Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

Title: Snowspelled
Publication: Five Fathoms Press, paperback, 2017
Genre: Regency Fantasy
Plot: What is a magician without magic?   Cassandra Harwood spent her whole life fighting the tradition of Angland that dictates men become magicians and women become politicians.   Unluckily for Cassandra, she obtained her objective to study in the Great Library with the men but her determination to undertake unparalleled magic caused her to come to grief. Her career in ruins, she breaks her engagement and returns home in despair.   When her brother and sister-in-law persuade Cassandra to accompany them to a political house party at Cosgrove Manor in the depths of winter, she dreads seeing her ex-fiancĂ© Wrexham but his present is eclipsed by a disastrous encounter with a diabolical elven lord who accuses the mortals of using magic to interfere with his people, in violation of a treaty.  Cassandra is tricked into promising to find the real culprit in a week, although she no longer has magical powers to aid her investigation.

Audience:  Fans of Regency romance as well as fantasy enthusiasts

My Impressions: Cassandra Harwood,  her twin brother Jonathan who chose history as a profession instead of magic, and her sister-in-law Amy, an aspiring politician, are all appealing characters but it is Cassandra’s former fiancĂ©, Mr. Wrexham, who adds sizzle to this story.   Cassandra gave him up for his own good but, although hurt and not understanding her motives, he refuses to give up on her and it is hard to imagine how she resisted him at all, as he is very swoonable, not to mention dominates every scene in which he appears.   Burgis handles the regency setting with effortless accuracy, and you may know that as a former romance editor and ongoing reader I have high standards.   And I love a good house party!

I had read and enjoy the author’s Kat Incorrigible but didn’t realize she had written an adult series until I saw online that Thornbound had been published and realized I needed to go back and read in order. Snowspelled is a novella so some (like me) may wish it were longer but others will find it a delightful introduction to a new author at 153 pages.  I also think those who enjoy the Regency anthologies that my former colleague Hilary Ross used to assemble at Signet will like this book.
There is a second book in the series!

: Click here to see some of my other winter reading recommendations.

Source: Library

Off the Blog: I was hosting a meeting tonight of my library’s Race and Inclusion Committee, which plans events and discussions related to race, ethnicity, religion, and culture.  A chance remark by my friend Christine about author Jasmine Guillory turned into a plan for us to compile a list of our favorite romances for summer reading recommendations.  Hmmm, what would you include?

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Winds of March by Lenora Mattingly Weber #1965Club

The 1965 Club is a meme in which two prolific bloggers, Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings, promote a specific year of published books. Anyone can join in by reading and reviewing a book published in 1965 and adding a link to that book's review in the comments on Simon's blog.  1944,19681951,1977 have also been promoted. 
Title: The Winds of March: A Katie Rose Story
Publication: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, hardcover, 1965
Genre: YA series
Plot: Katie Rose is the 16-year-old daughter of a large Irish family and is acutely aware of her family’s financial struggle.   She hates that her widowed mother supports the family by singing in a nightclub.   She is mortified by second hand clothes and yearns for slice-and-bake cookies instead of having to adapt recipes to use the leaky (but free) eggs and other products her relatives bring to Denver from their farm. In this second in the series, Katie Rose has a boyfriend her readers appreciate more than she does and continues to yearn for “Pretty Boy” Bruce Seerie.   When Bruce gets suspended from the basketball team for his grades, Katie Rose seizes her chance to offer assistance, like all smart lit-types with a crush.  But no one appreciates a know-it-all and it is her exuberant younger sister Stacy, also a hoopster, who captures Bruce’s attention. 

Jeanie, who is an even better best friend than Tacy Kelly (perhaps because of having more experience), tries to convince Katie Rose that Bruce is pleasant though nothing special but Katie Rose thinks the only way to save face is by getting a big part in the school musical.   Unfortunately, although Katie Rose is talented, the director follows the Abbey Theatre's system of casting that ensure no one gets a star part in every show (so why does waif-like Zoe always gets the lead?) so Katie Rose is humiliated by a dancing part with no lines. 
Even worse, when Katie Rose tries to escape her perceived shame by leaving town, she is sidetracked by Beany Malone’s brother (once a heartthrob in his own right), who needs a babysitter, an evening that turns into a nightmare.   You can never lick your wounds in privacy in a Weber book!
Lenora Mattingly Weber
Audience: Current and former teens; fans of classic Malt Shop fiction

Weather: March is very prominent in this book, which may be one reason I chose to reread it today.  The characters are eager for spring to arrive; Katie Rose shivers in the chilly wind in her coat, and everyone keeps reminding each other that March comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion.   A perfect reread for a blustery day!

