Monthly Archives: April 2013

A Review of A River in Time

A River in Time by Deborah Courville

One of the things I like about reading novels by history enthusiasts is the energy they channel into their writing. Deborah Courville, a docent a The Oldest House, and author of A River in Time, is no exception. Right off, I could tell she enjoyed exploring The Oldest House’s history, and as a charitable novella*, this absolutely works because the target audience is those who’ve visited. But I haven’t stepped foot into the ‘living museum’ in Laceyville, Pennsylvania, and prior to reading purposely didn’t Google a darned thing because I wanted to test out whether or not the story would quell my interest. I’m pleased to say it did, for whether or not you pick up this book in Pennsylvania or on Amazon, the story is sweet and charming.

A River in Time is essentially an American time travel novella circa present day and 1795. Like Courville, Izzy, the heroine, is a volunteer at The Oldest House, except she has the misfortune (or perhaps fortune) to travel back to 1795. With the ability to think quickly on her feet, Izzy assumes the identity of Countess Isabeau de Villehardouin, an actual relative of hers who lived in the 18th century, but unlike the real countess, Izzy is pretty clueless on how to deal with 18th century life. Luckily, Izzy time traveled under an oak tree at The Oldest House and into the hospitality of the Sturdevants, possibly the nicest family in Laceyville. Without family back in the 21st century, it’s not long before Izzy begins to find a place within the gentle Sturdevants. Joshua, a law student mentored by a colleague of Thomas Jefferson’s and brother to the friendly couple living at the house, takes a fancy to Izzy. Their romance is rather sweet. Guided by a balance of his forward-thinking and Izzy’s modern sensibilities, their unintended courtship presents the main conflict in the tale beyond the time traveling snafu.

Since A River in Time is a 148 pages, which straddles the lines between novel and novella, I expected a fast pace of events, but once Izzy realizes her conflict–return to her time or possibly stay in 1795–her whole thought process felt whirlwind.  In the author’s defense, love is kinda like that, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a little bit missing.  Joshua’s turnabout acceptance of his time traveling lady also seemed a bit sudden, but I honestly think this about 99% of time traveling novels and I did enjoy Courville’s explanation of how Joshua came to understand what would have been a mind blowing notion before television and Google.  Given his character, it made sense, and I like sense.  By the novella’s end, much like Izzy I got hooked on the family and found my interest in The Oldest House sufficiently fanned. I imagine a visit, with the perspective from the novella, would make it an absolute historical delight.

Recommended to lovers of small town 18th century American history, fans of sweet family romances, and anybody who thinks time travel to 1795 America might just be awesome.  Book benefactors take note: *Proceeds from A River in Time are donated to The Oldest House in Laceyville, PA for its upkeep and repair.

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How to Swindle a Young Gentleman of Fortune

A Kick Up at a Hazard Table by Thomas Rowlandson

A Kick Up at a Hazard Table – Thomas Rowlandson

“The number of new gaming houses established at the West End of the town is indeed a matter of very serious evil, but they are not likely to decrease while examples of the same nature are held forth in the higher circles of life.  It is needless to point out any one of these houses in particular; it is sufficient for us to expose the tricks that are practised at many of them to swindle the unsuspecting young men of fortune who are entrapped into these whirlpools of destruction The first thing necessary is to give the guests a good dinner and plenty of wine, which many of these houses do gratis.  When they are sufficiently intoxicated and having lost all the money about them, their acceptance is obtained to Bills of Exchange to a considerable amount, which frequently are paid to avoid the disagreeable circumstance of a public exposition in a Court of Justice, which is always threatened though the gamesters well know that no such measure durst be adopted by them.

