Think of England Book Review

Review:

I’ve read quite a bit of slashy fanfiction, but not so much m/m original fiction, so since I’m in a little bit of a fandom drought right now, I thought I’d take the opportunity to try some more gay romance novels, since I enjoyed The Captive Prince so much. I settled on Think of England, by KJ Charles, as my next m/m read thanks to its great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and the blurb, which caught my interest with its promise of a Gosford Park-esque house party in Edwardian England and some mystery/thriller elements.

The mystery/thriller elements turned out to be much stronger than the Edwardian house party elements (this isn’t a bad thing – I’d have been happy with either predominating), and some of the characters make that randy old war profiteer Sir William McCordle look practically saintly by comparison. Our intrepid heroes land themselves in a mess of blackmail, treason, torture, and murder within hours of arriving for their outwardly genteel house party and the plot kept me on the edge of my seat to see how they’d unravel it.

Coincidentally enough, the intrepid heroes in question actually reminded me a lot of The Captive Prince‘s Damen and Laurent, despite the completely different setting and plot. You have Archie Curtis, the sturdy, straightforward war hero a la Damen, and Daniel da Silva, the sharp tongued, damaged schemer a la Laurent. In this case, however, our war hero is wounded, not enslaved, and our schemer is a gay Portuguese Jew rather than a prince, which is hard luck on all three accounts in 1904 England! The set-up is very “opposites attract,” which truthfully is not my favorite trope, but it ends up working well in both The Captive Prince and Think of England. (It helps in both cases, I think, that the men find out they’re not as opposite as initial appearances might suggest.) For Curtis, as an old fashioned “stiff upper lip” type British military man, Daniel da Silva (a poet, on top of everything else) was definitely a case of hate at first sight, but I thought KJ Charles did a great job of showing his gradual change in feelings from dislike and distrust to growing respect and ultimately love. Daniel remains a bit more of a cipher, but a bunch of reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads seem to think Think of England is the first in a series, and if so, I’ll look forward to learning more about him in future installments. (Edit: KJ Charles has confirmed that she is working on a sequel.)

Luckily for us readers, Daniel is less damaged (and in different ways) than Laurent, so we get a bunch of steamy sex scenes in this novel, instead of having to wait for most of another book. (Not that I mind a good slow burn, but it wasn’t what I was in the mood for. Especially when the sequel hasn’t been published yet!) Curtis’s gradual realization that he was, in fact, one of “those types” was well-paced and made for a lot of great anticipatory buildup as he realized the extent of what he really wanted to do to (and with) Daniel.

I thought the secondary characters were also well drawn, and ended up especially liking Fenella Carruth and Patricia Merton. One of my frequent complaints about slash fanfiction is that it gets so caught up in the boys that it neglects the female characters entirely, or worse, commits character assassination in order to split up a canonical m/f romance in favor of a fan-favored m/m one. Without giving too much away, neither issue happened with this book at all. In fact, I think Fen and Pat would make great characters for a spinoff story or series, whether official or fanfiction.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Sherlock (BBC) Review

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Review:

Does anyone else just… not get what all the fuss is about?

Seriously, I feel like the entire world LOOOOOVES this show. I wanted to love it, I really did. Unfortunately, it makes me want to tear out my hair.

You see, Sherlock does some stuff so well and then just completely bombs other stuff to the point that I can’t even believe some scenes are written by the same people. Maybe the pod people that were always hijacking Buffy the Vampire Slayer moved to England? But in this case, it’s not even that there are good episodes and bad episodes, like season two of Buffy. Every single episode is a mess of brilliant stuff mixed up with total crap. Too much crap for me – I quit two thirds of the way into season two.

Warning: for some reason, Sherlock brings out the profanity in me. If you don’t appreciate f-bombs, stop reading now.

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The Scarlet Pimpernel Book Review

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Review:

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy, is one of my favorite classic adventure novels. It gets off to a rather slow start, but ratchets up the tension beautifully as the story progresses until it’s practically impossible to put down. I also like that Marguerite, while forced into the role of damsel-in-distress at several points, is nevertheless allowed to be quite clever and resourceful in her own right. For a novel originally published in 1905, she’s an unusually spunky and likable heroine!

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

It seems like a book that would make a fantastic movie, but I’ve been disappointed with the attempts so far. The 1934 version with Leslie Howard was just awful. I liked the 1982 film with Jane Seymour and Ian McKellan a lot more, but still feel like it could be done better. Here’s the trailer for that version:

The Broadway musical soundtrack is enjoyable, but I’ve never seen it on stage.

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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Historical Fiction By Sharon Kay Penman Review

Sharon Kay Penman has been one of my favorite authors since I was a teenager. Her novels focus on the Plantagenet family that ruled England for several centuries starting in the 12th century, and their contemporaries.

It would be admittedly be pretty tough to make the Plantagenets boring (they were some of England’s least boring rulers, and that says something!) but Penman’s novels are not only highly regarded for their historical accuracy, they’re also rip-roaring good reads, with plenty of action, romance, and intrigue to keep almost anyone enthralled. For such a male-dominated period of history, I like that she also puts a lot of focus on the female characters and their complex situations.

