A Useful Woman by Darcie Wilde

Howler Alert!

I discovered Wilde’s series by accident when I was doing some checking on Austen Fan Fiction for the JASNA Bibliography.  What a fabulous pseudonym! 

I mostly enjoyed this entry in the Cozy Mystery genre and found it delightful, except for one ENORMOUS Howler.   If you are a fan of historical mysteries, female sleuths, and the Regency period, this series should perhaps be added to your TBR pile.  

But wait, what was the howler?  Well, dear reader, let me tell you.  The action of the novel mostly takes place in February-March of 1817 and references something called the “Little Season.”  According to the novel, the Little Season was the ramp up to the London Season and took place between the opening of Parliament in January and Easter week (p. 14).  Unfortunately, this is not accurate.  The Little Season actually ran from September or later to the Christmas Holiday and the opening of Parliament.  It is true that the height of the Season was not until after Easter week, but the earlier portion of the Season from January to Easter was not called the Little Season.  (Georgette Heyer’s Regency World and other sources confirm this, while this website questions the existence of a Little Season during the Regency at all, though says it did exist in Victorian times.)

Okay, now we have that out of the way, as historical cozies go, this one was fun.  Our heroine, Rosalind Thorne (yes, Rose Thorne), lives on the margins of the gentry and titled classes.  Her father lost all his money and abandoned Rose and her mother, though inexplicably taking Rose’s sister with him, years before.  

The combination of the humiliation and impoverishment puts her mother in an early grave and ends Rose’s marital hopes to Devon, Lord Casselmain.  Rose must now survive on her wits and her ability to manage difficult situations for London’s hopeful hostesses and marrying mamas.  The plot revolves around Almack’s posh Assembly Rooms and powerful patronesses. When a dead son and heir threatens to wreak havoc among the elites, Rose is determined to find out the truth, whatever the cost.

She makes an unlikely ally in Honoria Aimesworth and meets a beguiling Bow Street Runner in the process.

A quick and entertaining read, I will give more in this series a chance, whilst hoping for no more Howlers!

Lemon Madeleines from Martha Stewart to enjoy with this novel…

Book Club for Writers

The Read Like a Writer Book Club begins this month!

It will feature book discussions of great novels both past and present through the lens of a writer.  We’ll deconstruct their work looking for lessons in craft, style, and story, so we can apply those lessons to our own works in progress.  

Our first book Discussion will be about

The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier

The club meetings will be held via Zoom with a private forum on Tribe for online discussion.

Here is the framework we will use as we think about the novels we read:

  • Questions to ask as you read:
    • What are the basic “facts” of the book?
      • Genre
      • Characters—who is the central character?
      • Basic plot events—what is the most important event?
    • Character Arc
      • What does the MC want?
      • What stands in her way?
      • What does she do to overcome this block?
    • What is the POV used by the writer?
    • What is the beginning and the end—is there change over time? 
    • What is this book trying to teach/show you about the world?
    • Do you agree with the message of the book?  In other words, has the author done her job convincing you?
    • Choose a passage you find particularly beautiful and analyze it looking at things like rhythm, word choice, metaphors.  What does it teach you about language?
    • What about the author’s writing did you find particularly enjoyable?  What not?

I hope you will  join me as we read both for enjoyment and enlightenment; and engage in spirited discussions along the way.  For more information, write me at readerlybooks@gmail.com .  Use the subject line:  Read Like a Writer Book Club.

Review of Lucy Foley’s  The Paris Apartment

Full disclosure, I received an eGalley of this book prior to publication in exchange for a review.

Lucy Foley has a talent for a certain kind of Thriller.  She collects a group of entitled, mostly unlikeable characters in an isolated location, makes sure there are plenty of secrets nobody wants revealed, empowers an unreliable narrator and multiple points of view, and sets the story in motion.  

Sometimes part of the mystery is who is actually dead.  Sometimes the location has a large role in the action.  Sometimes the unreliable narrator turns out to be likable, sometimes not.  