Should any reluctance or hesitation be shewn by the injured party to accept these bills, he is shewn into a long room with a target at the end of it and several pistols lying about where he is given to understand these sharpers practice a considerable time of the day in shooting at a mark and have arrived to such perfection in this exercise that either of them can shoot a pistol ball within an inch of the mark from the common distance taken by duellists.  A hint is then dropped that further hesitation will render the use of the pistols necessary and which will again be the case should he ever divulge what he has seen and heard.  If further particulars or proofs are wanting, they may be known on application to certain Military characters who have already made some noise in the world.” Times Feb 14 1793

A Review of ‘How to Create the Perfect Wife’

How to Create the Perfect Wife by Wendy Moore

Thomas Day is the ultimate 18th century misogynist.  He was also an abolitionist, philanthropist, Rousseau obsessive, and a famous children’s writer, but let’s get one thing straight: he was a complete tool.  He expected in a wife more than the average Georgian male desired in every paragon of womanhood he could possibly meet.  Instead of virtue and social poise, he wanted a precise definition of perfection, and despite chancing on the only woman in the world who could give it to him, he was never satisfied with her.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  As Wendy Moore recounts in her delightful book, ‘How to Create The Perfect Wife,’ Thomas Day’s adventure begins with a harebrained idea, borne of dejection after a disastrous betrothal, to mold a child into his future wife.  He wanted his Sophie, the virtuous, frugal, and faithfully abiding wife to Rousseau’s Emile, and like Moore suggests, set about recreating Pygmalion’s Galatea.

Pygmalion and Galatea

Pygmalion and Galatea by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy Trioson (1819)

To accomplish his task, Day and a friend travel to a foundling hospital, select two sprightly candidates, Sabrina and Lucretia, and inform them of a future apprenticeship, kindly leaving out the true facts of the matter.  Day then concocts an educational program and, after a year, chooses Sabrina, the superior-minded and better behaved of the two girls, to be his future wife.  What follows is a hardening process in order to prepare Sabrina for asceticism which, in Day’s estimation, means a departure from fashionable society in order to live a life of scarcity.  His process is nothing short of psychological torture, freezing Sabrina, shooting at her, and generally wobbling the poor girl’s wits until she cracks.

Eventually, perhaps recognizing her imminent peril, Sabrina commits a willful indiscretion.  However minor, it signals a connubial death knell to Thomas Day and he casts her aside.   Most amazing about Sabrina’s ordeal is that the experiment wasn’t exactly commenced in secret.  A number of well-to-do Georgians witnessed Day’s attempt to carve an ideal from flesh and never made a peep.  So much for the Age of Enlightenment.  If there is a major pitfall among Georgian intellectuals in this story, it is the emotional detritus created by a strict adherence to logic and thus, the entire abandonment of heart for mind.

Thomas Day by Joseph Wright 1770

Thomas Day by Joseph Wright (1770)

Sabrina was just one casualty of the movement, though Day would argue any future with him was an improvement upon what the foundling hospital could provide.  ‘How to Create the Perfect Wife’ leaves readers to agree or disagree on that point, but Moore’s dry wit in portraying Day is undeniable.  For all that Day is exasperating in his treatment of women, he’s a fascinating fellow.  Through Day’s misadventures, Moore captures a philosophical culture that even its father, Rousseau, found lacking beyond theoretical bounds.  ‘How to Create the Perfect Wife’ is as compelling a social history as it is an arousing biography of an unusual man and for Georgian enthusiasts, it’s a must read.

Review of ‘Vicious’, Plus an Interview with the Author Patricia Beykrat

Vicious by Patricia Beykrat

I’d like to introduce you guys to the author of this gorgeous looking novella, ‘Vicious’.  Her name’s Patricia Beykrat, whom you may know as the blogger Madame de Pique.  Her novella is being released today (congratulations, Patricia!) and she was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the book.  So here, for your delectation, is the interview, followed by my review of ‘Vicious: A Confession’, and lastly, the official book description.

