Archive for the ‘Victorian’ Category

Book Review – City of Ashes

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

What I’ve recently finished:

**City of Ashes by Megan Chance**
World Catalog

What is it about?
This book centers around two young women. Set in the late 188s, Geneva Langley is a Chicago socialite who loves being surrounded by artists and free thinkers. Her husband, on the other hand, wants her to fit a rather strict mold of upper class woman hood-paying calls, attending balls and being a model wife as his business develops. Geneva (or Ginny) pushes the edge too far and they both find themselves banished to the developing city of Seattle. The second woman, Beatrice Wilkes, is an actress already living in the cut throat world of the newly developing Seattle theater scene. She has lived on her own since her mid-teens and because of this, she trusts no one living in this kind of environment – someone can be her friend one day and then steal her part the next.

These two women might initially strike the reader as opposites – Ginny getting many things handed to her with little work needed on her end and Beatrice who has had to work hard for everything from her food to her position in her theater company. But the Seattle fire of 1889 forces a bond between these two unlikely women and helps them attain what they both want – freedom and position and they pair together in a rather creative way in order to do just that.

Why did I read this?
I read Megan Chance’s book The Inconvenient Wife and thoroughly enjoyed it. City of Ashes is set around the same time as this other book but during a more specific event, The Great Seattle Fire. I had never heard of this, unfortunately, so that made me want to read it.

What impressed me about this book?
I’m a sucker for books told in various points of view. Many, if not all, of the characters were sneaky and dishonest. It was interesting read Ginny, for example, see her husband do something out of character and then, in the next chapter from the husband’s point of view, you can read what he was thinking and know why he did it.

I also liked the descriptions of the city both before and after the fire. It made the book quite interesting.

What disappointed me about this book?
Since this was the second book I read by the author, I couldn’t help but see a familiar and almost formulaic timeline between the two books. (I won’t state much else because I don’t want to include spoilers)

Historical Relevance:
When Ginny and her husband first arrive to Seattle, you read of a city with very little archetectural structure. For example, shops are on streets however they’re not all aligned correctly. And many of the buildings were made from wood. So imagine a great fire hitting a city like this? It is because of these circumstances, the fire did as much damage as it did. Because of this, many policies were changed during its rebuilding. I’ll take text straight from Wikipedia:

The city made many improvements in response to the fire. The city’s fire department shifted from a volunteer to a paid force with new firehouses and a new chief. The city took control of the water supply, increasing the number of hydrants and adding larger pipes.The advent of brick buildings to downtown Seattle was one of the many architectural improvements the city made in the wake of the fire. New city ordinances set standards for the thickness of walls and required “division walls” between buildings.These changes became principal features of post-fire construction and are still visible in Seattle’s Pioneer Square district today, the present-day location of the fire. At Pioneer Square, guided tours are also available to paying customers. Also at this location visitors can tour the Seattle Underground, where they can visit remains of buildings that were built over after the fire.

What reading challenge(s) did this book apply to?

Overall Grade?
Rating: ★★★½☆

Book Review – “The Sealed Letter” & “Her Royal Spyness”

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Actually more but I wanted to do a quick review of two of them.

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue.

Goodreads description:
England, 1864
: Miss Emily “Fido” Faithfull is a “woman of business” and a spinster pioneer of the British women’s movement. Distracted from her beloved cause by the sudden return of her once-dear friend, the unhappily wed Helen Codrington, Fido is swept up in the intimate details of Helen’s failing marriage to the stodgy Admiral Harry Codrington. What begins as an effort to help a friend explodes into a courtroom drama muckier than any Hollywood tabloid could invent; with stained dresses, accusations of adultery, counterlcaims of rape, and a mysterious letter that could destroy many lives.

My Take:
One of the main reasons I love reading is because I care about the characters. Whether I want them to go away, die, get with their crush and/or survive. As morbid as it might sound, wanting a character to die is some degree of caring. Sure, it’s certainly not nice but it is caring.

With this particular book, however, I didn’t care about any of the characters. I guess that’s to be expected. No one comes out looking wonderful in a divorce. Fido Faithfull is someone I would probably admire if I read about her in history books–she advocated for female independence and employment during a time when women were limited to needle point and seeing guests. But in this book she is so very naive and, because of that, she is led to believe some pretty inaccurate things that the reader is probably seeing straight through. Helen Codrington, the wife in this divorce case is incredibly selfish and heartless. Henry Codrington, like many men of the time, simply wanted a wife to be seen and not heard.

I guess what I found so interesting however was the British history of divorce. It was very hard to get a divorce in Britain prior to 1857 because the only way one could get one was through an act of Parliament! (So needless to say you had to be very rich to get one) Which makes me wonder–how many divorces were direly needed but never received? How many women were beaten within an inch of their life or even to death with little to no hope of ever having an end to their abusive marriage? You can see the history of divorce in Britain here and you can see just how much the woman was at the disadvantage with many of these laws.

Final Rating? Three out of Five Stars


Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

Goodreads description:
Her ridiculously long name is Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter to the Duke of Atholt and Rannoch. And she is flat broke. As the thirty-fourth in line for the throne, she has been taught only a few things, among them, the perfect curtsey. But when her brother cuts off her allowance, she leaves Scotland, and her fianc Fish-Face, for London, where she has:

a) worked behind a cosmetics counter-and gotten sacked after five hours
b) started to fall for a quite unsuitable minor royal
c) made some money housekeeping (incognita, of course), and
d) been summoned by the Queen to spy on her playboy son.

Then an arrogant Frenchman, who wants her family’s 800-year-old estate for himself, winds up dead in her bathtub. Now her most important job is to clear her very long family name

My Take:

Bridget Jones + Royal Title + Set in England during the 1930s. Then you’ll have this book :-)

What a lovely and quirky lil mystery! Don’t get me wrong–I feel very odd describing a murder mystery as light and fun but…it was!

I’ve been enjoying books about English royalty and this is one of them. I particularly like that the royalty component is from the point of view of such a loving character as Georgie–someone considered royalty (albeit 34th in line from the throne), yet we also see that she has her own life and own set of issues separate from English royalty at the time.

Georgie is requested by the Queen to spy on her first born son and his romance with American, Wallace Simpson, while trying to save her brother from being hung for a murder he did not commit. Pretty busy few weeks! But through all this, Georgie realizes that she does not have to be dependent on her family for money, servants or food. Not to mention fun!

Georgie is a woman with many layers. She doesn’t want to rush into a marriage and her friends encourage her to have sex too! Shocking I know! She has her fair share of emotional issues with her mom too. (Or “mom” as I’d like to say.) She’s clumsy and quirky too, which makes her so endearing. A woman with a royal title but even she has issues with polite manners :-P

I love me a nice murder mystery and I certainly like one that can make me laugh too! I look forward to reading the rest of the books in Bowen’s series! Four out of Five stars.

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