The Paris Apartment does not disappoint. Foley keeps the reader on the edge of her seat the whole way through and there are a few surprises which will delight fans.  

Journalist Ben is living large in an apartment in Paris that his friend helped him get.  His sister comes to visit and finds he has disappeared and that the residents of the building are more than a little strange. To tell much more would spoil the novel, so I won’t…

Definitely recommended for thriller fans!

Loglines as Revision Tools

Here’s a handy tip that you may find useful when thinking about starting revisions.  See if you can create a logline that encapsulates your story.  If you can, it should hang together and you have the skeleton on which to assemble your draft. If you can’t, that may indicate that something is missing in the plot or character development that you need to tackle first in the revision process.

These 4 things MUST be in a logline:

  1. Incident
  2. Character(s)
  3. Objective
  4. Stakes

Try using this logline formula and in 25 words or less to convey the essence; WHY are we reading further?  Make us want to read it.

FORMULA:

When a __[MC]__ does __[objective]___.  __[stakes] ensues and ___[struggle/resolution]___.

EXAMPLE:

When a giant shark terrorizes the beach, a marine biologist, a fisherman, and the local sheriff must join forces to defeat the beast.

What’s Yours?

Reflection on the Chawton House Reading Group, women in history and Mary Eleanor Bowes…

When Covid started and my in-person book clubs and groups started canceling, I went looking for something inspiring.  What I found was the Chawton House Reading Group.  For the uninitiated, Chawton House is the home of not only Jane Austen’s brother and in the same village as Jane Austen’s House Museum, but it is also the home of a special collection of early women’s writing, a collection that started with some of the books owned by the Austen family and read by Jane herself!

Chawton House used to host monthly book group meetings in person, but because of Covid, they moved to Zoom and invited anyone who was interested to attend, so I signed up.  The group reads titles written by women from the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries.  It has been a fabulous experience for many reasons.  I have read a bunch of books I might not otherwise have read, and isn’t that the reason we like book clubs? 

One theme that has recurred over the course of our discussions is how many of the female writers and their characters are “outliers” or who don’t behave as many people assume they would, given the time period.  For a variety of reasons having to do with what gets saved, how the canon is assembled, what kinds of texts are privileged, these women writers and their characters have largely been forgotten, except by a few academics.  Reading these books, and studying history a little more deeply, has opened my eyes to some problems with the historical accuracy debate among historical fiction writers and readers. Readers sometimes claim that a woman would never have acted in a certain way. But whose data are they relying on to make that assertion?  The stories of real women are full of examples of women who bucked the system or tried to, and early women’s novels are full of aspirational characters who do things that women dreamed of doing, or who got caught and suffered the consequences of a male dominated world, while the author gives some side eye to her readers.

Clifford Siskin has written of the “Great Forgetting” and he is correct that when writing became professionalized, as with so many other occupations, it became gendered as male and largely unavailable to women. However, there were ways, and many women found them. 

This is not a license to give 17th Century women the sensibilities of 21st Century women, but it is a call to reconsider what we mean when we say historically accurate.  Historically accurate according to whom? The male writers of history who left women out? The men who sent their wives to insane asylums because they weren’t submissive enough? The literati with a vested interest in keeping themselves as the center of the academic world and for whom any competition, especially from women, could not be tolerated?

I encourage you to read about a few of these women and make up your own mind about what a woman would have done in year XXXX. Yes, they are outliers, mostly because we know their stories—somehow, they survived the Great Forgetting. But aren’t most books, history books included, about outliers? They wouldn’t be half as interesting otherwise…

Here are some of my favorites from last year’s reading list:

Isabelle de Charriere (trans. Caroline Warman), The Nobleman (1762)

Sarah Burney, Tales of Fancy (1816)

https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006518408

Eliza Haywood, Love in Excess (1719-20)

https://archive.org/details/loveinexcessorfa00hayw/page/6/mode/2up

Maria Edgeworth, Letters for Literary Ladies (1795)

https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/edgeworth/ladies/ladies.html

Hester Piozzi, Observations and Reflections Made in the Course of a Journey through France, Italy, and Germany (1789)