My Impressions: Weber’s Beany Malone series (Beany and her friend Miggs also appear in this book) is better known than Katie Rose due to many fans/reprints but the Belford family is nearly as entertaining as the Malones. There are five Katie Rose books and three about her sister Stacy.  Katie Rose is not at her best in this entry, alas.   Of course, it is understandable that after crushing so long on Bruce, however irrationally, she is bitter when he falls for her younger sister.  What is hard to understand is how little she appreciates Miguel, who is smart, funny, thoughtful, and fits into her family.  The description of Katie Rose’s tryout for the high school musical and the way she checks out the call board is to vivid and so painful – anyone who ever tried out for a play will wince in sympathy as Katie Rose fails to find her name listed for a part.  It takes a real crisis to make Katie Rose realize that her insecurity caused her to brag in a way that was a turn off to everyone except loyal Jeanie. 

My mother and I always thought that Weber moved on to a new family/series not only because Beany had been married off but also that the issues that Beany dealt with were already dated by the 60s, and she recognized that YA books were evolving.  Having been widowed herself with a large family, Weber knew the stresses of being a single parent.  The Belfords’ financial situation is more acute than the Malones, who worry about feeding a horse and buying formals (not that there’s anything wrong with such pursuits).   Mrs. Belford can barely afford groceries (although I always thought she shouldn’t have been too proud to take an allowance from her affluent father-in-law) and her daughters have to deal with babysitting gigs that turn into kidnapping or groping by the parent providing the ride home, drugs, adultery, and Vietnam.   Some people think Katie Rose whines too much but I think, like all of Weber’s heroines, she is delightfully human.
Source: Personal copy.  Mine is an ex-library book but Image Cascade has since reprinted all the Malone and Belford books, and I recommend them.   Start with Don’t Call Me Katie Rose or Meet the Malones.

Off the Blog: March Madness!   Harvard beat Georgetown in the first round of the NIT last night and Duke plays tomorrow in the NCAA first round.

* Photo of LMW copyright to Image Cascade

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

World War II Reading

Deal of the Week
33551-v3-120x.JPGAnne Hathaway Touts 'Liberation'
Just in time for the London Book Fair, Little, Brown UK scooped up world rights to Liberation, a thriller by Imogen Kealy (a pseudonym for screenwriter Darby Kealy and author Imogen Robertson), that will be adapted into a film based on Kealy’s script, produced by and starring Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway. Sphere will publish it in the U.K.; Grand Central will publish it in the U.S. Due in spring 2020, the novel, based on real events, follows WWII hero Nancy Wake, who trains with the Special Operations Executive in Britain after her husband is captured by the Gestapo. She then parachutes into France to search for him. Hathaway called Nancy Wake “larger than life in every way,” adding, “In a world that is hungry for more inclusive stories, it’s time for Nancy’s to be told.” The deal was negotiated by Broo Doherty at DHH Literary Agency on behalf of Robertson and Rachel Clements at Abner Stein on behalf of CAA for Darby Kealey. Sphere editorial director Ed Wood reports that Italian rights were sold in a high-five-figure-deal preempt six hours after submission. 


This sounds like my kind of book and (possibly) movie; suitable for those who loved Code Name Verity!    I have read at least one of Imogen Robertson's historical mysteries so I think she can be trusted to do proper research on WWII.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

A Coronet for Cathie by Gwendoline Courtney

Title: A Coronet for Cathie 
Author: Gwendoline Courtney
Publication: Thomas Nelson, hardcover, 1950
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Plot:  Following a long illness, 15-year-old Cathie learns she is the heir to the duchy of Montford.  Worried about Cathie’s health, her aunt had sought out the girl’s estranged grandfather, the Duke of Montford, to seek his help.  At the lavish estate in Exmoor, the ailing Duke lives conveniently long enough to meet Cathie and revise his will; when she wakes up, she is the Duchess.  While Aunt Bet returns to school teaching, Cathie is welcomed by her uncle-in-law/new guardian, crusty but kindhearted Colonel Rushton and his three outgoing children, who bring out the lively side of Cathie’s personality.  As Cathie regains her health, her demure sparkle and sense of fairness endear her to all.   There are adventures with a spiteful governess, interaction with loyal retainers and sycophantic neighbors, a holiday in Devon, and, finally, a day school where Cathie is able to quietly overcome the snobbishness that has become pervasive merely by being herself.   Nearing 17 at the end of the book, Cathie has matured, is healthy enough to ride horseback and win at a coconut shy, and is taking responsibility for her tenants’ wellbeing and vowing to be trained in estate management.

Audience: Fans of classic English fiction, especially those who enjoy a rags to riches theme.

