Tuesday, November 30, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts

 As part of my plan to increase my knowledge of the Regency Era, I thought I really needed a better handle on Napoleon. I knew the basics: French General, French Emperor, lover of Josephine, defeated at Waterloo. Also that he was not only a brilliant military commander but also an innovative administrator. But, overall, kind of a bad guy.

Wanting more detail, I plunged into what is called the definitive biography, Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts. This is a superb biography. It did, unfortunately, take me a very long time to read and bogged down my reading progress in general. (I took a couple of breaks, but always felt guilty reading other things.)  I finally finished it today. I’m pleased to note that my basic knowledge was basically correct.

This is a comprehensive birth-to-death biography. The bulk of the detail is centered on his military career, which makes sense. However, for a reader like me who zones out when the battle tactics are described in depth and who skips over battlefield maps, it was more than I needed. It was fascinating in a big picture way, but the details will never stick with me.

More impressive to me was the way the book touched on the personality of the emperor, showing his hubris and his (possibly feigned at times) humility, his wit, his sang-froid, and his extraordinary charisma. His micro-managing attention to detail boggles the mind. His superhuman energy (especially in his younger days) is hard to fathom. And his intelligence, memory, and analytical skills are as impressive today as they were to his contemporaries. 

It’s impossible to come away from this biography unimpressed with Napoleon. At the same time, without the benefit of being exposed to his personal charm, it was impossible for me to come away from it favorably impressed in the balance. The wake of death and destruction his ambitious empire building left across Europe was enormous. And despite his protestations that everything he did, he did for France – he was clearly doing it for personal glory and profit. I found myself astonished by the magnitude of his victories, yet rooting against him the whole time.

Monday, November 29, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Someone Perfect by Mary Balogh

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

Mary Balogh is on her ninth Westcott novel. Someone Perfect is being released tomorrow. I love the Westcott romances with all the intricate family relations. They are going far afield now to more peripheral members. There are still a few more to be matched up, so those Balogh addicts among us don’t have to fear running out. Moreover, this novel’s heroine links up with a hero who also has an extended family with some young folks who will need spouses eventually. It isn’t a given they will all get books of their own, but it’s comforting to know they are out there waiting.

That said, Someone Perfect was a bit disappointing. It was a sweet romance with emotional depth and fine characters. But too many new folks were introduced who didn’t seem important to the plot. It may be a setup for future books, but I won’t remember them all by the time their books are out. And there was too much repetition. We’d be led by the hand into a scene so we’d know what to expect, the lovely scene would unfold as expected, and then one of the protagonists would, with internal monologue, repeat for us what had just occurred. A little less of that would have made the novel more engrossing.

Justin Wiley, the Earl of Brandon, was a sweet happy child, even with the death of his mother in an accident when he was ten. He handled the remarriage of his father to a woman who seemed to quarrel with everyone. He had a step-sister, fourteen years younger, whom he adored. So, what happened? He was banished from the household in his early twenties and essentially disappeared until his father died. Then he returned to take up the responsibilities of an earl. He immediately sent his stepmother and step-sister to the country and did not visit that sister for two years, until after his stepmother died.

His step-sister, Maria, hates him. She wishes nothing to do with him, even though he had once been the light of her life.

Estelle Lamarr is one of the peripheral Westcotts. She lives quietly in the country with her twin brother. She’s a friend of Maria’s. When Brandon comes to claim Maria and bring her “home,” Estelle is put off by his cold, harsh demeanor. Yet when he asks her to visit his estate to help Maria accommodate to her new situation, Estelle recognizes that he isn’t cruel. She agrees to go.

That is the setup. Brandon has to learn to let his past and present merge, and to let the walls he has built up be broken down. Estelle has to decide whether she really wants to live a secluded life or to be surrounded by people—by family. They both have to learn to be vulnerable and honest with one another.

There are no real surprises here, but the characters are easy to pull for. And I’m glad to be left with the impression that there will be more in the series.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

I don’t, as a rule, laugh out loud while reading in a public place. However, I was deeply immersed in Georgette Heyer’s witty comedy of manners, Sylvester, when a fast-paced scene piled up the clever silliness until my giggle could not be contained. 

I love Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romances.

Although the style is a little dated and some of the plots start to feel a bit familiar (I suspect she did them first!), the hilarious banter and outrageous situations never fail to entertain. Sex is only  hinted at but the passion is strong. Her books are comfort food.

Sylvester is a duke in need of a wife. He is well known to be perfectly correct in all his doings. He treats his underlings with courtesy. He gives his peers no reason to complain. He is a womanizer, but insists he never gives the young ladies who throw themselves at him any expectations. He confines his peccadillos to ladybirds. If he were informed that people considered him too high in the instep, he would have been shocked. He doesn’t put on airs. But the thing is, he doesn’t have to put them on, they are part of who he is.

He has numerous acquaintances but only a few close friends. The only two people he truly cares about, after the death of his twin brother, are his invalid mother and his nephew. The boy is only six and is being spoiled by Sylvester’s widowed sister-in-law, whom he despises. 

Sylvester is the boy’s guardian and so he needs to marry so that he can take over the boy’s care altogether. (The boy’s mother wouldn’t actually mind that, but recognizes it would look bad for her to abandon her son to Sylvester after she’s been badmouthing him for years.)

Phoebe is a country gentlewoman being raised by her horse-crazy father and a severe stepmother. She is not beautiful and, with her stepmother breathing down her neck, she does not shine in company because she’s so afraid of saying anything wrong. In her favor, her deceased mother was a very close friend of Sylvester’s mother. And her grandmother (if I have this right) is Sylvester’s godmother. Although she is not much of a prize (she had one London Season and didn’t ‘take’) Sylvester considers the match for his mother’s sake.

Phoebe, when apprized of what’s going on, wants none of it. When Sylvester appears at her father’s country home, apparently to woo her, she runs away—into a winter storm accompanied only by a brotherly friend. Sylvester believes himself to have dodged a bullet and so sets off to return to London. But on the way he comes across Phoebe and her friend, who have had an accident on the road.

The two are thrown together away from the hovering and criticism of the stepmother. And they hit it off. Sort of. They also annoy the hell out of each other. But their interactions amuse them both as well as the reader. Their future together seems assured.

Except Phoebe has a secret. After her failed London Season, she wrote an anonymous novel skewering the ton. A publisher picked it up. It will soon be released. The villain of the piece was based on Sylvester because of his superciliousness and his devilish eyebrows. She is unable to stop the publication or even change that unmistakable physical description. When the book comes out, everyone recognizes Sylvester. His dignity is assaulted. She could have done nothing worse.

They have to find their way back to one another over the course of a few over-the-top adventures. When I saw where the plot was headed, and how well it had been set up, I laughed out loud some more.

One of these days I will run out of Georgette Heyer novels despite how prolific she was. Then I will have to turn around and read them all over again.