One Indulgence Book Review

Review:

I’m on a bit of a roll with m/m romance this week, aren’t I? One Indulgence, by Lydia Gastrell, is the first pure romance, with no fantasy, mystery, etc. elements. It’s essentially a classic Regency romance, except with two men instead of a man and a woman.

The plot revolves around Henry Cortland, the new Earl of Brenleigh, who is determined to fulfill his duty to marry and produce an heir, but first wants – just once – to experience his long-suppressed and forbidden desire to spend a night with a man. A one night stand with a stranger goes better than he could ever have dreamed, and he’s all set to live off the memories forever, but the stranger, Lord Richard Avery, isn’t quite so willing to let him go. Richard is tired of casual relationships and wants a deeper connection. With Henry, he’s convinced he’s found it, but first he has to convince Henry.

The book opens with a VERY hot scene, and I can kind of understand the complaints of some reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads when Henry and Richard then proceed to barely touch for most of the next ~200 pages. However, I thought it was realistic, given Henry’s situation and personality, and anyway, you don’t read Regency romance of any persuasion expecting characters to be constantly hopping in and out of bed with each other.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, and since it seems to be a planned series, there are several side characters I’m hoping to see more of, particularly Richard’s Aunt Margarette and Samuel Shaw. I guessed the twist with Shaw before it was revealed, and it was very sad to compare Richard’s opinion of the adult Shaw with Henry’s memories of the boy, so I hope he’ll be able to find more closure (an apology from Henry would be a good start) and reclaim some of his boyhood kindness in future books.

One minor and mostly irrelevant complaint: the guys on the cover look NOTHING like I pictured either Richard or Henry and it’s actually distracting me as I write this review. Henry’s blond curls and beautiful blue eyes are frequently mentioned in the book, and I see neither curls nor baby blues on either of those men. Why do so many covers seem to be designed by people who’ve never read the book?

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

Pavlovsk: The Life of a Russian Palace Book Review



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Review:

One of my favorite Russian history books, Pavlovsk: The Life of a Russian Palace is the “biography” of a lesser known palace near St. Petersburg. Pavlovsk Palace is not as grand as better known palaces such as Peter the Great’s imitation Versailles at Peterhof, or the massive Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, but it’s inspired an unusual degree of devotion in many people across the centuries, starting with its original owner, the Empress Maria Feodorovna, Catherine the Great’s daughter-in-law and wife of the ill-fated Emperor Paul (Pavel) I. Catherine took Maria’s first two sons away from her at birth to raise herself, and Maria and Paul were only permitted to see them once a week. Deprived of her children, the artistic and cultured Maria threw her energies into designing and decorating the palace and gardens of Pavlovsk. There is quite a bit of interesting information about Maria, her architects and landscapers, and the different influences on the park’s final design, especially for anyone interested in architecture, fine art, or landscape design.

After Maria’s death, the park was opened to the public and became the site of fashionable concerts (including an extended visit by Strauss) for most of the later 19th century. The Soviets, after initially planning to sell off its treasures, were eventually persuaded by Pavlovsk’s caretaker to turn it into a state museum.

Then came World War II and the Nazi invasion of Russia. There is a fascinating and horrifying chapter about the siege of Leningrad, the deadliest in human history, during which 1-1.5 million civilians died and an additional 1,400,000 were evacuated. Pavlovsk itself was stripped of as many of its treasures as its caretakers could preserve while the Nazi army approached, and these were buried on the grounds of the park or taken to Leningrad or Siberia.  The rest were looted or destroyed by the Germans, who also cut down 70,000 trees within the park and set fire to the palace as they retreated near the end of the war. In the aftermath of the war, with the palace and park in smoldering ruins, its caretakers spent decades painstakingly rebuilding and restoring it to its former glory, and it is now once again open to the public.

Pavlovsk: The Life of a Russian Palace is well-written and absorbing, and will make you love Pavlovsk as much as its author clearly does. I was inspired after reading it to visit the park three times during my semester abroad in Russia and consider it one of the most beautiful spots in Russia.

Here’s a video with scenes from the palace and park:

My rating: (5 / 5)

Little Big Man Movie Review



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Review:

Back in my college days, I once had to write a paper on exactly what Little Big Man gets right and wrong about Cheyenne life. There was quite a bit of both, as I recall. Despite its flaws, however, I think Little Big Man deserves a lot of credit for being one of the first films to give a sympathetic portrayal of American Indians and their cultures, and more importantly, to give a human portrayal of American Indians and their cultures. The Indian characters experience the same depth and range of human emotions as the white characters, and include both “good” and “bad” characters. In contrast to their frequent portrayal in many earlier films as stern, bloodthirsty, and savage and in many later ones as solemn, mystical, and wise, the Indians of Little Big Man even have senses of humor!

Despite several prominent Cheyenne characters, the film itself does follow a white man named Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) who is captured as a boy and raised by the Cheyenne. Crabb takes a somewhat Forrest Gump-like path through all aspects of Wild West society, from being “saved” by a fire-and-brimstone preacher after being re-captured from the Cheyenne to becoming a snake oil salesman, gunslinger, drunk, and muleskinner for one General George Armstrong Custer. The real historical events depicted (again, with varying degrees of accuracy) in the film include the Washita Massacre, the death of Wild Bill Hickok, and the Battle of Little Bighorn.

It’s an entertaining, well-acted, and frequently hilarious movie, but hard-hitting in its depiction of the genocidal campaign against the Cheyenne and their fellow Plains tribes, and you may want to keep a hanky handy for certain scenes.

