

The Plot:
Jewel: I like sex! All the time in fact! Can't get enough of it!

Randy: *materializes* Free sex! Come and get it! Every one hundredth customer gets a free sex slave!

Jewel and Randy: *gonzo swan-human sex!*

Jewel: Too much commitment! I hate commitment! I'm such a whore and I hate it! I mean I love it! *flees*

Clay: Let's see if I can manipulate fraud investigator Jewel into having sex with me. Good morning....


Randy: *materializes* Last one in Jewel's a rotten egg!

*unpleasant devil's threeway*

Jewel: Awww...I don't have to pick one of you guys or resolve any of my personal or sexual issues right now, do I?

Randy: Nope - we still have two sequels!

Jewel: Hurray for unresolved character development!

Romantic Convention Checklist:
1 Lady on the Street and a Freak in the Bed
1 Magically Redeemed Rake
1 Magically Redeemed Con Artist
1 Very Bad Parent
1 Case of Hilarious (?) Culture Shock
1 Very Desperate Housewife
1 Case of Bestiality

The Word: Nuh-uh, you'll have to wait until posts the full review!