Monday, January 31, 2011

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham

The Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham escorts the reader through the whirlwind events of the reign of King Edward IV (of the House of York) who captured the throne of England from King Henry VI (House of Lancaster). We enter the story when Edward is almost secure on the throne, secure enough at least to marry the dowerless, influence-less Elizabeth Woodville, which causes a fair amount of difficulty. Those familiar with the history know what comes next. For those who don’t...

The king quickly awards the numerous Woodvilles with wealthy, titled spouses (to the irritation of the remaining nobility.) Kate Woodville is Elizabeth’s youngest sister and one of the protagonists of this engaging novel. Kate is wed to the young Duke of Buckingham, Harry Stafford. Harry, the other protagonist of the book, as we learn at the outset of the novel, will later be condemned to die as a traitor. The novel then shows us how this all came to pass.

The book is told in the dual first person voice. We listen to Kate and Harry both tell their stories. It’s a good device, because the history is complicated. Coming from the minds and voices of children it is narrated simply and straightforwardly. There is not a lot of extraneous political analysis, we are only given the same amount of understanding necessary for the self-interested very young duke and duchess, but it moves the tale along.

And move along it does!

Harry is close friends with Richard, the Duke of Gloucester. Higginbotham does a wonderful job of portraying Richard as slyly manipulative while Harry is guileless, easily manipulated, and self-important. With a few words here and there, Richard sows the seeds for years, solidifying Harry’s dependence and loyalty to him. Kate, who begins as a curious and lively child, grows into a loving and, for the most part, dutiful wife. Although she doesn’t shine with any great intelligence, she is a much better judge of character than her husband and possesses the intuition for doing and saying the right thing at the right time—a skill Harry sorely lacks.

This is a historical time frame that is filled with all the elements for a riveting read: passion, betrayal, murder, unbridled ambition leading to unspeakable crimes. Higginbotham shows us all that by using the viewpoints of two historically marginal characters who witnessed it all.

The book is written with the confident touch of an author who knows her history. A list of characters at the beginning will help you keep all the names straight. At the end, an author’s note points out which bits of information are factual, which are fancy, and what may be factual but is disputed.

Susan Higginbotham has a few more books to her name, and now, I will have to add them to my TBR list.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Visit me at YA Bliss

I'm guest posting (yacking away) over at YA Bliss about medieval historical fiction as part of the YA historical fiction challenge events. If you head over to the link, I think there is still time to enter the January giveaway, which includes a chance to win a copy of The Queen's Daughter or Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber.

Friday, January 28, 2011

100 Followers Giveaway

I've reached 100 followers! Thank you all for visiting my blog. To celebrate -- and to clear out my bookshelves just a bit post Christmas -- I'm hosting a YA giveaway. I've selected two wonderful books:

 Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John.

To enter the giveaway, fill out the form.

You don't have to be a follower (although it's nice if you are.) And this time around I'm keeping it simple, with no extra points for tweeting, blogging, etc. (I'm still figuring out the whole google docs spreadsheet thing.)

The contest will run until Feb 28th. Good luck!

Blog Hop 1/28-1/30 -- is it next year already?

Hop on over to Crazy for Books for this weeks book blogger hop. This week's question, posed by Aliyah from Des Absurdites is:

"What book are you most looking forward to seeing published in 2011?  Why are you anticipating that book?"

Unfortunately, I have no answer for this one. I already have so many books stacked up waiting for me that I'm not mentally prepared for 2011 books. I'm sure as I start to see the new releases around and read blurbs and reviews, I'll give in to the temptation to acquire more books. I'm resigned to my ever enlarging TBR pile. But at this point, I'm most looking forward to making time to read the books I already have. I've been anticipating reading some of these for quite some time. So I don't tend to pay a whole lot of attention to books that haven't been released yet.  (Unless Margaret Frazer has a new Joliffe book coming out!)