Note: This film shouldn’t be confused for a biography of the historical Little Big Man, an Oglala Lakota.

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

Julian Kestrel Mystery Series Review

The cover that caught my eye

The cover that caught my eye

Sometimes it pays to judge a book by its cover. One day years ago, I was browsing in a nice little independent bookstore in my hometown when my eye was caught by the cover of The Devil in Music, by Kate Ross. I noticed it first because it was illustrated by Kinuko Craft, one of my favorite illustrators, but when the pages decorated by the cover turned out to contain a murder mystery starring a Regency dandy named Julian Kestrel as sleuth (plus: opera!), well, there was no way I wasn’t taking it home!

It was a good choice.

The Julian Kestrel series was cut tragically short when Ross lost a long battle with cancer at the age of just 41, but she left behind four very enjoyable mysteries. I ended up reading them all out of order. The Devil in Music turned out to be the fourth and last book in the series, but I read it first anyway, then I read the second and third, because I had trouble getting a copy of the first. I finally read the first last! This worked out okay because the books are mostly stand-alone, and I might even recommend starting with the fourth, as it might make you less likely to guess the twist. However, I’ll review them in the correct order.

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Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India Movie Review



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Review:

I’ve seen a few Westernized Indian movies, like Bride and Prejudice and Monsoon Wedding, but Lagaan was my first experience with a real Bollywood film. I think it was a pretty lucky first choice.

The main plot of Lagaan revolves around a poor farming village in 19th century India, which is stricken by a horrific drought and unable to pay the taxes (lagaan) it owes to the British Raj. The hero, Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), makes a bet with the arrogant and cruel officer in charge of collecting the tax that if the villagers can beat the British in a game of cricket, their debt will be forgiven. But if they lose, their tax will be increased by three times.

What follows is good old-fashioned, feel-good fun. Although I’m not much of a sports fan and know almost nothing about cricket, I found it easy to get swept up in the film’s story, and it rarely lagged despite clocking in at nearly 4 hours of running time.

You always hear about Bollywood’s fantastic music and dance numbers, and several of the dances in Lagaan blew me away with how good they were. My favorite was Radha Kaise Na Jale:

Since there’s no subtitles in this copy of the clip, here’s what’s going on: Gauri (Gracy Singh) is in love with Bhuvan but fears he is falling in love with a British woman who has taken pity on the villagers and is coaching them at cricket. During a religious celebration in their village, Bhuvan and Gauri re-enact a ceremonial dance for the villagers (and the British woman) about a goddess (Radha) jealous of her flirtatious lover (Krishna), while Krishna tries to reassure her that his heart belongs only to her. Of course, there’s a double meaning in every line and gesture.

Great film! I highly recommend it.

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My rating: (4 / 5)

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Arcadia Review



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Review:

I had a terrible time finding a copy of this play at the library and finally gave in and bought it, a decision I have never regretted. It is one of the funniest and most intelligent plays I have ever read and has now been one of my favorites for many years.

As a non-math person (not completely hopeless, but definitely not gifted either), Arcadia can be a fairly challenging read. Once, I understood it all once, in a flash of blinding light of the sort that probably accompanies religious conversion, but alas, the revelation didn’t choose to stick around. The rest of the time I have to be satisfied with sorta understanding the fractal stuff and being happy that I do get the literary bits.

Along with being intellectually invigorating, the play is also full of wit and heartbreak: it is the play, as one critic wrote, that definitively proved that Stoppard “knows enough about hearts to break them.” My own heart broke several times, especially over Thomasina and Septimus. It’s funny, because their relationship ought to be about as squicky as they come. Not only is she 13 (later almost 17) to his 22 years, he is her tutor, and student/teacher relationships are something I’ve always looked askance at. But somehow in Arcadia, it works, perhaps because of the fundamental innocence and playfulness of their relationship, and it does break your heart to know that it’s ultimately doomed.

I’ve never seen the play on stage (though I’d have given a great deal to see the original London production, with Rufus Sewell in the role of Septimus Hodge) but I hope to some day.

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My rating: (5 / 5)

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Phantom, by Susan Kay Book Review



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Review:

Don’t be mislead by the terrible cover!

Gaston Leroux’s classic horror novel The Phantom of the Opera has received many adaptations in many different forms, the most famous of which include the 1925 silent film starring Lon Chaney and the Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. There have also been many literary adaptations, including retellings, “sequels,” and more. Phantom, by Susan Kay, is by far the best of these.

Leroux gave his readers some tantalizing hints of Erik’s life before he took up residence in the basement of the Paris opera house and became the dreaded “Opera Ghost,” but his novel covered only the last few months leading up to Erik’s death. Kay’s novel takes those scant hints and spins them into a rich backstory full of adventure and tragedy alike. She makes good use of several different narrators, including Erik’s mother, the Persian, Raoul, Christine, and Erik himself, to flesh out his story and bring it to life from birth til death, and beyond. Though I’m a diehard Erik/Christine shipper, my favorite aspect of the book may have been the relationship between Erik and the Persian (here named Nadir). It was wonderful to see it fleshed out and their interactions produced some of the book’s best moments and lines of dialogue.

Phantom is beautifully written and intensely emotional. I’m admittedly soft-hearted, but I cried multiple times reading this novel and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Most phans will adore Phantom, and it’s also an excellent introduction to the story for non-fans and casual fans, as it’s written in a more modern style than the original novel.

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My rating: (5 / 5)