The Mama’s #CBR5 Book Swap Post!

goldfinchA big thank you to Captain Tuttle, who sent me a copy of The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt!

Despite the fact that my boss told me the book was a “smart book”, implying that I am not smart (even though he reads trashy biographies so he has no room to judge me and my trashy romance novel loving ways), I’ve heard great things about this book, and I’m excited to start it!

(But it does look like a smart book, so I think I’m going to hold on to it till Christmas break when I can shut out the world and just read.)

Book surprises are the best! Thanks so much!!!

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #43 – Austenland by Shannon Hale

Ok, so I’m a little embarrassed about reading this book. But in my defense, it was an airport purchase, and kept me entertained from Tampa to New York. The flight is less than three hours, and I was just about done when we landed. It’s pretty short, but it’s also a breezy read, which makes sense. This isn’t deep stuff, folks; but it is fairly cute-ish. Plus, I adore Keri Russell and Bret Mackenzie, so I’ll likely be seeing the movie when it comes to pay-per-view. Not in the theater, though.

Anyway, Jane Hayes is your typical New York neurotic artsy type underemployed at a magazine of some sort, and obsessed with Mr. Darcy of Pride & Prejudice. Not just Mr. Darcy, but Colin Firth’s Darcy from the BBC miniseries (yes, of course I own a copy on DVD). So her relationships with men aren’t satisfying. She has an elderly aunt who finds out about this, dies, and leaves Jane a trip to an estate in England catering to Austen fanatics. The estate provides a total Austen immersion, apparently at different pricing levels for different sorts of experiences. Jane has the budget trip, of course.

The female visitors to the estate are the paying customers, and it looks like most of the people who interact with the visitors are actors. The question is: is everyone else there aside from Jane and the two other ladies an actor, or are there real people working there too? Jane meets a couple of different men, meets cute (of course), and hijinks ensue. There are also asides between chapters, describing Jane’s love life up to the point where she enters Austenland. I haven’t decided if I liked that part or not, I’m leaning toward thinking it was annoying. Also annoying was a lot of the language – a bit too colloquial and diary-like for my tastes.

But, overall, it’s a fun and quick read, brainless and entertaining. Perfect for an airplane. I’m guessing the movie will be much the same.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #37 – The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket

The Baudelaires escaped the Hostile Hospital (which was kind of in the middle of nowhere) in the trunk of Count Olaf’s car (bold move). As Olaf and his troupe of baddies drive into the hinterlands to meet with a psychic that’s been feeding Olaf information about the Baudelaires. When they arrive, the kids need to figure out how to either escape (impossible, they’re in the middle of nowhere) or blend in. But how to blend?

Luckily enough, the carnival also has a freak show. So the kids disguise themselves (no better than Olaf ever did, but in these books people aren’t especially bright) as freaks: Sunny wears a long beard wrapped all around herself and becomes Chabo the Wolf Baby; Violet & Klaus share one shirt and become Beverly and Eliot, the two-headed freak. So they get taken on as part of the freak show, and bond with the freaks. They also get to know the psychic, who isn’t all that she seems. Of course Olaf does what he does, and bad things happen.

I apologize if my reviews all sound very similar regarding these books, but if you’ve read them, you know that they are pretty similar, aside from the various types of peril the kids are in. I honestly have no idea how the series ends, but I do sincerely hope that the kids get some kind of resolution.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #36 – The Hostile Hospital by Lemony Snicket

The eighth installment in the Series of Unfortunate Events picks up right where #7 (The Vile Village) left off. The kids are on the run from the nuts from the Village of Fowl Devotees, in a desolate wasteland. They happen upon a store, and try to contact Mr. Poe. The events of the previous few books have been reported in The Daily Punctilio, the newspaper in this world that always gets everything wrong. Unfortunately, there are pictures of the Baudelaires, so they’re definitely in danger of being caught. In fact, the first time this happens is at the store, but they escape by getting a ride with the “Volunteers Fighting Disease” – yet another V.F.D.

This VFD is heading to a hospital to sing stupid songs and hand sick people balloons, because apparently that’s better than medicine. Anyway, the kids end up working in the records room (or library, as it’s called, so Klaus has a purpose). They play a dirty trick on the mostly blind library guy, so they can get a look at the Snicket file, which supposedly contains information about their parents’ death (and if someone survived the fire).