Oh, good Lord. What is wrong with me? Delete, delete! The book I am most eagerly anticipating this year will be released in the fall. The working title is Fanny and Cecelia. The author is Brad Asher and it will be published by the University Press of KY. It's the true story (nonfiction) of an escaped Louisville slave and her high society mistress, and their correspondence after the civil war-- until the now free woman moved back to Louisville. It's a fascinating story.  And my husband wrote it! 

I'll be posting a more in depth review once I see it in its final form. (Yeesh. I can't believe that slipped my mind. Fall is far away, but it's still in 2011!)
Book Blogger Hop

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

YA BOOK REVIEW: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

I recently read Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, considering it’s more of a time-slip than a historical. Donnelly is an amazing writer. So I was very pleased to learn I didn’t have to wait for her next book. She had already written another YA historical, which meant I could count it toward the YA historical fiction challenge.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly is based on the true story of the murder of Grace Brown, a young woman who was drowned on a lake by a resort hotel in upstate New York in the summer of 1906.

The novel is told from the viewpoint of Mattie Gokey, a seventeen-year-old farm girl. Her mother is dead. Her father is left alone to bring up four girls, and Mattie is the eldest. The responsibilities weigh her down and make her feel trapped. What lifts her up is a love of words as well as a talent for writing that has earned her a full tuition scholarship to Barnard. She dreams of a way of life different than the hardscrabble one she knows, but the scholarship isn’t enough to pay for her escape from the farm. She needs train fare, room and board—which are all out of reach. And when her handsome neighbor inexplicably comes courting, she grasps at the possibility of love, imagining she might be able to exchange one dream for another. Until the town is faced with the drowning death of the young tourist, Grace Brown. As Mattie discovers the truth about Grace, she also learns deeper truths about herself.

Once again, I was swept away by the strong characterizations and the beauty of Jennifer Donnelly’s writing. I highly recommend this moving story!

Monday, January 24, 2011

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Waverley by Sir Walter Scott

For my first official historical novel review of the new year (official because the book was begun and completed in 2011) to be used for the Historical Fiction Challenge, I’ve chosen Waverley by Sir Walter Scott.

Waverley is not only Scott’s first novel (before that he was a well-regarded poet and translator) but it is also regarded as the first historical novel. This is an interesting piece of information in itself, and gets to the heart of the question "What is a historical novel?" But I’m not going to wade into that minefield here. Scott’s intent, aside from making money, was to use fiction to preserve a way of life that was disappearing, to keep alive the memory of historical events and people who were a generation away from being forgotten. The book and its successors were wildly successful. However, he is not much of a favorite today. Out of the more than 20 novels he wrote, most people can come up with Ivanhoe, but would be hard pressed to name another. (Myself included. I read The Heart of Midlothian several years ago, in order to review it for The Historical Novels Review. But other than that, I knew nothing of Scott’s work. I hadn’t even read Ivanhoe.)

Published in 1814, Waverley relates the story of young Edward Waverley’s involvement in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. This was an attempt to put Bonnie Prince Charlie (a Stuart) on the throne of England. Waverley was an English gentleman, whose family had some repressed Jacobite sympathies. However, his family purchased him a commission and off he went to Scotland as an English soldier. While there, he takes an extended leave to visit a family friend. In a roundabout way, he is introduced to Fergus MacIvor, a chieftain with connections to Prince Charles. And he also meets Fergus’s beautiful sister Flora. Waverley gets swept up in the rebellion, almost without volition, and certainly without conviction. The rebellion plays out around him and he sees it through to its end.

The book is worth reading for a variety of reasons, but be forewarned it is tough going. The pace is slow, particularly at the beginning. Some of the dialect is almost indecipherable. And the protagonist is the least heroic hero I’ve ever come across in an adventure. This is intentional. Waverley’s character is clearly spelled out from the beginning. He’s not a bad person or a cowardly one. He is just shallow and self-centered. But that’s apparently OK, since everything works out to reward him in the end.

