Lord of Scoundrels Book Review

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Review:

I was enjoying this book immensely right up until the point where the heroine shot the hero.

It’s pretty annoying how female violence against men gets brushed aside as inconsequential or even treated as a joke in media. If the hero had shot the heroine, people would rightly be horrified, but because she’s small and female and he’s a big brute of a guy, we’re supposed to be okay with it? Ugh.

So needless to say, after that my feelings were more mixed.

Overall, though, I have to say Lord of Scoundrels was a pretty terrific read and I can see why it’s considered a classic of historical romance.

Most of the first half of the book is taken up by what’s essentially a game of Chicken – he one ups her, she one ups him, things escalate, and then escalate even more (somewhere in there, the gun shows up) until she ends up suing him for a considerable quantity of money and he goes for Ultimate Chicken and proposes marriage, figuring if she’s going to live comfortably for the rest of her life on his wealth, he may as well get something out of it.

Or at least, that’s what he tells himself. The reader certainly isn’t fooled!

Aside from the shooting incident, I liked the heroine, Jessica Trent, a lot. She was smart, sensible, determined, and definitely gave as good as she got in her verbal sparring matches with Dain (and we all know how I adore a bickering couple). I had a few more reservations about Dain himself. Any tender-hearted reader (and I’m about as big a bleeding heart as they come) will feel bad for him due to his appalling childhood and the considerable internalized self-loathing he developed as a result, but his tendency to jump to conclusions and assume that Jessica was thinking the worst of him got more annoying the more evidence accumulated to the contrary.

Nevertheless, their arguments were witty and frequently laugh out loud funny, and the sexual tension delicious, though the language in some of the sex scenes got a little too romance novel-y for my taste. (No “quivering members” though, thank god.) My issues with the shooting and a few other things aside, I did have a LOT of fun reading this book.

By the way, romance novel covers are often terrible, so I’m not going to pick on this one too much, but it is pretty terrible. I guess it’s prettier than some, but, uh, not only does the picture bear almost no physical resemblance to Jessica Trent as described in the novel, but the impression it gives of her personality couldn’t be more incorrect. Jessica shouldn’t look so melancholy and pensive, she should be staring out at the reader with fire in her eyes!

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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.

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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The Hundred-Foot Journey Movie Review

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Review:

This film doesn’t have a lot of depth or originality, but it’s a charming, feel-good story about an Indian family who opens a restaurant in rural France and it’s helped substantially by good performances, particularly by Helen Mirren, in a role reminiscent of her Oscar-nominated performance as Mrs. Wilson in Gosford Park, and veteran Indian actor Om Puri. The cinematography is also top-notch, with many beautiful shots of the French countryside and mouth-watering shots of various dishes and ingredients, French and Indian alike. Don’t watch this movie if you’re hungry!

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 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 Stars (5 / 5)

The Musketeers Season 1 Review

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Review:

The Three Musketeers is one of my husband’s favorite novels (and mine), so we were excited to hear about this new show based (loosely) on the story. Although the characters will be familiar to fans of Dumas, most of the storylines are not and some of the others are changed almost beyond recognition. Instead of being a simple adaptation, the show takes an episodic approach to the series, with the Musketeers facing different villains every week, sometimes hampered (or occasionally helped) by Richelieu and Milady, sometimes not.

The Musketeers is at its best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously – a few episodes were a bit heavy-handed with some extremely anachronistic social justice themes and a few others with the angst – but overall it’s a light-hearted, energetic show that’s lots of fun to watch, especially if you can revel in a little ridiculousness (such as the occasional moments when the show suddenly turns into CSI: 17th Century) instead of being offended by it.

The show benefits from a solid and charismatic cast in the lead roles, and I liked that, with the exception of the perpetually bumbling Red Guards, the main characters and villains alike are clever and quick-thinking. Contests between equals are so much more fun! There is plenty of eye candy to go around (especially Lucrezia Borgias’ beloved “Narcissus”, reborn a century later – and with a much sexier hairdo – as d’Artagnan), lots of entertaining and well choreographed fight scenes, and healthy dashes of humor, witty dialogue, and forbidden romance.

In short, don’t skip the novel, but if you’re in the mood for some swashbuckling fun, The Musketeers is an excellent choice.

Favorite episodes:

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The Scarlet Pimpernel Original Broadway Cast Recording

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Review:

I’ve never seen this musical live, but the soundtrack is very enjoyable and I’m surprised The Scarlet Pimpernel never became a bigger hit. As a huge fan of Terrence Mann, who played the villain Chauvelin, I have to say that his songs are my favorite, particularly the swoon-worthy “Where’s the Girl?” and the viciously cynical trio “The Riddle.”

There’s also some excellent comedy songs and I’m impressed by Douglas Sills’s ability to transition seamlessly between the roles of clownish buffoon and dashing hero.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Les Miserables (2012) Movie Review

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Review:

A more successful film adaptation of a Broadway musical than The Phantom of the Opera thanks to excellent performances from a much stronger ensemble cast, but still vocally disappointing. (I know it’s not really fair to compare the voices of non-musical theater actors with those of musical theater stars, like those who filled the cast of the Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert, but I can’t help it!)

At least they were smart enough to cast a bona-fide Broadway star (Samantha Barks) in the role of Eponine. (“On My Own” being the showstopper song you really don’t want to mess up.) I was also impressed by Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” which was too quiet and broken to work on stage, but fit the character at that stage of her life perfectly.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame

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Review:

Okay, I have seriously mixed feelings about this movie. On the one hand, it mystifies me how Disney thought it would be a good idea to make a children’s animated musical out of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Hugo’s novel had to be butchered and bowdlerized almost beyond recognition to make it even semi-appropriate for children, and despite the butchering and bowdlerizing, it’s still full of dark themes that are, imo, inappropriate and confusing for young children. This essential darkness melds very poorly with the elements intended to make it more appealing to younger audiences, resulting in a sort of thematic whiplash. Goofy gargoyles do a big song and dance number one minute, Frollo sings about burning Esmeralda at the stake if she won’t agree to become his lover the next. It doesn’t work.

On the other hand, the animation is absolutely gorgeous, most of the songs are excellent, and Frollo is one of Disney’s best and most terrifying villains.

It’s worth watching for the incredible Heaven’s Light/Hellfire sequence alone.

Malificent is, and probably always will be, my favorite Disney villain, but she’s fundamentally a creature of fantasy and therefore truly frightening only to Disney’s youngest audience members. Evil fairies don’t exist in the real world. Frollo, on the other hand, is a distinctly human brand of evil. His hypocrisy and cruelty are terrifying in their very mundaneness – most adults have known a Frollo or two, or at least known somebody who has, and few will remember the encounter happily. For that reason, he is one of the few Disney villains that is probably scarier for the adults than the children in the audience.

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My rating: 2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)