Posts Tagged ‘historical’

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The Vanderlyn Silhouette

July 9, 2016

I seem to be incapable of writing a review of Flaming Youth, so here’s another by Augusta Huiell Seaman. The Curious Affair at Heron Shoals was my favorite of her books so far, so to go next to The Vanderlyn Silhouette was a little disappointing. This one is a proper historical novel, set around 1820 in lower Manhattan. Varick and Charlton Streets are pretty far downtown now, but back then the area was far enough north that it wasn’t in the city at all. 13-year-old Dosia Watkins, the central character, lives on the grounds of Richmond Hill, an estate occupied at various times by some pretty important historical figures, including Aaron Burr, who lived there with his daughter. By the time this story starts, it’s passed into the hands of John Jacob Astor, who rents it out as a summer home. Dosia’s grandfather is the caretaker and her mother is the housekeeper. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Marcia Schuyler

December 23, 2015

I’m obviously falling down on the Christmas story job this year. Here, have another Grace Livingston Hill instead.

I’m not sure if Marcia Schuyler is considered typical of GLH’s output. It’s not typical of the books of hers that I’ve read, but it works really well for me. I mean, the religious stuff is a lot more palatable in a historical fiction context. (Sure, I kept giggling about David’s temperance newspaper, but I can’t fully explain that.) But also this is a he/she fell in love with his/her wife/husband book, and the protagonist overnight finds herself in possession of a dream house and a fabulous trousseau, and there’s an awful older sister, which I enjoy for probably the same reasons that I find inexplicably evil younger brothers difficult. The chances that I wasn’t going to like this book were very low.

I mean, I don’t love it, but I do like it a lot. It’s got more in common with things like Janice Meredith and To Have and to Hold than it does with GLH’s other books, but it’s also got her patented lack of self-awareness. Very few things are less charitable than her attitude towards characters she doesn’t like, and, much as I enjoy that, it’s so at odds with her professed philosophy that it kind of bugs me, too.

Anyway, Marcia Schuyler. She’s a teenage girl from an old and respected family in upstate New York, circa 1830. She’s smart and pretty and totally overshadowed by her beautiful older sister, Kate, who is an asshole. She also has a crush on Kate’s fiancé, David, but she’s not aware of it. It turns out to be sort of helpful, though, when Kate elopes with another man and her father basically offers Marcia to David as compensation. I’m pretty sure that even in 1830 this is a weird thing to do, but Marcia goes along with it and everyone stresses a lot about how they’ve deprived her of her womanhood, or something.

There are some things you want to happen here: you want Marcia and David to fall in love. You want Marcia to do well in her new environment. You want Kate to get her comeuppance and, very specifically, to be humiliated by David. All these things happen, against a backdrop of the launch of the first steam locomotive in New York State. It’s not a great book, but it’s very satisfying.

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The Fortunes of Captain Blood

September 23, 2015

I’ve always been kind of wary of Rafael Sabatini’s other Captain Blood books. There are two — Captain Blood Returns and The Fortunes of Captain Blood. I can’t really explain why. A lingering distrust of short stories, held over from middle school? The original novel being so complete and satisfying? Anyway, Monday I had the oppurtunity to go to the library for the first time in ages, and I read a copy of The Fortunes of Captain Blood so battered that it has to be kept in its own little box. It’s composed of six short stories taking place sometime during Peter Blood’s pirate career, and it’s kind of great. This brief review of the trilogy says this book isn’t very good, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s great–I enjoyed it a lot, and it just means that Captain Blood Returns will be even better.

The six episodes in the books seem to occur consecutively, but that’s clearer with the first few than with the rest. First we get a three story sequence that covers the capture (“The Dragon’s Jaw”), use (“The Pretender”) and disposal (“The Demonstration”) of a Spanish ship. Then the rescue of Hagthorpe’s brother (Hagthorpe is back, along with Pitt, Wolverstone, Ogle etc.) in “The Deliverance,” which dragged a little. Then “Sacrilege,” in which Peter is a Nice Irish Catholic Boy, and “The Eloping Hidalga,” which didn’t wallow in revenge to the extent that I wanted it to.