So far, my review doesn’t sound very tempting. Where is the "worth-reading" part? Aside from the very satisfying feeling you get from turning that last page of a lengthy classic, a historically significant piece of literature, and thinking "hurray, I did it" – was the book itself interesting? Well, yes it was. Scott does a beautiful job creating the characters. I may not have been overly fond of Waverley as a person, but I could certainly recognize him. There was something real and timeless about "a Waverley." He acted consistently true to form as he vacillated from one set of beliefs to another and from one love interest to another. The bombastic old general, the stuffy polite English commanders, the valiant, politically motivated and quick-to-take-offense, and yet steadfast Fergus, they were all remarkably real even if they were "types." This was an odd book because even though I didn’t particularly "care about" the characters, I was interested in what would happen to them. I was interested in how the plot would play out and what roles the major players would have as it all unfolded.

Moreover, the language of the book is gorgeous. Yes, it’s a bit overstuffed. Yes, it lapses into different languages and dialects and eventually I gave up flipping to the notes at the back because I figured I didn’t have to get every little reference to enjoy the book. It has delicious vocabulary. The people speak to each other with intelligence and wit. And although there are slow points to the book, there are also points of adventure and tension. Finally, the book is full of high and low humor.

Sir Walter Scott is not going to become one of my favorite authors. I don’t feel compelled to run out and read the whole series of Waverley novels. However, one of these days, I am determined to tackle Ivanhoe.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tracking my challenges. Any Advice?

Here's a question for my fellow bloggers who have participated in reading challenges in the past: how do you put those little bars underneath the pictures that track the percentage of your progress?

I've browsed through the various gadgets available in blogger but nothing looked close. I tried googling for help, but I can't seem to come up with the right combination of words for what those things are even called.

This is giving me a bad case of technology envy.

Is this something that requires lots of time and venturing into using code? Or is it just finding the write gadget to insert?

Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Literary Blog Hop: Jan 20-23

If you enjoy literary works and want to meet others who blog about the same-- hop on over to The Blue Bookcase and join us for this week's literary blog hop. We are discussing a question provided by Lucia:

Discuss a work of literary merit that you hated when you were made to read it in school or university.  Why did you dislike it?
I'll admit I could not stand Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. I spent six weeks of the summer of my junior year of college studying in France, and one of my courses was on the theater of the absurd. (Thank God the other course was on medieval French literature.) I disliked the theater course in general, but mercifully, the other plays have faded from my memory. However I do remember Waiting for Godot because I had previously been made to suffer through it when it came on TV (PBS). It was interminable. While I realize it's supposed to be comic, I was too bored to be amused. And I know that it has been analyzed to death, and people have imposed all sorts of interpretations upon it-- but I was too bored to even try to pick the thing apart. Maybe I was too young when I was exposed to it. Maybe if I were to try to watch it or read it now I would have more patience. But I doubt it. Listening to two men sitting around doing nothing but whining, then repeating it all over again is not my idea of a stimulating evening.

What work of literary merit left you cold?

Literary Blog Hop

Monday, January 17, 2011

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Today I'm posting a guest review provided by my ever-supportive husband--historian, author, Brad Asher. I hope to coerce convince him to write more guest posts as time goes by. This is a book I bought and fully intend to read myself, but he got to it first. Given his reaction to the novel, I expect I'll be reading it sooner rather than later.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

This is not the type of book I read very often. When I want to read history, I tend to read "real" history—the nonfiction kind, with footnotes and all the rest. But I was persuaded to give Wolf Hall a try the old fashioned way, by reading a published review by a reviewer I respect in a print publication, specifically Benjamin Schwarz in The Atlantic, who highly recommended the book.