Of course that nasty Count Olaf shows up in “disguise,” along with his nasty girlfriend Esme Squalor. They chase the kids down, and this time it’s Violet in peril. The younger Baudelaires come to her rescue, to a point, and the kids once again make it out alive. Alive, but not necessarily happy.

Again, one of the funner things about these books is to pick out the cultural references and Sunny-isms. Sometimes I have to look them up, but that’s part of the fun as well. I’m only slightly embarrassed by reading these books as an adult, but my excuse is that they didn’t come out until I was an adult, so it’s not like I had a choice.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review # 35 – The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket

The seventh book in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events starts with the Baudelaire kids being sent out into the wicked world again by the useless Mr. Poe. He’s a big believer in the “it takes a village to raise a child” concept, so off they go to the village of V.F.D. As you know, the kids received a clue from the Quagmire triplets (both of them) regarding V.F.D. and the death of everyone’s parents.

The village is filled with jerky, selfish idiots who follow a goofy rule book. Oh, and they also worship (sort of) the crows that blanket half of the village every day. The crows roost in the Nevermore tree at night. The tree is in the yard of the only slightly sane person, Hector the handyman. The kids are placed with him so they can do everyone’s chores. The Baudelaires find a clue that could only have come from the Quagmires, so they begin investigating, knowing that if the Quagmires are nearby they could only have been put there by the evil Count Olaf.

Of course Count Olaf is there in disguise, and makes life miserable for the Baudelaires. They end up in jail, falsely accused of the murder of Jacques Snicket (!). Of course Violet invents a way out, Klaus reads a bunch of books that help, and Sunny bites stuff. She also says odd things, and one of the fun bits of the books is trying to figure out where Sunny’s words come from.

Bad things happen, some good things happen, but at the end the Baudelaires end up alone and in trouble, and parentless. Again.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #34 – Cover Her Face by P.D. James

Cover Her Face was P.D. James’ first Adam Dalgliesh mystery novel. Dalgliesh is called to a country house to investigate the death of the family’s newest maid, Sally. Sally has recently graduated from a home for unwed mothers, so she also comes with an infant boy.

The Maxie family is led by mom Eleanor, dad is terminally ill and bedridden. Deborah, the divorced daughter, lives at home, and son Stephen is a doctor in London who comes down at weekends. The family maid, Martha, takes care of everyone, and does not like Sally at all. Also visiting is Catherine Bowers, a family friend who is in love with Stephen. So there you have most of the suspects. There are a couple of others, because that’s mandatory.

Stephen asks Sally to marry him, which she announces to the family one night after the church fete that was held on the house’s grounds. No one is pleased, of course. The next morning, Sally is dead – behind her locked bedroom door. Oh yes, a locked-room mystery. Sally was drugged and strangled, and everyone is a suspect.

Dalgliesh interviews everyone, pokes around Sally’s past life before she went to the unwed mothers’ home, and uncovers whodunnit. The story kept me guessing for a while, but there were a few tells about the culprit that (once I knew who really did it) stood out.

I’m a P.D. James fan, so of course I enjoyed this book. She definitely has a formula, but that doesn’t mean that her stories are predictable. James’ mysteries are always a fun read.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #33 – Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie

Oh, I love Agatha Christie. Her stories are so fun, even if the mysteries are usually easy to solve. Five Little Pigs is one of the Hercule Poirot mysteries; he flies solo on this one. The book was originally called Murder in Retrospect, not sure why it was changed, but it also makes sense.

Amyas Crale was murdered, and his wife Caroline was executed for the crime. Sixteen years later, their daughter returns to England (after being raised in Canada) to try to clear her mother’s name. Her mom wrote a letter just before her execution saying that she didn’t do it. However, she raised almost no defense at her trial, and everyone figures she did that, because she did it.

The daughter enlists Poirot to re-investigate the crime, so he goes back to scene of the crime and speaks to everyone who was involved. Our Five Piggies are: Phillip Blake, a stockbroker (“went to market”); Meredith Blake, Philip’s brother, a reclusive former amateur herbalist (“stayed at home”); Lady Dittisham (nee Elsa Greer), Amyas’s lover (“had roast beef”); Cecilia Williams, the governess to the Crale’s child (“had none”); and Angela Warren, an archaeologist and Caroline’s sister (“cried ‘wee wee wee’ all the way home”). Each had motive, means and opportunity. But so did Caroline.