My Impressions:  You know how much I like orphan stories, and this one is delightful, full of well-depicted characters and a winsome heroine.  Cathie’s bemused acceptance of her inheritance is a little like Queen Victoria’s, “I will be good.”   If there weren’t modern accoutrements such as motor cars and telephones, it would be easy to imagine this story taking place in the 19th century instead of (presumably) the 1950s.  This is partly because Cathie’s illness is so over the top, requiring footmen to carry her about and a loyal retainer who shoos everyone away whenever Cathie’s eyes droop.  I do, however, like her gruff guardian who is relieved his son hasn’t inherited the title, wants the best for Cathie, and learns from his mistakes.   It is hard luck on devoted Aunt Bet, who has to leave the niece she has brought up since the age of 5, continuing her career as an educator when her niece has become one of the richest landowners in the country.  A pity the Duke didn’t provide her with a modest bequest!

Cathie makes friends easily and at school seeks out the smartest girl in the class, although Ruth is looked down on by the affluent students because she is poor:
Helena flushed angrily . . . “But you’re new here, and perhaps you don’t understand.  St. Agatha’s used to be a most select school until Miss Morris came with all her new-fangled ideas.  Well, naturally we can’t argue with her, but we can show what we think of things by refusing to accept girls like Ruth Neale---”
“What’s the matter with her?” asked Cathie in the same meek tone, though there was a warning gleam in her grey eyes if only Helena had noticed it.  She was so angry that her usual shyness was forgotten; besides, it was amazing how much courage she derived from the knowledge that if Helene knew her real identity she would behave very differently.  Somehow, knowing that, none of this really mattered; it was just like acting a part in a play.
Helena glared at her. “Her father’s a blacksmith!” 
“I don’t see what difference that makes to Ruth,” Cathie objected gently.  “I like her, so that’s all that matters.”
Heroine alert!   The best ones always have grey eyes and are kind to their vassals.  And no one likes a snobbish head girl, Helena!  Just as Sara Crewe effortlessly becomes a leader at Miss Minchin’s, Cathie, masquerading under an alias but using her resources (an empty barn on the estate that can become a clubhouse), comes out of her shell to unify the girls who dislike the cliquish behavior of the school leaders (this is partly noblesse oblige and partly just good training by unappreciated Aunt Bet).  A real princess thinks of others and treats everyone fairly, whether down on her luck like Sara or newly ascended to the nobility like Cathie.   Cathie is solicitous of those around her and, while we don’t see as much of her inner thought processes as of Sara’s, they share the ability to inspire those around them.
The Montford holdings are enormous (a house in London, another in Leicestershire (a hunting lodge, perhaps) and a big place in Scotland), not to mention the land surrounding the castle – when Ruth comes to thank the Duchess for assisting her family, we learn she bicycled 15 miles from her family’s modest estate cottage!  It is fortunate that Cathie has been brought up modestly and is dismayed by those who fawn over her status, although by the end of the book she is “beginning to feel that it did not matter much where she was plain Catherine Sidney or the Duchess of Montfort.  In either case, she felt capable of dealing with the [snobs] of the world.”   Ironically, of course, her grandfather must have been one of those snobs, as he quarreled irrevocably with Cathie’s father for marrying beneath him.

This was a reread inspired by Scott from Furrowed Middlebrow and when I was emailing him about this book, my spellcheck kept changing the title to “A Coroner for Cathie.”  As Scott pointed out, that would be a very different book indeed!
Source: Personal photocopy from kindhearted ET.  I should have bought a copy from Girls Gone By during the brief window when it was back in print but I didn't realize until it was too late.  It is hard to find and copies are expensive.  As far as I can tell, the only book by Gwendoline Courtney that was published in the US is Those Verney Girls, which I also recommend.

Off the Blog: Thanks for the sympathy for my car disaster!  My brother and brother-in-law have been very generous with cars and rides when needed but I am relieved to have found a new-to-me Toyota and plan to take possession of it this week. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

Devastation in Hunter Green

Last week my beautiful Toyota Corolla, just three years old, with barely a scratch 
Before.  Happier Times.
was hit by a vicious tree! I was hopeful the insurance inspector would say it could be repaired, although my family pointed out, if seriously damaged, it is not a good idea to drive a structurally impaired car.
It was so dark you can't really tell how awful it was, or see the broken glass everywhere
The insurance has concluded the car cannot be fixed and, as Toyota has discontinued this very attractive shade of green, my next car may not be quite as appealing.  Note:  I did not drive around with the bow on it but I thought it was very nice of the dealer, upon delivery, to remember the joke I had made about cars in commercials always being adorned with fancy ribbons.
Obviously, a smashed car is an expense rather than a tragedy, and I am grateful I was not in the car when the tree fell.   It just annoys me that the car was parked on a leafy suburban street (hence, I guess, the tree) because I'd come from a doctor's appointment when it normally would have been safe in my driveway.