Sunday, February 24, 2013

Cataloging Oddities

In the Dewey Decimal System (1922 edition, because that's the most recent out of copyright version), 394.8 covers social customs of both dueling and suicide. No idea why.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Romances

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

I'm guessing that Top Ten Favorite Romances means romance novels, but since I rarely read romance, or at least anything that's specifically intended to be romance as opposed to books that happen to have romance as one element, I'm going to list my ten favorite fictional romances (as in romantic relationships) instead. So, in no particular order:

1. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes from the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King: Because King's version of Holmes is true to Conan Doyle's Holmes, yet it's easy to see why he would abandon his dislike of women in order to marry Russell.

2. Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from the Anne series by L. M. Montgomery: Does this really need any explanation?

3. Jo March and Professor Bhaer from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: Because of all the men in Little Women, Jo married the best one.

4. The Swamp Angel and Freckles from Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter: A completely unrealistic and somewhat one-sided romance, but as shown in A Girl of the Limberlost, Freckles did indeed marry his Angel.

5. Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey from the Lord Peter series by Dorothy L. Sayers: Because marching up to a woman who's been accused of murdering her lover and telling her that you're going to get her off and that you want to marry her is always *such* a good idea...

6. Jane and Mark Studdock from That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis: Yes, they're already married before the book starts. But this is the story of a married couple who learns what a marriage relationship should really be like. Lewis, more than any author I've ever read, understands love and relationships.

7. Kitty and Levin from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: Because in the end, they're the only ones with anything remotely resembling a good relationship, and because they both learned to stop being so selfish and to really love one another.

8. Margery Fleming and John Knox from The Window in the White Cat by Mary Roberts Rinehart: This is actually a mystery novel, but romance plays a big part, as Knox struggles with whether he should invent a case against Fleming's fiance while investigating her father's disappearance, just so he can marry Fleming himself.

9. Guinevere Pettigrew and Joe Blomfield from Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson: My opinion of this romance is somewhat colored by the movie of the same name, but Guinevere and Joe are just so perfect for each other. Plus, it's nice to see a romance between people who aren't twenty-somethings.

10. Tuppence and Tommy from the Tommy and Tuppence series by Agatha Christie: This five-book series traces the lives of Tommy and Tuppence from carefree youths to elderly retirees.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Book Review: Pardonable Lies

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear
Henry Holt and Company, 2005 (first edition); 342 pages

Private investigator Maisie Dobbs is hired to determine whether a man declared missing in action, and later dead, during World War I is actually dead.

Essentially, I like the Maisie Dobbs series, and I have no idea why. Maisie is such a Mary Sue (although she's slowly getting better): she's mildly psychic, she has genius skills to rival Sherlock Holmes, she's pretty, she has rich friends who give her everything she could need or want, and she's got more than one eligible young man chasing her. Really.

While reading the book, I called every plot point a mile out. When I read mysteries, I don't try to solve them. If a clue jumps out at me and I happen to guess the culprit or motive, great. But more often than not, the ending comes as a total surprise. But with Pardonable Lies, I knew exactly what happened to the missing man before I was even a quarter of the way through the book. Still, I plan on continuing on with the series, mostly because I like interwar fiction.

Click and drag cursor over text below to see the crucial plot point.

Start here: When the man (I can't even remember his name now) was said to be a "sensitive young man who didn't like playing rugby" I said to myself, "He's gay, he changed his identity, disappeared during the war, and now lives in France with his boyfriend." Why'd I pick France? No clue. But I was right.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Book Review: Thirteenth Child

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede
Scholastic Press, 2009 (first edition); 344 pages

Set in an alternate-history America, this is the story of Eff (short for Francine), a thirteenth child. In this magical culture, birth order is commonly thought to affect one's life, with a seventh son considered lucky, the seventh son of a seventh son extremely lucky, and a thirteenth child cursed. People are so biased against Eff that her family moves West, where no one knows that she has the potential to become a very bad person. (Eff's oldest siblings were married and didn't move, so people couldn't just count children and figure it out.) In the West, Eff grows up and learns about herself and the person she is meant to be.

More than any other part of this book, I want to know more about the alternate history. Why was the Civil War fought in the 1830s? Why did the Lewis and Clark expedition fail? Why are mammoths and saber-toothed cats not extinct? It's not that Wrede does a bad job of explaining her alternate history, it's more as if the characters don't think to explain because to them nothing is different. To them, their history is real and ours is the alternate, so they just talk about things matter-of-factly and in passing, as if we all know what they're talking about. It really adds to the realism, but it's also frustrating.

As for the rest of the plot, I found it a bit dull. Thirteenth Child covers quite a few years of Eff's life at a very rapid pace, not really allowing for a lot of character development beyond what's necessary for the plot. If I hadn't been so interested in the history, I probably would have found the book harder to finish. However, my younger self would have loved it.