Poirot interviews everyone, and has each write out their memories of the events leading up to the murder. He also talks to the police and lawyers involved in the case, and in the end, he figures it out, and does the whole “gather everyone together & reveal the real killer” bit. For me, that never gets old. Highly enjoyable, like all of Christie’s books.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #32 – The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

Lots of driving over the past week or so. Tampa to West Palm to Miami to Tampa to Orlando to Miami to West Palm to Tampa. Lots of time on my ass. Lots of time to listen to a very long story. That’s pretty much how I pick my books on CD – driving time. Since I was going to be in the car for a crap-ton of time, I knew I could go long. The last time I had lots of driving to do, I tried Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Who knew that the audiobook could be even more boring than the actual book?! So this time I decided to go pulp fiction. Well, pulp historical fiction.

We all know Philippa Gregory from such books as The Other Boleyn Girl, The Boleyn Inheritance, and other Tudor bodice rippers. The books we all hate to say we read (or listen to) and enjoy; total guilty pleasures. This book is no different. It’s about Mary, Queen of Scots (the “other” to Elizabeth I) during the time she was captive (guest?) in England after the whole Scotland debacle (Darnley murdered, Mary kidnapped and probably raped by Lord Bothwell, also maybe married to him and carrying twins). So Elizabeth puts Mary with one of her most loyal Lords, George, Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife Bess of Hardwick. Bess is an interesting historical figure that I had never heard of until listening to this book – I will definitely be looking into her more.

Anyway, there’s a lot here. Mary is semi-guest, semi-captive, sorta-queen, and is either staying with or jailed by the Shrewsburys. The story is told from the points of view of Mary, George, and Bess; which makes things very interesting, because Gregory has done the research to be able to talk about the exact same incident from three very different points of view, and she makes it sound plausible. Mary is vain, and fully believes that she is magic, untouchable, and ordained by her (catholic) god to rule. Bess is the daughter of a farmer who knows the value of a dollar (pound) and the value of land. Shrewsbury is of the old guard, landed gentry, his family has served the monarch (no matter who it is) for generations. Honor is all for Shrewsbury; safety is all for Bess (financial safety, that is); power and ruling is all for Mary.

There were a lot of passages at which I rolled my eyes, and most of those belonged to Mary. I would hope that a woman who could have ruled three countries (France, Scotland and England) wouldn’t have been such a determined flirt who used men and depended on them for the source of her power. Bess was more my style, an actual self-made woman who was considerably more clever than most of the people around her. According to the story (and from what I’ve gleaned from wikipedia), the “honor” of being responsible for Queen Mary bankrupted the Shrewsburys.

The people reading the story on the audiobook were all excellent actors, they really brought the characters to life. I’m not sure how I would feel about this in actual book form, but the audiobook kept me entertained and awake for my very long drives.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #31 – Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell

This was yet another of my Kindle freebies (maybe a cheapie), and I’m glad I grabbed it. I didn’t realize that I had heard of Cornwell before, but he’s the guy who wrote all those “Sharpe’s” books, which were made into a TV series starring Sean Bean (I’m guessing since there was more than one, nothing from this show made the death reel).

This book clearly deals with the battle at Agincourt, the battle that made Henry V famous. Our hero is a Zelig sort, Nicholas Hook. He’s a paragon, of course; perfect archer, good guy, handsome, always says the right thing. He meets King Harry, as well as other real historical figures. And they all think he’s super cool. He also have people who hate him, but they’re awful and evil, also of course.

Agincourt was well-written and well-researched. I had to hit wikipedia several times just to learn stuff that made the story make more sense. Hook has a revelation when he’s trapped during an ambush in France, and feels like he’s been adopted by Saints Crispin and Crispinian (note the connection there); they even speak to him. Crispinian’s the softer brother, he gives Hook hints and directions about how to be nice and save himself and others. Crispin is kind of a dick, he helps Hook be ruthless when he has to.

