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Dec 19

The Chocolate Kiss-Off by Heather Haven

Posted on Saturday, December 19, 2015 in Historic, Mystery/Cop

I just finished The Chocolate Kiss-Off by Heather Haven. Just like the two earlier books in the series, I found this one interesting and well written.

As usual, someone has been found murdered under slightly ‘odd’ circumstances, in this case drowned in a big pot for making chocolate – what a waste ;). The murder victim was the owner of the chocolate factory or shop. Apparently, she sold both wholesale and directly in her shop.

In this book New York has been hit by a blizzard and is very cold and it’s a bit hard to get around. Percy (the main character) is on her own, because her father, and only colleague in the private investigating business is away on a war-related case – trying to find a group of spies. She already has two cases when a really good friend of hers, who makes chocolate, is accused of murdering his boss. So she hires another friend, or in this case the father of her son’s friend, to take over the older cases.

I won’t mention more about the actual case, but in this book, her eight-year-old son wants to know more about his father, who Percy thinks of as Leo the Louse (which tells you something about him). She’s forced to take time out of her busy schedule to find out where he is and what he’s doing. Again, I won’t go into what she learns, but anything to do with her ex a sensitive topic for her.

I have probably said this before about this series, but if so I’ll say it again – I like that it’s historic. The dialect or jargon reminds me of old movies I’ve seen and that’s fun.

Maybe I should add a few things I don’t like quite as much. To begin with, as many of my followers know, I’m a vegan and Percy is exceptionally fond of meat in all forms. She basically hates anything else. I know this is part of the historic context, that people ate a lot more meat, so I’m trying to ignore it. The other thing is that Percy is a little bit full of herself. She feels superior to her mother and sister, for instance and tends to make snap decisions about people she meets and if they fail her high standards, she will think less of them.

To some extent, I can understand that, but I do feel she’s a little unfair to her mother. Of course it is a bit weird to cook such odd mixtures of candy and potatoes or fruit and vegetables. Some people like that sort of thing, so I suppose it’s not completely unheard of. I’d find it odd, but since Percy’s not about to start cooking for the whole family, maybe she should give her mom a break. Also, her sister Sera is only just 20. Percy is about 35. Of course she find Sera immature and tiresome at times. That doesn’t have to mean that Sera is a bad person. I think Percy should give her sister a break too, but that’s just me.

Finally, the cover art is a bit amateurish, I’m sorry to say, but maybe I pay more attention because I’m in the business, no matter how modestly.

None of this is enough to spoil my enjoyment of the series as a whole. If you enjoy historic mysteries that aren’t too scary or gory, then I think you’d like this series too. I love this old-fashioned world where people are nice to each other most of the time, despite all the meat eating and smoking and so on.

Nov 17

Dark Fire by C J Sansom

Posted on Tuesday, November 17, 2015 in Historic, Mystery/Cop, Reviews

I just finished reading Dark Fire by C J Sansom. Since I love historic books, I really liked this one. It was well written and well researched (at least it seems that way, I can’t say I have enough knowledge to be absolutely sure).

The main characters are likeable enough (at least Matthew Shardlake, the ‘main’ main character). There’s a new guy working as his assistant, and he’s a bit brusque and rude at times, but after a while I got more used to him. It turns out he had good personality traits too.

Matthew Shardlake is once again (like in book 1) forced to help Cromwell with an important matter, but he also investigates another case. The latter is a very dark and serious case, and I must admit that I found it hard to read about, since it involves something I have a lot of trouble handling. To avoid any spoilers I won’t say more about that or for that matter the Cromwell case either.

It’s just a very interesting book from a turbulent time that I haven’t read all that much about in the past so it was fun to learn more about it.

I read the first book several years ago, in Swedish translation and I found it rather dull then (despite being a historic book), but maybe that was due to the translation or – I don’t know. This just seemed a lot more interesting, despite the upsetting subject matter.

Nov 11

Iced Diamonds by Heather Haven

Posted on Wednesday, November 11, 2015 in Historic, Mystery/Cop

I found this series last year, I think and I liked it. It’s historic which is always something I appreciate. The main characters are more or less sympathetic which is another plus as far as I’m concerned. Finally, the cases aren’t too predictable which is a big problem to me. Some Swedish bestselling books, particularly mysteries are extremely predictable, but after I was told that if I criticize them, I’m ‘envious’ of these bestselling authors (which for the record I am not), I’m not going to mention their titles or the name of the authors.