The earlier stories are definitely the better ones, and I think my favorite is “The Pretender,” which lets us see what Peter Blood would do if he had to defend against himself. “The Demonstration” gets an honorable mention for reintroducing Monsieur d’Ogeron, the Governer of Tortuga.

I realized as I was reading how silly of me it was to avoid this. Short story series about super competent characters getting the better of everyone around them are kind of my jam. Speaking of which, I’m going to go back to rereading Pollyooly until Yom Kippur is over and I get to eat again.

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Evelina’s Garden

August 10, 2015

I don’t know how I feel about Evelina’s Garden, by Mary Wilkins Freeman. It feels so self-consciously quaint and historical, and no one has a personality.

There’s this girl, and she likes this guy, but she’s too shy or proud ot something to admit it, so she becomes a recluse whose only interest is her garden, and he reluctantly marries someone else but remains secretly devoted to Evelina.

Then along comes her niece, who looks just like her, and his son, who’s bettered himself enough to be a plausible partner for a woman from a slightly higher class, and despite neither of them having the faintest idea of how to interact with other humans, they become secretly engaged. Then Evelina the elder dies, leaving everything to her namesake–as long as she never marries and always takes good care of the garden. At which point Evelina the younger’s young man breaks off their engagement in a fit of misplaced nobility.

I guess I actually know exactly how I feel about Evelina’s Garden: I was a lot more concerned about the garden than I was about the fate of the lovers.

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The Imprudence of Prue

January 23, 2015

The Imprudence of Prue is sort of proto-Georgette Heyer — all historical high society and everyone in debt — but set much earlier, at the beginning of the 18th century, and — I don’t know, I thought it felt pretty convincingly historical. It’s by Sophie Fisher, and I can’t find out anything about her, or any other books by her, and I’m kind of disappointed.
Read the rest of this entry ?

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Captain Blood Day: The Romantic Prince

September 19, 2013

So, Captain Blood Day. Yay!

Actually, though, I completely forgot about it until last week, so instead of thinking seriously about which Sabatini book I might want to talk about next, I just grabbed The Romantic Prince off my bookshelf. I read it once before — whenever Batman Begins came out, if the ticket stub I was using as a bookmark is any indication — and I recalled being pretty pleased with it.

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time reading Redeeming Qualities, you’ll know that I’m kind of fascinated by the way novelists solve problems. In particular, there’s a thing you get a lot in romance and adventure novels, where the hero is situated in such a way that it would be dishonorable for him to take any action whatsoever to resolve whatever issue he’s having. And often, as it is here, the issue is mostly just that the hero can’t be with the heroine. And sure, I love the resultant pining, but I also love watching the author’s resultant struggle to steer the characters to a happy ending without in any way impugning their honor. That’s Rafael Sabatini’s principal task in The Romantic Prince, so obviously it’s a lot of fun to me. It doesn’t hurt that the actual barriers keeping Count Anthony of Guelders and Johanna Claessens apart are strong enough that Sabatini doesn’t have to resort to the completely avoidable misunderstandings he seems to like so much. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Fool’s Love Story

October 4, 2012

You know how sometimes your daily life saps your will to do anything you’re not actually required to do? So, yeah. That. But I wanted to drop by to talk about “The Fool’s Love Story”, which I read on the tail end of the Sabatini kick that started with my reread of Bardelys the Magnificent.

It looks like The Fool’s Love Story might have been Sabatini’s first published story — it’s the first listed on the uncollected stories list on rafaelsabatini.com, and…it reads young. It’s about a Hofknarr, or court jester, in a small German kingdom in the mid-17th century. He’s in love with a young woman who’s engaged to an unworthy Frenchman, and it doesn’t end too well for anybody, really, unless you count the fact that I was completely delighted by it. Which was why I wanted to say something about it, but probably not in the way you think.

This is the thing: this story is pretty terrible. The plot is ridiculous, the writing is more than ridiculous, and you’re sort of plopped down in the middle of a fully formed emotional situation that never really changes. Also, dying heroically and tragically tends to go over a little better if there’s a point to it. But it’s Sabatini, who pretty much always gets me where I live, and I was totally sold by the time I hit “lean, sardonic countenance,” halfway through the first sentence.

Basically, I suspect this is one for the Sabatini devotees — and I’d be interested to know if I’m right.

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