Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book Report: Historical Romance without Bodice Ripping

The fairies must have left me alone last night, or else I was a wallflower at their big revel because I feel a lot more rested today. I still wouldn't mind a nap, but I feel less like I fought a war in my sleep. It probably doesn't help that it's so hot even at night. I'm almost at the point of being willing to sacrifice Houston to a small tropical storm if it could bring rain and cooler temperatures up here. This week's Target newspaper circular had "back to school" stuff in it, and I wouldn't mind stereotypical (not Texas) September weather.

The channel formerly known as Sci Fi premiered the new show Alphas last night, and I'll give it another shot, but I still don't know how much I'm going to end up liking it. It seems like a slightly more interesting take on the Heroes concept, only instead of the people with odd abilities wandering randomly, they've already been found and gathered by some organization, where their abilities are put to use while they're also receiving psychological help for dealing with the impact of their abilities. I like the "found family" sense of the team and the way they look after each other, but I'm not sure how crazy I am about the characters themselves. In particular, the spastic geeky techno boy could get irritating, mostly because I run into way too many people just like that (minus the superpowers) at science fiction conventions. Every time he's onscreen, I have this urge to duck into the women's restroom to escape from him before he can tell me all about the epic fantasy novel he's trying to write, in excruciating, page-by-page detail. My biggest grin, though, came from the fact that there's a character named Cameron Hicks. Someone was an Aliens fan.

Now for a book report ...

Someone in the Television Without Pity Downton Abbey forum recommended Eva Ibbotson's A Countess Below Stairs, and I found it in my neighborhood library. I'd describe it as Anastasia meets Downton Abbey. A young Russian countess flees Russia after the revolution with her mother, brother and English governess, and they end up living nearly penniless in England with the governess. To help her family, our heroine sets out to find a job, and the only position she can get is as a housemaid at a great estate (very Downton Abbey), where they're preparing the house for the return of the new young earl from a hospital following WWI (he's an aviator who was shot down). He surprises the staff and his mother by bringing home a fiancee, but things get complicated when the bride-to-be starts revealing her true colors and the earl finds himself strangely drawn to the new housemaid. I devoured this book in one sitting. It was a good old-fashioned romance with a few twists and a glamorous setting. There isn't a lot of nuance, though. The good characters practically have halos, while the bad characters practically have horns. Grey areas can be nice for depth and complexity, but sometimes it's very satisfying to read something where the good people get thoroughly rewarded and the bad people are thoroughly punished. This book was published by a teen imprint but my library had it shelved as adult fiction. The main characters are in their 20s, but the romance is too chaste for it to be accepted as an adult historical romance (although I can't think of a way to add sex while keeping this plot or these characters), so it's definitely teen (or younger) safe. I'd recommend it for fans of Downton Abby who are occupying themselves while waiting for the next season or for people who like historical romance but who could do without all the bodice ripping.

I also re-read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. The last time, I had the book from the library and the due date was rapidly approaching, so I tore through it and barely remembered how it worked out. This time, I have my own copy, so I had plenty of time, but I may have read it faster. I did force myself to slow down and pay attention near the end, and I'm still not entirely sure how it ends. It's like there's a spell on the ending of that book that confuses me. It makes perfect sense while I'm reading it, but then it gets muddled in my memory afterward.

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