Interview with the author

1. The setting for Vicious is the decadent Rome of nightclubs, 5 star hotels, upscale cars and country villas.  Which atmospheric qualities prompted you to choose this setting over other playgrounds of the rich?  Have you been to Rome yourself?
For a moribund character like Dante, Rome’s climate of eternity makes an irrefutable oxymoron to give prominence to his eventual death and actually reflect the inherent longing for immortality that more or less provoked it. Though I’ve never even set foot on Italian land, the idea of such a setting came natural to me after a period dedicated to musings which had my thoughts coagulate into coherent plans. There’s just something about Roman lifestyle as I encountered it in novels and memoirs, something so brisk and pensive, so full of vivid contrasts, that I was irrevocably convinced Dante would not gain verity in any other background. Call it a mere conjecture, but despite the city being scarcely depicted throughout ‘Vicious’, I felt mentions of it added a lot to the overall atmosphere. So Rome became a necessary presence.
2. Antiheroes are one of my favorite types of heroes and I think they can be harder to write than a moralistic, if flawed, hero.  Likeability factor is an issue, though I’m not sure Dante’s concerned with perception: he fully expects to be worshiped.  As the author, were you concerned readers wouldn’t like him in the conventional sense?  Or is he above this petty need because he considers himself superior?  
Dante’s what I see as the potential of all humankind for a plethora of reasons. He’s, to say, exponential for most men in the given circumstances, though his confessions are not meant to reassemble any ordinary ones while still succeeding to sound familiar. I projected him to incorporate a concept-being readers could abhor, hate or misunderstand at their own will but who could nonetheless exert some fascination. To what extent I fulfilled my goal only the audience can decide.
3. At his essence, Dante is an hedonic egoist.  Although he has no supernatural abilities, he reminded me of a Lestat or a Lucifer, a fallen angel who likens himself to a golden god. Except, unlike those characters, he has to deal with the trappings of mortality. What inspired you to write his story?
At the time ‘Vicious’ emerged as a distinct project, I had long been flirting with the idea of creating a character who can incorporate wealth, brilliance, beauty and tragedy in a less common manner. It was merely a matter of proper words to set it in a visible form and my ideal voice of a smart histrionic hero with an incurable penchant for drama developed a tone.

My Review of ‘Vicious’

The bucket list, the words pride or ignorance never allowed you to say, the cliched desiderata preceding THE END—these are a comfort to the dying.  But for Dante Serafino, a self-described “paradigm of the mythological narcissist,” comfort lies elsewhere.

As an hedonic ideal, he is a Byronic antihero, as primitive as he is urbane.  He is also infinitely superior to the lambs who smugly abide by social order; lambs, he later points out, who experience the chemical high of watching the modern day sinners of Gomorrah fall down.  And who, Dante begins to suggest, is immoral ?

The thing is though, Dante’s journey has very little to do with immorality because at the heart of ‘Vicious’ is deeper tangle: immortality in immorality versus mortality in morality.  Put simply: if you’re alive, you must dare to live in whichever manner ameliorates your inevitability.  Or at least that’s integral to Dante’s argument.  The account proffered is his alone, intimate and self-satisfied.  From his taunting introduction, the reader is invited to follow the exploits, past and present, leading to his last hurrah.  It is a story of spiraling, the bisexual playboy and young financial wunderkind forced to contemplate his existence when I suspect he’d rather be partying.  It’s Dante’s in memorium of the self.

By the end of his tale, you might not like him, you might even loathe him, but his uncommonness transfixes.  And liking him would be beside the point.  It’s the singularity of voice that makes ‘Vicious’ a riveting morsel of novella.  After journeying with him, I was eager to see how he’d bow out, and Ms. Beykrat did not disappoint. ‘Vicious’ has a raw quality about it; imbued within is an ability to both attract and repel a reader. As a psychological thriller, it focuses on the age-old theme of man against self. And perhaps man for himself. I definitely recommend it for readers who enjoy antiheroes, intimate narratives predominated by self-reflection, and dark themes.  If that sounds like your kind of thing . . .

Vicious is available at the following retailers:

Amazon

Smashwords

Book Description

Dante blames his qualities for his flaws, envisions himself as a child of vice and plunges into a spiral of sex and alcohol (because humans are “so predictably clichéd”) only to forget he was willing to sacrifice everything for them. Young, rich and a prodigious genius, with a penchant for luxury… he ultimately dies, not before delivering his swan-song, a story of decay, sensuality and self-destruction meant to conquer immortality.

