And gave me The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins! I really liked both The Moonstone and The Woman in White, so odds are good for me on this one.
I read 17 books, for a total of 5,900 pages.
Three series starts: Cinder, Midnight Riot and The Last Dragonslayer. Of the three, I definitely intend to go on with Cinder and The Last Dragonslayer. Midnight Riot was a bit of a disappointment, actually.
Two classics: North and South and The Scarlet Letter. There will be posts on both of these books at some point. I loved North and South enough that I plan to read more Gaskell. The Scarlet Letter wasn’t as awful as I expected it to be, but it definitely will never be one of my favorite classics.
The Grisha trilogy was a reread, and it was a lot of fun! I enjoyed Leigh Bardugo’s imperial Russia inspired world, and, in spite of the fact that a lot of people hated the ending, I thought it was well-done.
I launched into my L’Engle project with the first book in the Time Quintet, A Wrinkle In Time, which was a reread from my childhood. I am looking forward to reading on in the series, which showed up under the Christmas tree in a lovely box set edition.
I also reread most of the Lady Julia series by Deanna Raybourn – I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane and it was nice to get reacquainted. I’ve run out of time in January before finishing The Dark Enquiry, which means it will be put off until March, because my plan for February is to work on the print book TBR, which means I won’t be reading kindle books, I’ll be reading:
A selection of my overwhelmingly huge library of unread print books.
This weeks prompt is: The Top Ten Books I’d Love To Read With My Book Club. Let me mention, however, that I am not currently involved in a real life book club, although I was in a book club for several years. Picking a book club book is a delicate task, because the book needs to be sufficiently substantive that it generates discussion, without being so dense or difficult that no one will actually read it.
So, this is my top ten – actually a dozen (3 classics, 3 modern fiction, 3 memoirs, 3 non-fiction), which would be reading list of a whole year – list of “books for my imaginary #ReadWomen2015 book club.” Some of them I have read, some are on my list of books to read.
Top Ten Tuesday is the brainchild of The Broke and the Bookish!
January: The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan (Why read this? It meshes WWII, science, and women’s history and looks fascinating.)
February: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (Why read this? Well, because I’ve already read North and South and want to read more Gaskell, plus, Cranford is told from the perspective of a pair of Victorian spinsters. Yes, please).
March: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Why read this? Everyone should read Margaret Atwood, and, just as importantly, everyone should read this Atwood).
April: The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Statrapi (Why read this? It’s a graphic novel/memoir of a young woman coming of age in Iran. Why wouldn’t you read it?)
May: Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons (Why read this? Because it is a delightful and beautifully written multi-generational tale of Southern women.)
June: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore (Why read this? Hello, Wonder Woman.)
July: Dust Tracks in the Road by Zora Neale Hurston (Why read this? Zora Neale Hurston is a national treasure, and this memoir is her own story of growing up poor and becoming one of the great voices of the black American experience.)
August: House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (Why read this? Lily Bart is one of the most amazing literary characters ever written, and reading this book is like opening a vein. It’s crushing.)
September: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (Why read this? Part natural history, part meditation, part memoir, Annie Dillard wields words like a weapon. So beautiful.)
October: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Why read this? Shirley Jackson is monumentally underrated. Also, this is a great book for the spooky season.)
November: Beloved by Toni Morrison (Why read this? Toni Morrison won the Nobel, and this is her masterwork.)
December: A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorhead (Why read this? A fascinating historical look at women in the occupied countries during WWII).
A Moonlit Night, a Sleeping Village, and an Unaccountable Murder...
In the dead of the night, a man in an evening dress is found murdered, locked in the stocks on the village green. Unfortunately for Superintendent Hannasyde, the deceased is Andrew Vereker, a man hated by nearly everyone, especially his odd and unhelpful family members. The Verekers are as eccentric as they are corrupt, and it will take all Hannasyde's skill at detection to determine who's telling the truth, and who is pointing him in the wrong direction. The question is: who in this family is clever enough to get away with murder?
