Friday, January 29, 2016

What I Read in September 2015 Part IV

What I Read in September 2015 Part IV ...

The Selected LettersThe Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott by Louisa May Alcott, edited by Madeleine B. SternJoel Myerson- non-fiction

Louisa May Alcott is best known for her novel Little Women. She was an intensely private person who burned many of her private papers before her death. The editors of this volume have compiled selected letters sent from Louisa to friends, family, business contacts and a few special fans. Here you will read about her career from Moods, Work, Hospital Sketches, to Little Women, Jack and Jill and Jo's Boys.

Some of the letters include bits she put into her novels and some are dry business correspondence. She was a remarkably talented, intelligent woman who cared deeply about her family and chafed at the restrictions placed on her by the stuffy society in which she lived. Some of her comments are witty and some letters are dry business ones.

I was surprised by how much my hero bought into the "angel in the house" construct. I knew she was involved in woman suffrage and was among the first women to vote on the east coast. She also believed women should be allowed to work and get paid for that work. She was an early advocate of equal pay or equal work. She would seriously be upset at how little has changed since her day. Yet, she also felt women should make a cozy, happy, loving home for their family and that should be their main concern.

I knew she was in poor health due to possible mercury poisoning from the Calomel given to her when she contracted typhoid at a Washington field hospital during the Civil War. What I didn't know was how much she suffered and for how long. I can relate to being almost 40 and in chronic pain already. 40 was much older then and she felt even older.

The personal content includes her feelings on the numerous tragedies in her family and how much she hated being famous. (She satirizes her fame in Jo's Boys). Her notes to her niece Lulu are adorable and charming. They show a different side to Louisa, who mostly comes across as tough and more masculine than what was normal. She turns into a baby-talking doting auntie whenever she writes to Lulu. I didn't know much about Lulu before this so it was great to see another side of Louisa.

I especially liked the letters about her creative process and the mentions of numerous stories I have yet to read. Somewhere in this house I do have Under the Lilacs and A Garland For Girls. I had Jack and Jill but it has disappeared. I need to track down Lulu''s Library and Spinning Stories.

If you don't know a lot about Louisa, this is a good place to start.

Malice at the Palace (Her Royal Spyness #9)
Malice at the Palace (Her Royal Spyness #9) by Rhys Bowen-- Historical cozy mystery

Georgie Rannoch is back in London where she belongs. She has some money in her pocket from Mummy, who has gone back to Germany to marry Max and a place to stay at Belinda's Mews cottage. When Belinda returns unexpectedly, Georgie is out on her feet again. Luckily, her royal relatives come to the rescue. Prince George, the King's 4th son, is getting married to Princess Marina of Greece and Queen Mary wants Georgie to show the Princess around and shield her from any nasty gossip about George's hard-partying ways. Georgie and Queenie move into Kensington Palace with all it's mysteries and ghosts. The Princess is a fun companion, despite her poor relation Countess Irmtraut who manages to be gloomy in spite of the celebration and a Major Beauchap-Clough is in charge of all expenses so what could be easier? When Georgie discovers a body in the courtyard of Kensington Palace, she knows her job just got a lot harder. The deceased, Bobo Carrington, a society girl addicted to booze and drugs was once the mistress (still?) of Prince George. If Princess Marina finds out, she could call off the wedding and embarrass the royal family. Scotland Yard and the Home Office team up with Georgie to solve the mystery.

Wow this story was a lot grittier than I expected. Content warning spoilers highlight to see: Sex (one scene played for laughs and not too graphic)
Dialogue about sex, homosexuality, drugs, abortion

The 1930s is in full swing here with the Depression, Hitler running Germany and lots of wild partying. If you've seen the recent Upstairs, Downstairs remake, Prince George makes a cameo appearance so you know what he's like. He's been in these books before so I knew what Georgie knew but the rest of it was a little too gritty for me. The grittiness was counterbalanced a little by the humor but the undercurrent of darkness was always present. I was glad Georgie is back in London because Hollywood didn't suit her at all. I like the English royal setting the best. I wasn't at all surprised by the identity of the murderer. I actually picked out that person before the murder even happened! I was a little surprised by the motive though. I hated the big misunderstanding. I gasped when I read it and hoped he had a good explanation, which he did but I'm not sure it was good enough. I'm torn: on one hand it would make a better story if he didn't, but on the other hand, he would break Georgie's heart (and mine) in the process. I gasped again at the final scene and I wonder if this is the final book in the series or what will happen next? I hope it all works out and we see more of Georgie. My biggest complaint besides the darkness, is that the plot moves pretty slowly. There's a lot of historical information thrown in and at first it seemed like the author did her research on Wikipedia but she reveals knowledge of the royals that isn't found there. I also wasn't thrilled about the paranormal aspect. Umm that came out of nowhere...

Georgie is still as charmingly naive and sweet as ever. I adore her and can relate to her a bit. She has a good heart and always wants to help her family and she's willing to support herself if only she could. For those who hate Queenie, she's hardly in this one at all and she's much needed for the comic relief. Georgie is a little tough on Queenie but Georgie has a good heart and explains her reasons for keeping Queenie on. More humor is added from Countess Irmtraut who hates England and doesn't understand idiomatic expressions. The humor is what makes these stories so much fun!

Other than Countess Irmtraut, who is a real pill. The new characters include Major B-C, whom I found too polished and too friendly to be true. He seems nice enough but I just didn't like him. There's also Princess Marina, who is a real life member of the royal family. George and Marina seem like a good fit. Marina is fun-loving, has a good sense of humor and doesn't swoon when George urges her to buy a pair of naughty knickers. Then there are the Aunts, Queen Victoria's daughters Beatrice and Louise. They turn out to be unexpectedly delightful. I knew Louise was the cool one and Georgie would like her. Beatrice seems kind too. We don't get to meet Queen Victoria's granddaughters yet. There are also the palace ghosts, including Princess Sophia, daughter of George III who had a tragic past that isn't mentioned in any Georgian or Regency romance novels I've read! The newest character who is not a real life person is Bobo. She never appears on page except as a corpse. She was mysterious and dark; known for her dangerous drug addiction and love of booze. She turns out to be full of surprises as Georgie slowly uncovers the secrets.

Returning characters include Georgie's mum, who always annoys me with her breezy insouciance. fortunately she's only in one scene. Belinda appears a few times and first annoyed me and then I felt sympathy for her. A little bit anyway. Darcy remains mysterious and I am unsure if I should trust him though I do love Darcy and Georgie together. Prince George and his brother David, the playboy princes, appear briefly. George seems more willing to change than David, who is still in the clutches of Mrs. Simpson. (Who has one catty scene which made me proud of Georgie).

This would be a good book to read on Halloween or between Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night, the time the story takes place. It seems an odd sort of book to release in the summer. 

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