If you’ve read any of my reviews, you know I’m a fool for historical fiction, and I don’t really discriminate between time periods. If it ain’t now, I love it. This book made me want to go back and re-read Henry V, and to learn more about that time. To me, that makes a great historical novel.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #29 – Stealing Athena by Karen Essex

Thomas Bruce, otherwise known as the Earl of Elgin, was appointed ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1798. He was fairly young to receive such an honor, but he had distinguished himself at court and impressed the king. At the time he was also deeply in debt, with little to no income, and a bachelor. Just before he left for Constantinople (not Istanbul), he married Mary Nisbet, the only child of a wealthy man, and heir to a very large fortune. He was very interested in classical art, and Greece (which was part of the Ottoman Empire at the time) was the perfect place for him to take drawings & models so that England could be cooler & artier than France.

Stealing Athena is the story of Mary, and her experiences as Lady Elgin, the wife of a diplomat and a landed earl. It’s about Elgin’s decision to take the sculptures from the Parthenon, rather than drawings and models (ostenstibly to preserve them, but he was also very acquisitive). It’s about how Mary helped Elgin in every way she could, bearing him children, and paying for everything (technically, her dad did, which he didn’t like). It’s about how Mary was able to charm people in power so that Elgin could get what he wanted.

And what did it get her in the end? Well, Elgin was sick often, and treated with mercury, which may have been the cause of his nose rotting away. He wore a leather nose mask so he wouldn’t scare people. Ick. There are theories that it was syphillis that rotted his nose, but neither Mary nor the children exhibited any symptoms, and Elgin lived to 75, so it probably wasn’t the syph. Mary bore him five children, four of whom survived into adulthood. In the book, each birth was hellish for Mary (makes sense, I tried it without drugs, and it sucked).

Elgin was jealous and possessive, unless Mary was doing something that benefitted him. At one point, when the Elgins were heading back to England, Elgin was arrested by Napoleon. At first the Elgins weren’t allowed to leave Paris (the kids had already gone on ahead); then Elgin was imprisoned. Mary worked to have him freed, all while pregnant with yet another kid. She was helped by Robert Ferguson, a childhood friend of Elgin. Rumors flew. Elgin was freed, and Ferguson went home – but not without telling Mary he loved her.

Elgin was still stuck in France, but Mary was allowed to go home to bury the little boy she had borne in Paris. Elgin forbade her to go, so Ferguson took the baby’s body when he headed back to Scotland. Eventually Mary was allowed to return home as well, and found that she liked the independence. She was still working to bring Elgin home, with (again) Ferguson’s help. While she wrote him letters every day about what the children were doing, he wrote her letters accusing her of slutting around London. Nice, right?

So Elgin finally comes home, and Mary decides she doesn’t want to sleep with him anymore. She says it’s because she doesn’t want to have any more kids, but there was also the whle no-nose thing. He went along with it for a while, until he found a love letter from Ferguson to Mary. So he decided to divorce Mary for adultery, and sue Ferguson for criminal conversion (stealing Mary). It’s funny, because the legal definition of conversion is the taking of property – back then, wives were property, and had no legal status apart from her husband. The children were property too, and Elgin took them from her. He demanded money, and said that he would divorce Mary quietly if he was paid. The Nisbets paid the bribe, but Elgin went ahead with the very public accusation of adultery. Mary could not even speak in court, because it would have been unseemly. Of course, Elgin’s aim was to take Mary’s money, but he got nothing because she was an heiress, and her dad was still alive. So, ha.

Juxtaposed with Mary’s story are snippets of the life of Aspasia, the concubine (as they were called then) of Pericles, the dude who commissioned and pretty much paid for the Acropolis, from which Elgin took his marbles. Aspasia had been raised by a single father, who allowed her to become educated – which was frowned upon bck then (and for most of history, it seems). Pericles fell in love with her, and would have married her, but for a law that he himself enacted. Derp. According to the story, Pheidas used Aspasia’s face as the model for the Athena statue, which got them both into a heap of trouble.

As the bumper sticker says, well behaved women rarely make history. These two ladies were certainly not well behaved, although I had heard of neither until a friend loaned me the book. I’m normally wary of books that have book club notes at the end, but this story was well-researched and well-told to the point that I was compelled to do some research, which means that I must have liked it.