Its subject matter is the well-trod ground of Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon so that he could be free to marry Anne Boelyn. The king’s divorce, of course, led to the split of the Church of England from the Roman Church. What makes the book interesting is its perspective: It tells the story from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, a commoner who first served Cardinal Wolsey, an English churchman who worked hard to get the king what he wanted while preserving the unity of the church. When Wolsey failed and fell from Henry’s favor, Cromwell landed on his feet in the King’s court, eventually rising to become the monarch’s right hand man.

Cromwell is charming, smart, loyal, tough, not especially good-looking, and most of all extraordinarily competent. So while the book’s subject matter is the king’s divorce, it is really "about" the triumph of merit over nobility. Most of the high-born people in the book –including the King—are impulsive, petulant, even childish. While they look down at Cromwell for being the son of a blacksmith, he outmaneuvers them all within the circle of courtiers because he is just so effective at getting things done. The pleasure of the book comes in seeing how he is going to work out the practical problems of the king’s desire for a divorce—so even though I knew how the story would end, I was anxious to see how Cromwell managed it.

Along the way, Mantel introduces a number of other interesting minor characters from Cromwell’s circle, as well as historical figures from the King’s court. You also learn a little something about the Reformation, Church politics, and English history, but like all good historical fiction, you don’t even realize you are learning it.

review by Brad Asher

Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Blogger Hop: My genre

Back to hopping this weekend!

The Book Blogger Hop hosted by Crazy for Books is a great way to connect with other book addicts and share the love of blogging. This week's prompt, coming from Barb at Sugarbeats Books is:

"Why do you read the genre that you do? What draws you to it?"

My genre of choice is historical fiction. Since I'm generally reading as a form of escapism, I like to escape as far from my present day situation as possible. I love to find myself in eras long past and far-away places. At the same time, I like an element of realism in what I'm reading. I want to feel that even though it isn't likely to be true in all its facts, it could be true. Or it is based on real events. The nerdy (or compulsive, pressed-for-time) side of me likes to believe that I'm learning something even when I'm reading for pleasure.

I do read contemporary stories from time to time. But somehow, they don't capture my imagination in the same way that good old sweeping epics about the past do. The best historical fiction is always applicable to the here and now -- and I love the sense of perspective that provides.
Book Blogger Hop

Flashback Friday: The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright

Jacki at Lovely Little Shelf has a great meme called Flashback Friday. It's a chance to showcase books you read as a kid or a teen that are still stuck in your head.

Ah! The books I read when I was young...

One of the joys of parenthood is the excuse to reread some of these wonderful old stories. One delightful book that meant a great deal to me when I was young was The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. Written in 1941, it was already a classic by the time I discovered it, and it has recently been re-released for another generation of young readers to enjoy.

The close-knit Melendy siblings—Mona, Rush, Miranda and Oliver (ranging from a young teenager to age five or so)— live in a rambling old house with their kindly but distant father and an affectionate housekeeper. Their mother is dead. The children are pretty well left to their own devices throughout much of the book, but adult supervision is always implied as being just beyond the door. They are very much individual personalities, but their loyalty to each other is unquestionable. The main plot-line of the book centers around a decision to form a club to fight the weekend doldrums. They resolve to pool their weekly allowance, then take turns receiving the whole pot. Saturdays are reserved for spending the money. The only rule is the money can’t be wasted but must be used for something significant.

Each Saturday is a different adventure. The book is fun to read because of the children’s joy in little things. They are at different life stages and make different types of discoveries about the world as they strike out in pursuit of their goals.

When I read first read this book, I wanted to enter the world of the Melendy’s, to join them on their adventures. I missed the family when the story ended. I don’t know how it escaped my attention that the book was part of a series. But my cluelessness then allowed me a very pleasant surprise when I went hunting for the book to read with my daughter a few years ago. Enright had written a Melendy quartet of books. And this time around, I read all four.

These books are wonderful for middle grade readers. If you’re older but looking for something well written and sweet about idyllic childhood in a bygone era, have a look at The Saturdays.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

THURSDAY-GOLDEN OLDIES: Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada

This is the last of my WWII week posts.