The Lemon Guide, Review Policy & More

Japanese Zen Garden in Portland, Oregon
Japanese Zen Garden in Portland, Oregon

Until recently I didn’t understand Japanese zen gardens.  The raking, the bare-bones simplicity — what did they offer compared with profusions in bloom and colors slamming into the senses?  Where was the glorious disarray of nature’s genius?  Japanese gardens were about sparseness, control, and concentration, and I relished rambling cottage chaos.

I used to be the same way about labeling and using organization systems (the word systems still makes me shudder).  I thought of it as dullness multiplied, but it’s really dullness subdued.  What I mean by that is, it takes a looong time to find things which aren’t at one’s fingertips.  If there’s no system, then one must rely on the cranial database which is prone to a) locking up at whim b) spitting out information three days after it’s desired and c) generally failing to execute concise, retrievable neuro-filing.

Save that there’s a search function–without pretty pictures and that is of little help if you’re browsing for enjoyment–blogs are no different.   The old posts don’t get read , and one post gets stacked on another post indefinitely.   Don’t even get me started on monthly archives:  *scrolls, scrolls, scrolls*  Gar!  Why have I just wasted 10 minutes scrolling? Gar!

To prevent such problems, I created a linked page called The Lemon Guide, partly for my sometimes dull elf self and partly for your ability to easily explore the site (or just find typos in old posts).  It’s mostly alphabetical and sorted by topic, and I hope you’ll find it more useful than archives.  I’ve also excised all  filler posts like announcements, awards, etc. so you don’t have to tramp over posts like this one.

You’ll also notice a review policy next to the guide page.  This should help clear up any queries from writers/publishers.  It also has a quick contact form.

Georgian Ladies by Patricia Beykrat

The last bit of news I have is in plain sight, but it’s worth pointing out.  What is that lovely image you see?  Behold my beautiful new header with Georgian ladies on it (with the full size drawing on my author website).  The work is by the multi-talented Madame de Pique, otherwise known as Patricia Beykrat.    I’m interviewing her on the blog this Friday to celebrate the release of her novella Vicious, so be sure to stop back!

Review of ‘The Flower of Empire’

The Flower of Empire

To call the Flower of Empire an exhaustive work on “how it [the Amazonian water lily] touched nearly every aspect of Victorian life, art, and culture,” is not an understatement.  It is a 328 page promise.

And this promise is a good thing, mostly.  Beyond writing an elegant account, Tatiana Holway ties a thread round a diverse group of characters and events surrounding the Amazonian water lily, from eventual extraction in the wild to arduous bloom in captivity. For those who enjoy the historical intricacies of progress, have a soft spot for botany and adventure, and are intrigued with personality quirks of say, a bachelor duke, a taciturn German plant hunter, and an ingenuous head gardener, this is a welcomed book in the enthusiast’s library.

Victoria Regia from 1851 text

The story begins during an 1837 geographical expedition into British Guiana when Schomburgk, the German plant hunter, discovers a monstrous lily in the Berbice River.  His plan?  Name the discovery in Queen Victoria’s honor and have it sent back to England, but what follows is extreme plant bureaucracy.  The water lily was not just a botanical specimen, but emblematic of a national passion for imperialism.   It caused bitter fights among scientists, contributed to England’s revival as a public garden nation, and influenced the building of the Crystal Palace.  All on account of a flower?  Well, sort of.

The Flower of Empire focuses on the water lily in the same manner the tulip mania of 1637 focused on tulips: it’s the backdrop for character study.   The mad scurry to get the water lily to germinate and flower in England delves into the hearts involved, and sparks the public’s hunger for virgin discoveries.  Ultimately, The Flower of Empire presents a cultural climate of obsession, power, and triumph.  It’s not for the impatient or for those who dislike process, but for the most part Holway balances the scholarly with flashes of pop entertainment, offering character idiosyncrasies when the wait for the water lily feels drawn out.

The Flower of Empire Releases Today

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Kobo

Oxford University Press