So, anyway, this book is set just before Christmas in New York in the 1940’s (during WWII). Percy Cole, the private investigator, gets a case that promises some much needed money for herself and her family. An elf has been found murdered, not in the store where he was working, but in another. The daughter of the man who owns the store (where the body was found) is accused of the murder. The store owner hires Percy to keeph is daughter out of jail. So far everything’s very simple. Of course there’s a bit more to the case than that, but after putting some effort into it, Percy manages to solve it.

This book could have done with a bit more proofreading, because I found almost as many errors as I would in an ebook, but other than that I don’t really have anything negative to say about it.

I can recommend this series to anyone who likes historic straightforward old-fashioned mysteries.

Aug 18

Poldark (2015)

Posted on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 in Historic, Reviews, TV series

Poldark (2015) is based on a series of novels by Winston Graham. There was also another tv series made in 1975.

The first episode starts out with a man – Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) – coming back to his home in Cornwall from the American Revolutionary War. Defeated and wounded, he expects a different welcome than the one he gets. He finds his father dead, his home in the hands of lazy, neglectful servants and – worst of all – his beloved fiancee about to be married to his cousin. No one except his other cousin Verity, an old maid at 25, who is being used as an unpaid housekeeper by her family, is happy to see him. Believing him dead, his uncle and cousin had expected not only to have the fiancee but also Ross’ father’s mine and land. After repeated efforts by the uncle to buy him out Ross decides to stay on, mostly to support his tenant farmers, who are struggling to make ends meet. He tries to start up the mine again, in a time when the competition from the Welsh mines are keenly felt. To do that he needs capital, which means he needs to convince others to invest in his venture. Cornwall is going through a difficult time. Fishing is failing as well as the mines and people are risking starvation. Even the ‘wealthy’ classes aren’t doing as well as in the past.

To me, Ross Poldark is very much the star of the show. He’s dark, handsome and brooding and exactly the sort of man I like to see in a tv series. None of the other characters come across as real or as developed as he is. Out of the others, his cousin Verity is the only one you really seem to get to know, at least to begin with. After a while, Ross finds and rescues a young girl (dressed as a boy) and takes her in. For several episodes, Ross is still obsessed with his former fiancee and doesn’t have much time for his new young housekeeper, but eventually they begin to get to know each other and Demelza (Cornish name?) learns new skills and turns out to be very intelligent and prepared to take on new responsibilities.

At times it seems Ross’ own family are his worst enemies, but the Warleggans (moneylenders who have done well for themselves and managed to join the gentry) work against him for reasons not quite clear. I get a vague feeling there’s been some enmity between Ross and the younger Warleggan in the past, but you don’t find out much about that in the series, at least not so far.

I have just finished watching the first season and I’m glad to see that there will be a second one. If I will ever write fan fiction again, this is one of the series that has definitely inspired me to several different (mainly angsty, but also slashy) ideas. Naturally, that’s because of Aidan Turner. He’s one of the few actors these days that can totally captivate, beguile and bewitch me and for that I’m grateful.

Aug 16

The Only Gold by Tamara Allen

Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2014 in Books, Historic, Reviews

The Only Gold by Tamara Allen was a Kindle freebie that I downloaded last year (I think). It’s not free anymore, but it’s still only 3.74 (US dollars). I have so many books on my TBR list that I had forgotten what sort of book this was. The way it looks once I’ve started reading it, I can’t find the title or the author’s name. It took me a rather long while to figure out what this book was about. In other words, there was a bit of a slow start, but once I got into the book, I found it interesting and well written.

It’s the late 19th century. Jonah Woolner works at a bank in New York. He is content with his life until he’s passed over for a long-awaited promotion. Reid Hylliard shows up out of the blue and annoys Jonah with his charm. Eventually, Reid begins to win him over (as he’s done with everyone else at the bank). Then trouble strikes the bank and Jonah’s relationship with Reid is put under severe strain. Both their lives (and those of others) are threatened, not only the bank.

The fact that it is a slash story and a historic one as well, was a big plus for me. I don’t normally read pure romances – but in combination with historic and/or fantasy it usually works for me.

There’s quite a bit of action (and I mean action, not sex) in this story, but also, to be honest, gay sex, so if you don’t like that, don’t read. Otherwise, I can really recommend this book.

Oct 19

Kitty, by Catherine E Chapman

Posted on Saturday, October 19, 2013 in Books, Historic

I have also just read the short story Kitty (an e-book), by Catherine E Chapman. It’s very similar to a Jane Austen story, so if you love Jane Austen’s books, you’ll love this one. The main character, Kitty, is the second daughter in a family with three girls. Mum is all set on marrying off her oldest daughter (who goes by several different nicknames) to a certain young, handsome captain. The story is simply about that, but as far as that goes, it’s a fun, light read. I can really recommend it to all Jane Austen lovers.