I saw this at the bookstore after I had decided on a WWII moratorium. But the quotes on the cover captured my attention: "A signal literary event..." - The New York Times Book Review; "The greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis."-Primo Levi; "One of the most extraordinarily ambitious literary resurrection in recent memory." - The Los Angeles Time. What else could I do? I bought the book.

Written by Rudolf Ditzen, a German author who published under the name Hans Fallada, Every Man Dies Alone is a fictionalized account of Otto and Anna Quangel’s attempt to resist the Nazis by spreading postcard propaganda throughout Berlin. A quiet, self-contained, working-class couple, they carried on their work for years, evading capture. Unfortunately, the postcards were almost all promptly turned in to the authorities by the terrified recipients, and Otto’s dream that his words might be passed from hand to hand, inspiring even greater resistance, was not realized. The book demonstrates not only the cruelty and sadism of the Nazi regime, but also the fear and stupidity of those who supported or tolerated the Nazis in hopes of surviving (or thriving) as Party members. Fallada (who wrote the book shortly after the war, after being released from a Nazi insane asylum) apparently did not have a very high opinion of his fellow Germans. The book is, in many ways, the most painful to read of all the WWII week books, because it shows how few people can overcome the instinct for self-preservation when terrorized. There are rare examples of heroism, but the majority either ignored the injustice going on around them, or participated in it in the hopes of personal gain. Otto and Anna are remarkable in that they remained decent and humane. They refused to sit idly by.

Written with an omni narrator in an old-fashioned style, this was not a "page-turner." Although some parts moved quickly, there were times when I would read and read, become horribly weighed down by what I was reading, and then feel like I had made no progress at all. We follow not only the actions of the Quangels, but of various detectives trying to trace the postcards to the writers, petty criminals who are at first peripherally and eventually more intricately involved, and relatives of the Quangels who suffer merely because they are related. It’s a depressing picture of wartime Germany, depressing because even though we hold up Nazis as an example of unparalleled evil, the human weaknesses exposed in the book are not unique to WWII Berlin. Wherever there is violence and oppression, the same tendencies to sadism, petty tyranny, rationalization, and cowardice will be found. The human race has suffered so much and learned so little.

All this is not to discourage you from reading this. This is a book that was worth the effort. It will stay with me. If only to remind me that there are options to sitting idly by while evil has its day.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

YA BOOK REVIEW: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak scared me. For months, I walked past it in the bookstore. I was aware that it was a bestseller, getting wonderful reviews, receiving awards, and yet, I couldn’t bring myself to buy it. Every time I did pick it up to have a peek, I thought: bleh. A young adult book about Nazi Germany that is focused on death and book-burnings. How incredibly depressing.

Until one day, the same guy at work asked me if I had read it yet, and if my kids had read it. He recommended this one strongly. Seeing my hesitation, he brought the book in and lent it to me. I had no choice but to read it. Luckily, we were going on a weekend vacation and I had a long car ride ahead of me. I immersed myself in reading world...and learned how wrong I had been to be scared. This book, narrated by death, covering horrific and depressing subjects, is somehow not depressing at all.

Nine-year-old (soon to be ten) Liesel Meminger experiences the death of her younger brother while on the way to Munich, where they (now only she) would be handed over to foster parents. At his grave, she steals her first book, The Grave Digger’s Handbook, and it is with this book she learns to read. Eventually the joy she gets from reading turns her into a book thief. Her progress is narrated by ever-watchful Death.

The story unfolds in Nazi Germany, and so the reader experiences all the misery, fear, and brutality of living under the Nazi regime, but filtered somewhat through the resilient eyes of a child. Liesel is not naive so much as she is unbeatable. She receives a great deal of love and support from her foster parents, as different as they are in their ways of expressing it. She forms strong friendships. And a good part of her inner strength comes from her love of books. Even Death cannot but help root for Liesel.