My Favorite Penman Novels: The Welsh Princes Trilogy

The Welsh Princes trilogy were the first Penman books I read, and are still my favorites. I think they have the most appealing characters (confession time: teenage me had a huge crush on both Llewelyns), although history being what it is, they’re also something of an emotional roller coaster, especially the second and third books.

Book 1: Here Be Dragons

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The first in the series focuses on Joanna, a bastard daughter of King John. (Yes, that King John.)

Joanna is married to the Welsh prince Llewelyn ab Iorwerth (more commonly remembered as Llewelyn Fawr, or Llewelyn the Great) at the age of 14, and soon finds herself torn between her loyalty to her beloved father (who is here given a more nuanced portrayal than usual) and husband, who she also grows to love deeply.

Joanna is nearly unique in the annals of royal wives in that she was caught in an adulterous relationship and not only forgiven by her husband but restored to full favor and position at court. (A Royal Affair demonstrates a much more common aftermath for such a situation.) By all accounts, Llewelyn was grief-stricken by her death some years later, and even founded a Franciscan friary in her honor, which was completed shortly before his own death. I thought Penman navigated this tricky and unusual situation well, and came up with a plausible explanation for it, given the apparent happiness of Llewelyn and Joanna’s marriage otherwise.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Book 2: Falls the Shadow

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Book 2 continues with the deaths of most of the characters you grew to love in the first book (seriously, keep a tissue handy!) but introduces new ones in the form of Llewelyn Fawr’s grandson, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, and Simon de Montfort, the reform-minded French husband of Joanna’s younger half-sister Eleanor (Nell), as they each contend with John’s weak and incompetent son Henry III, and the rise of Henry’s far stronger son, the future Edward I (Longshanks).

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Book 3: The Reckoning

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Don’t throw that tissue away yet! You’ll need it a few more times as Edward warms up for his future role as “Hammer of the Scots” by taking on the Welsh. Although I love them all, this is probably my favorite of the trilogy. Family drama, romance, and high tragedy abound.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

If you enjoy the Welsh Princes trilogy, I also recommend Edith Pargeter’s Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet, which focuses on the lives of Llewelyn ap Gruffydd and his brother Davydd.

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From Time To Time Movie Review

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Review:

This movie was advertised as a family film on Netflix, but my seven year old daughter didn’t get much out of it and we sent her to bed partway through. I think it would probably be better suited to somewhat older children – maybe 10 or 12.

My husband and I thought it was enjoyable, but not as good as its cast. From Time To Time is one of those films that’s like a game of “Who’s The Great British Character Actor?” It’s got the goddess Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall of Harry Potter, Dominic West of The Wire, Carice van Houten of Game of Thrones (I know, I know, Dutch, not British), Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey, Allen Leach of Rome, Harriet Walter of Sense and Sensibility, and more. Unfortunately, none of them were really given a whole lot to do.

The screenplay was written by Julian Fellowes, who also wrote Downton Abbey, Gosford Park, and other favorites of me and my husband, and based on the novel The Chimneys of Green Knowe (aka Treasure of Green Knowe). The main storyline is set in World War II Britain and follows a boy sent to live with his grandmother (Smith) at his family’s ancestral home in the countryside. On his very first night, he bumps into the ghost of one of his Regency-era relatives and soon realizes that he can travel between his own time and hers. When he discovers that his grandmother is struggling financially and may soon be forced to sell the estate, he uses his time travel ability to solve the mystery of some priceless jewels stolen from the ghost’s mother nearly 150 years earlier.

The blending of modern and Regency eras to solve a mystery from the past reminded me somewhat of Arcadia (complete with house fire), but without the play’s brilliant wit. Though Maggie Smith had a few good lines, none were as memorable as her other Julian Fellowes roles, as the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey and Countess of Trentham in Gosford Park. The ending may also be a bit of a downer for some children.

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My rating:2.5 Stars (2.5 / 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 Stars (5 / 5)

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The Secret Garden Original Broadway Cast Recording Album Review

The Secret Garden (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Price: $8.98

4.8 out of 5 stars (39 customer reviews)

9 used & new available from $7.23

Review:

I was introduced to this musical by an excellent local production and liked it so much I went out and bought the Broadway cast album, which has become a favorite. Rebecca Luker is simply extraordinary as Lily. Her high, clear soprano is both warm and haunting.

The rest of the cast is also excellent, though I personally prefer Mandy Patinkin’s acting to his singing and favor the Anthony Warlow/Philip Quast version of the show’s biggest hit song, Lily’s Eyes:

Other favorite songs include  I Heard Someone Crying, A Girl In The Valley, Show Me The Key, The Girl I Mean To Be, Quartet: There’s A Man, Hold On, and Letter Song.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Bend It Like Beckham Movie Review

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Review:

Bend It Like Beckham became a pretty much instant feel-good classic when it was released and remains funny and charming more than 10 years later. It’s a great girl power film as well.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

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