Sunday, April 20, 2014

What I've Read This Week Part II

What I've Read This Week Part II . . .

Blandings Castle (Blandings Castle, #3)Blandings Castle by P.G. Wodehouse -- Historical Fiction short stories

The first half of this book tells of the further adventures of the Threepwood family and friends. The second half are tall tales from Hollywood featuring a new character, Mr. Mulliner.

I quite enjoyed the Blandings Castle stories. Freddie Threepwood is growing up and growing a brain! I liked him much more now that he's more steady. Lord Emsworth remains a dear most of the time, but he can be just as snobby as his sisters when he wants to be. Pig Hoo-o-o-o-ey! made me laugh so hard. I just love stories involving The Empress of Blandings. Who ever though a story about a pig could be so funny?
I really didn't like any of the Mulliner stories. The plots were bland and seemed too over the top. I don't know Mr. Mulliner or care why he's telling these stories or whether they're supposed to be true or tall tales. They don't have as well-drawn characters as the Blandings Castle stories. The characters are all the same and basically boring. Some of the plots are typical Wodehouse formula plots. I really don't like how the heroines love the heroes only when the heroes become alpha males. The point was for them to stand up for themselves but the heroines who like take charge heroes come across as weak and unlikeable. I also don't like brooding heroines.

I'm obsessed with Blandings Castle and I want to read more. I think the stories work better in the shorter format because the plots of the novels are basically the same and tend to drag on too long. The shorter format allowed Wodehouse to exercise his comic genius without getting hung up on plot. 

A Mad, Wicked FollyA Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Victoria Darling longs to be a true artist, like her favorite Pre-Raphaelite painter William Waterhouse, but in 1909 women, especially upper class women, do not paint anything except watercolors. They exist merely to be ornaments to their husbands, run a household, bear children and be social. There's no time for art in Vicky's world. She sneaks away from her fancy finishing school in Paris to study art at a salon. She is the only female, yet she knows she can hold her own if only she has a chance to learn. She feels this is the beginning of a long career. However, when she chooses to pose nude for her art class, she is discovered and expelled from school. Back in London, Vicky's parents are humiliated and angry. They're determined to keep their social position and obtain royal patronage for the family business. Vicky's... indiscretion didn't help. Fortunately, Edmund Carrick-Humphreys, the younger son of another nouveau riche family is willing to marry Vicky. Vicky agrees only because she knows it's the only way to get money to attend the prestige Royal College of Art. First she needs a portfolio of recent work so she sneaks out with her sketchbook to draw the suffragettes protesting at Parliament. The police behave badly towards anyone suspected of being a suffragette. Only one, Police Constable William Fletcher has any sympathy for the suffragettes. When Vicky meets Will, they form a deep connection due to their artistic natures and appreciation for art in all forms. Lucy also meets a young American woman named Lucy who gave up her family and life in America to fight for women's suffrage. She challenges Vicky to take a deep look at her feelings about women's rights and encourages Vicky to stand up for what she believes in.

The plot of this book slowly moves towards the inevitable conclusion. Not much happens in the middle and what does happen is a bit repetitive. Still, I liked the story and couldn't put it down until I found out how Vicky was going to find happiness. I would have tightened the angst filled middle and added more of the exciting last chapter. The ending is a total cliche and I was disappointed in that. I was hoping for a realistic ending for Vicky. I was torn because I really wanted her to be happy, yet I felt like she was constantly pushing too many boundaries and she had to accept who she was and find a way to compromise. The period details, especially about fashion, are amazing. The author took a lot of time to do research and really learn the background for her novel. I learned a bit more than I wanted to about painting techniques. Like Vicky, I love Waterhouse and the Pre-Raphaelites. Somehow I missed seeing The Mermaid before. This book is a cut above the usual Downton Abbey/Upstairs, Downstairs knock-off novels that are sprouting up everywhere these days. Vicky's passion for art gives her some meaning and direction in her life. It makes her a better heroine than the usual poor, little rich girl.

I sympathized with Vicky a lot. I feel her passion for art and her desire to achieve happiness. I felt and acted a lot like her when I was a teen. However, I felt she went about trying to achieve her goals in all the wrong ways. I hated that she lied and sneaked out of the house. That doesn't send a good message to teens. Her relationship with the men in her life isn't very good. She's cold and distant to one and never even tries to get to know him. She's a bit snobbish and cool towards the other at times and yet opens up to him more than anyone else. I just didn't really feel that relationship was really all that deep though. She's manipulative with her brother and rude to her father at times. She doesn't behave much better with any of the women in her life. She's single-mindedly focused on art and doesn't have good decision making skills or people skills.

The major male characters, with the exception of one, are all two-dimensional stereotypes of period men. The other man is also fairly two-dimensional in the opposite way. He's a bit too kind and good. He bored me.

The female characters are a little better. I especially liked the character development of Mrs. Darling. She surprised me. I felt sorry for her. I didn't like Lucy too much though I really admire Alice Paul, on whom she is based. I felt she was a bit single-minded and lacking in understanding. She couldn't understand what it was like to be Vicky and she was too focused on militant suffrage techniques. I don't care for that brand of women's suffrage and I think it did more harm than good. The Pankhurst women have cameos in this story, especially Sylvia. I liked getting to know the family.

Read this if you loved Lady Sybil on Downton Abbey.

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