This is a remarkable book. After returning it to my friend, I bought a copy for my family. I got my husband to read it next. It’s hard to impress him with fiction; he’s mainly a nonfiction guy. But he agreed that this one was worth reading. The next step is to convince my kids that a WWII book "about death" that both their parents are pushing is something they should read.

Monday, January 10, 2011

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I came too close to not reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. First—it was one of those super hyped books that you just can’t escape. You know the ones: you can’t turn around too quickly in B&N or your oversized purse will knock over the display and send twenty copies hurtling to the floor. Second, despite the originality of the title, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. It’s a bit off-putting to have to refer to a book by some kind of nickname. But the real problem was, it features a time period that doesn’t particularly grab me. WWII and the years immediately following...well, it’s not the middle ages.

But I couldn’t deny that a lot of people love this book. And then my coworker, who reads a fair amount of historical fiction and recommends things to me from time to time, told me I should read it. I thought, yes, I know I should, but...

Finally, I was at my local indie bookstore looking for a book that wasn’t there. I wanted to buy something though, since I had made the trip. And naturally, a nice, fat display of TGL&PPS was there for the purchasing. So I did.

Still, it sat on my TBR pile for another couple months until finally, after reading The Book Thief and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet I decided I may as well continue with the WWII theme. I picked up the book. And I could not put it down.

Why didn’t anyone tell me it was an epistolary novel?

Juliet Ashton is one of the most delightful protagonists I’ve come across in a long time. She’s intelligent, curious, and generous. The tale is told through letters to and from her friends, who love her dearly for good reason. By the end of the book, I loved her too!

Juliet is a journalist/writer looking for her next book topic. She receives a letter from a man on the island of Guernsey which had been occupied by the Nazis during the war. They strike up a correspondence. Before long, she goes to visit him and the other inhabitants. She learns a good deal about wartime Guernsey and finds a topic for her next book.

That was the plot skeleton. The sweet, funny, poignant letters that fly back and forth from Guernsey all over England pack so much onto that skeleton that an entire island comes alive. The inhabitants endured the deprivation and oppression of the occupation with a strength and a nobility that inspires Juliet and impresses us. But the book is not all war and occupation. A gentle love story develops that is utterly charming.

This book is written in a witty style but with beautiful prose. I learned new things about history. I can’t ask for much more from a historical novel. And one of the things that was so nice about this particular WWII book was that it leaves you with the upbeat belief that most people are inherently good. If you haven’t read it yet, I’ll echo my coworker’s urging—you should.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

No hopping this weekend

I've been looking forward to the hops starting back up, but my week came crashing to a close and the weekend already seems to be halfway over. How did that happen?

One reason may be that I've finally joined a book group -- a historical fiction/history book group. We've chosen Waverley by Sir Walter Scott for our first discussion. I'm pleased to be reading it, pleased to be in a book group, but the book is eating up more hours than a book its length normally would.

I'll hop next Thursday and Friday. I miss it!

In the meantime, I hope you'll pop in throughout next week when I'll be featuring reviews from WWII books.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

THURSDAY- GOLDEN OLDIES: Watership Down by Richard Adams

I first read Watership Down by Richard Adams when I was in grade school. I remembered it as being a pretty hefty book, but one that kept me spellbound. I read it at an age when I was just learning to how to read for deeper meaning and was rewarded with an extraordinarily rich experience. When my own children reached that age, it was one of the books I couldn't wait to read with them. They both loved it, and I fell in love with the book all over again.

If, by any chance, you’ve only heard of Watership Down in passing, yes—it is a story about rabbits. But don’t let that scare you off. I don’t usually read book with animals playing all the lead parts. This is about rabbits, but it is about so much more.