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16445/16445-h/16445-h.htm 

Hannah Cowley, The Belle’s Stratagem (1780)

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/47604/47604-h/47604-h.htm

Moderata Fonte (trans. Virginia Cox), The Worth of Women: Wherein Is Clearly Revealed Their Nobility and Their Superiority to Men (1600)

May I also recommend this title based on the life of a real woman from Georgian times who was basically kept prisoner by her vile husband.  It was through the help of her maids and other household staff, that she was able to escape.  I would love to see a novel based on the maids’ stories.  They were especially brave, given they had less protection under the law, due to their class.

Wendy Moore, Wedlock: The True Story of the Disastrous Marriage and Remarkable Divorce of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore.

Books about Writing that I enjoyed in 2021…

Are you looking for something to inspire you to write?  Here is a list of favorite books and web pages about writing that I read in 2021.  I am also including one about women’s history, since there were a bunch of inspiring women in it.  Not least, Eleanor Roosevelt.

Alberts, Laurie. Showing & Telling: Learn How to Show & When to Tell for Powerful & Balanced Writing. Cincinnati, Writer’s Digest Books, 2010.

Brody, Jessica. Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing That You’ll Ever Need. Berkeley CA, Ten Speed Press, 2018.

Buehler, Emily. “Book Mapping.” Emily Buehler: Author, Editor, Lover of Words, WordPress, emilybuehler.com/2018/book-mapping/. Accessed 22 Dec. 2021.

Collins, Gail. America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines. Paperback ed., New York City, Harper Perennial, 2009.

Cron, Lisa. Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere). Berkeley, Ten Speed Press, 2016.

Benjamin Dreyer. Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. New York City, Random House USA, 2019.

Carriger, Gail. The Heroine’s Journey: For Writers, Readers, and Fans of Pop Culture. GAIL CARRIGER, 2020.

“How to Write. Novel with Multiple Points of View.” NY Book Editors, NYBE, Series Eight, nybookeditors.com/2016/09/write-novel-multiple-points-view/. Accessed 22 Dec. 2021.

Klein, Cheryl B. The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults. New York City, W.W. Norton & Company, 2016.

Smith, Rebecca. The Jane Austen Writers Club: Inspiration and Advice from the World S Best-Loved Novelist. Bloomsbury USA, 2016.

Tobias, Ron. 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them. Cincinnati, Writer’s Digest, 2012.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Throwback Thursday AND Austenalia…First Impressions by Charlie Lovett

This review was originally written in 2014

Jane Austen fans are in for a treat in this literary mystery cum romance modeled on the beloved novels of Jane Austen. One nice twist is the addition of the parallel storyline about Jane Austen’s fictitious relationship with an older clergyman who helps encourage her writing aspirations.  Many of the questions raised in the accompanying modern day literary mystery and hunt for a rare edition are answered for the reader in flashbacks to the year 1796 and following.  This device allows the reader to guess more than Sophie, the bibliophilic protagonist, is aware of, which guessing is of course half the fun of a mystery in the first place.  There are plenty of clues hidden in various archives and dusty bookshelves to enthrall the readers, most of whom will be of Sophie’s ilk.  When her beloved Uncle Bertram dies under questionable circumstances and his book collection is liquidated by her father to pay Bertram’s debts, Sophie is justifiably outraged.  She begins working in a rare book shop and is approached by two collectors with very different methods (one charming, the other not so much) who are both after the same obscure book.  What she discovers about this book is where the stories of Jane and Sophie meet.  Throw in a romantic American academic who also loves Jane Austen, and we have a single marriage plot that is to die for.  The ending is a little abrupt and a little too easy perhaps, but this too, follows the pattern set by Austen.  Once everyone is in their assigned places, the ending follows quickly, with a little wrap up, in this case not by the narrator, but by the protagonist.  Good fun for all.  

Revising is hard!

Revising is a difficult process, for many reasons.  We are frequently so close to the topic/material, that it is hard to see it fresh.  That is why a lot of advice is to let things sit for a while after you finish a draft, so you can look at it with new eyes.  You should also consider letting other people read it, people you trust to be both kind and helpful.