"Miss Heyer's characters act and speak with an ease and conviction that is refreshing as it is rare in the ordinary mystery novel."--Times Literary Supplement
Heyer is better known for her romances than her mysteries, and for good reason, honestly. This was a reasonably entertaining mystery, but was really nothing special. It is very much a class-based mystery, as are many of the golden age mysteries.
The book begins with the grisly discovery of a body in the stocks in the village of Ashleigh Green – Arnold Vereker has been stabbed. Arnold is the wealthy eldest brother of the Vereker family, and the prime suspects are his two siblings: the smashing Antonia, who is engaged to Rudolph, and employee of Arnold’s and not a particularly suitable partner for Antonia, and Kenneth, the artistic freeloader who is engaged to the beautiful and expensive Violet. It’s obvious that Arnold has been murdered for his money. The question is which of the suspects, all of whom loathed Arnold, is the guilty party.
I get the sense that Heyer was a bit of a snob, mostly from reading biographical stuff about her, but also from her books. This mystery – along with the one other mystery I’ve read of hers – relies heavily on the “Bright Young Thing” trope that is common in golden age mysteries. The BYT is a young, generally extremely attractive, female character who is a bit bohemian, who always ends up marrying someone whom she will enliven, at the same time that he will steady her. She is sort of a precursor to the MPDG (manic pixie dream girl) character trope that we’ve seen more recently.
The BYT is always desirable, and is the “heroine” of the piece. She is usually attached to someone who is not good for her – as Tony was at the beginning of this story. Giles is the perfect foil for the BYT – he is steady, but not staid, and head-over-heels for the girl. He is a Mr. Knightley, as opposed to a Mr. Wickham or a Mr. Willoughby. Not interesting enough to carry the book on his own, he’s the classic nice guy who deserves to win the hand of the cool girl. As soon as Giles ends up in the same room with her, we KNOW that he is the guy for Tony.
Violet, on the other hand, is NOT a BYT. First of all, she’s not that bright. And she’s a gold-digger – she is not sufficiently light-hearted or bohemian. It isn’t Violet’s lower class roots, but her actual lack of class, that excludes her. Being a BYT wasn’t actually dependent on having money – it was all about attitude. One could sponge off others, but not be a gold-digger, as long as one was convincingly able to maintain the fiction that money was unimportant. I know this makes no sense, but this is the sense I make of the trope after reading tons of these books.
Ultimately, the relationship with money in books of this time period can be really conflicted (as it was for Heyer herself!). Having money is perceived as admirable, but making money is grubby and greedy. So, Tony & Kenneth could live off of Arnold’s labor, and still feel his superior because, you know, they didn’t care about money. Even though the money that allows them to eat comes directly from him. It’s schizophrenic at best, hypocritical at worst.
Unfortunately, this trope has not worn well in the modern era of rising inequality. I found Kenneth deplorable, and Tony annoying. I wanted them both to get off their underwhelming, overindulged asses and do something – anything – useful. Arnold was awful, but he was no more awful than the people around him. He might have even been less awful. At least he was capable of feeding himself.
Tying this back to Heyer, she was involved in a tremendous conflict with Inland Revenue during her lifetime. She wrote because it paid the bills, but was constantly fighting about taxes, and at one point set up a LLC to try to lessen her tax burden, then basically got caught treating the LLC like it was her bank account, and the tax authorities got pissed and told she owed a bunch of money. Which I believe she ultimately paid, but she was not happy about it. She, herself, was more like Arthur (probably) than like either Violet or Antonia/Kenneth, but I think that she clearly sympathized with “the gentry” and the “leisured class.”
Over all, this is a reasonably enjoyable golden age mystery, although I never find Heyer’s mysteries as well-plotted as Christie’s or as enjoyable and quirky as Sayers. She’s definitely a second tier mystery novelist. And all of the characters could have used a swift kick in the ass.