As it opens, the heroes of the story, two brothers, Fiver and Hazel, have emerged from their warren for their evening grazing. Fiver has a terrifying vision. He senses impending doom. Vague though this is, he is so certain and so terrified that he convinces Hazel they must leave immediately. They gather up a tiny group who are willing to follow them either because they have become disaffected with the warren or because they trust Hazel and find Fiver’s fear contagious. Among these is a large, strong rabbit named Bigwig. He’s a member of the Chief Rabbit’s police force, a position of privilege in the old warren, but he is willing to leave and start anew. Bigwig becomes one of the most critical members of the group, but each rabbit has his own unique personality and they all make important contributions on the journey.

The group embarks on a search for a new home. They undergo a series of adventures that teach them about themselves, about cooperation, and about the essential nature of rabbitness. The adventures drive the story and are compelling enough to entrance children and adults. The characters, even though they are rabbits, are so well developed that they capture your heart. It’s the type of story you won’t want to see end.

Watership Down is truly one of my favorite books of all time.

Monday, January 3, 2011

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer

I started off the new year by diving right into one of my challenges—the Georgette Heyer challenge hosted by Stephanie at Books are a Girl's Best Friend. This was partly because I thought a light Regency romance was just what I needed for New Year’s weekend and partly because I had taken the book out of the library, it’s due January 4th, and I discovered it can’t be renewed. So it had to be bumped up to the top of my TBR pile. I hate returning books to the library unread. It makes me feel like I failed.

And so I read Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer.

Dominic, the Marquis of Vidal, is a rake and a scoundrel. The son of a duke, he is born to privilege and takes advantage of it, whether that entails seducing women he has no intention of marrying, or killing men he feels deserve to be killed. Perfectly handsome and an exquisite dresser, he is also an excellent shot, a recklessly fast coach driver, and an extraordinarily lucky gambler. At twenty-four years of age, he has succeeded in scandalizing the ton, which entrances the better part of them. However, he finally crosses the line. Drunk and dueling again, he shoots one man too many. So his father packs him off to France.

Enter Miss Mary Challoner. Not quite a lady (although her grandfather is a gentleman, her father married down, and Mary has no expectations of marrying her way back up) she is nevertheless well educated, sensible, brave, loyal, and pretty. However, she has a beautiful (but not very bright) younger sister, Sophia, and an ambitious, scheming, obnoxious mother. The mother is aware that the marquis is attracted to Sophia. She is certain that marriage can be arranged one way or another, refusing to see that the vast difference in the two stations will never allow it. She also refuses to see that Sophia’s own loose behavior is giving Dominic the wrong ideas. Mary is chagrined.

Dominic asks Sophia to run off to Paris with him and be his mistress. Sophia agrees. Mary intercepts a cryptic letter from Dominic with some final instructions—just enough for Mary to know her sister is about to be ruined. It’s late at night. She dons a mask and takes her sister’s place. When the ruse is discovered, the furious marquis abducts Mary and carts her off to Paris instead.

And here the romance begins. Until now, Dominic has been a horrible person. Romance novels are full of "notorious rakes" and dark heroes, but Dominic is just an unpleasant personality all around. He has none of the admirable qualities I hope to find in a protagonist, with the possible exception of loving his mother and fearing his father. I wasn't sure it would be possible to redeem him. But when they reach France, Mary makes it clear that she is not what he thought and she is not going to stand for his ill-treatment any longer. Dominic has met his match.

The remainder of the story progresses through the typical stages of Regency romance. The couple falls in love, but it takes them awhile to recognize love for what it is. They are kept apart by a variety of misunderstandings and society-imposed obstacles. Mary’s practicality and concern for others make her an enjoyable heroine to root for. Dominic makes great strides in becoming a reformed rake. (Although he never does rid himself of his excessive jealous rages and hot temper, these are shown as perhaps being desirable alpha male qualities.) A cast of entertaining characters round out the story as Dominic and Mary fly through a series of adventures on their way to a romantic happy ending.

This is classic Regency romance with charm and a touch of humor. It is sweet and clean. It makes for very enjoyable escapist reading and I look forward to my next read in the challenge.