In my work as a book coach, I help writers with revisions by providing professional feedback, sometimes suggestions of choices they might make, help with structure, etc.  I understand that sometimes the feedback we get is not what we were hoping for.  Rarely does it begin, “this is perfect just as it is…”  

I recently had a revision experience of my own as a writer, and I understand how difficult it can be to hear things like, “you need to move this”, or “this doesn’t make sense.” I wrote an article for the Jane Austen Society of North America’s online journal Persuasions based on a presentation I gave at the Annual General Meeting.  I worked hard on it and I thought it was pretty good.  But there were notes, suggestions, tweaks, corrections (!) sent to me as part of the editorial process. Nevertheless, I persisted, and you should, too.  The result is a better, tighter, cleaner piece.  

Here are some examples of what great writers have said about revising:

“Books aren’t written- they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” 

Michael Crichton

“It is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery. This is common in all writing and among the best of writers.”

E.B. White

If a teacher told me to revise, I thought that meant my writing was a broken-down car that needed to go to the repair shop. I felt insulted. I didn’t realize the teacher was saying, ‘Make it shine. It’s worth it.’ Now I see revision as a beautiful word of hope. It’s a new vision of something. It means you don’t have to be perfect the first time. What a relief! 

Naomi Shihab Nye

“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”

Colette, Casual Chance, 1964

“Read over your compositions and, when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”

Samuel Johnson

Go forth and Revise! Need support in the Revision Process?

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

This is the second book I have read by Kate Quinn and I am going to be in the minority here when I say I found it mediocre at best. I read The Alice Network a couple of years ago for a book club and didn’t really like it, either . The spying plots in both books are too simplistic and as one other GR reviewer noted about The Rose Code, the bad guy basically shows up about 100 pages from the end and announces himself. Color me disappointed.  

The first page of the novel, set in England, has a character wearing a robe, which should have been called a dressing gown and I just couldn’t get past it.  This detail bothered me because it makes me ask the question, if you couldn’t be bothered to get this right, what else is not right? Weirdly, later in the book the term dressing gown is used, so continuity?

The characters are individually interesting, but the relationships are underdeveloped, especially the main female friendship. The conflict is contrived and feels forced. Though I appreciate the attempt to include slang from the time, it was more than a trifle overdone.  I think if I see “chuff,” “topping,” or “talk slush” again in the near future, I will “crock up.”

The book is too long and should have been edited for pacing and fluff.  It clocks in at just under 600 pages, and could easily have been reduced to 400 without sacrificing story.  Since this is my second disappointment with Ms. Quinn, I will plan on leaving her tomes to other readers in the future.

Spoilers to follow… the ending, in which the Bletchley Park gang reunites to unmask the traitor, or more accurately, decode a message that would provide the proof they needed, borders on the ridiculous. The message wouldn’t have named him, it would have used a code name, so it wouldn’t have been proof unless they had some corroborating evidence.  

Bottom line, this novel is more for Romance fans who want a little historical flavor than for Historical Fiction fans.  If you want to read about WWII and Cold War female spies, stick with (nonfiction) Agent Sonya by Ben MacIntyre.

Throwback Thursday: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

In honor of the Netflix series, which by the way is just as dreadful as the book, I pulled out this old chestnut from 2017. Roasted…

This was billed as psychological suspense, so I got sucked in.  Though it has moments of brilliance, in the end, it falls flat, partially because the main character is so disappointingly dumb and predictable.  She is presented with plenty of evidence about someone and yet refuses to believe her own senses.  Then there is the ending, which is just crazy. I am willing to suspend my disbelief, but I need something to hang that suspension on other than wild fancy.  I knew what was going to happen WAY before I got to the end, since the writer telegraphed it, and I was still disappointed, because I was hoping I was wrong.  Sadly, I wasn’t.  I wouldn’t recommend this unless you are a huge fan of paranormal romance, and when I say huge, I mean you still like Twilight