Sep 10

Penelope, a Madcap Regency Romance, by Anya Wylde

Posted on Tuesday, September 10, 2013 in Books, Historic, Humour, Reviews

When I downloaded this book, it was temporarily available for free. It’s not that expensive even now. And it’s hilarious.

At the beginning of the book, Penelope comes to London to stay with a dowager duchess, her excentric father, her only a little less excentric (but extremely handsome) son and fun-loving daughter. Penelope lost her mother at birth and was raised, reluctantly by a mean stepmother. When she arrives she has her maid and her faithful pet goat in tow. The dowager duchess, who was a close friend of Penelope’s late mother, has promised to look after her friend’s daughter but feels she’s neglected this duty and invites Penelope to stay for her first season (of balls and dinner parties).

It’s not going to be as easy as it sounds, because Penelope is the most awkward and accident-prone girl in England. The duchess has to ask the help of the mysterious Madame, who has hllarious secrets to hide, and an endless knowledge of how to catch a husband.

I won’t say much about the plot because it’s nearly all just a lot of fun. This is probably the funniest book I’ve read since the Stephanie Plum ‘mysteries’ by Janet Evanovich. I can recommend both Penelope and Stephanie Plum to everyone who needs a good laugh (or two, or three…).

Sep 12

Female role models in tv, movies and books

Posted on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 in Books, Children's books, Classics, Fandom, Fantasy, Historic, Humour, Literature, Movies, Mystery/Cop, TV series

I recently read an article about positive female role models in movies. In general, there is a lack of good female role models so I think the short list in the article is a good starting point in changing that. I began to wonder which female characters I would deem positive and came up with this list (some of which were in the original article):

Ellen Ripley/Sigourney Weaver, the Alien movies (especially the first and second)

I read that Ripley was originally meant to be a male character, which figures. What man would write a female character like Ripley? Or anyone? Which is too bad, because I think that any woman who was physically capable would have done exactly the same things Ripley did. All she did was save her own life and those her adopted kid/s and try to pay a corrupt corporation back for killing her crewmates and setting them all up to bring back a lethal weapon in the form of an ‘exo lifeform’.

Erin Brockovich/Julia Roberts in the movie by the same name

Erin Brockovich is an unedcuated rather simple woman who stumbles across corruption and finds that she wants to do something about and then does exactly that. Simple enough, but at least when I watched the movie, I was impressed with her development from someone who just wanted to make a living to someone with a conscience. Normally, I don’t like Julia Roberts, so I was surprised to find that I liked this movie and the main character.

Olive Hoover/Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine

Olive is anything but a cliche. You might say that her grandfather is not really the kind of person who should have been helping her create her act for the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, and you’d think someone would have thought of that before the actual pageant, but I guess then there wouldn’t have been much of a movie. In any case, Olive is an amazing kid and several other characters in the movie are quite unusual and interesting too.

Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey

Catherine is adventurous, imaginative and though I understand she’s supposed to be a parody of the typical heroine of a ‘gothic’ novel, I really like her. She’s fun and human and flawed, but in general, just nice and you find yourself rooting for her throughout the novel.

Anne Elliot, Persuasion

Anne is also quite different from the other Jane Austen heroines, which is probably why she and Catherine are my two favorite characters from Jane Austen’s books. Poor Anne has been rather too obedient to her family and that has left her in the unenviable situation of being unmarried at the old age of 26. She spends her life trying to help her family and keeping them from bankruptcy. Then when she gets a second chance at life, she’s strong enough to go against her snobbish family and do what she wants for a change.

Beatrice Eliott/Stella Gonet, The House of Eliott

In the first episode of the House of Elliot, Beatrice and her sister Evangeline are basically slaves to their selfish father, but when he dies – which he does during the first five minutes or so of the first episode – Beatrice is the one who quickly finds a way for the sisters to support themselves, doing something they’re both good at and enjoy doing. Beatrice is fun, tough and the sort of person you really root for, except when she’s mean to Jack.

Trudy Joplin/Olivia Brown, Miami Vice

Trudy is the most fun member of the Miami Vice team. Crockett and Tubbs may be sizzling hot, but Trudy is fun, tough and cool. I love her outfits (when she’s not playing prostitute in sting operations).

The rest of my list:

Constance Peterson, Spellbound
Alicia Huberman, Notorious
Tracy Turnblad, Hairspray
Jane Eyre, in the movie by the same name.
Alice, Alice in Wonderland
Miss Froy, Alice Henderson, The Lady Vanishes
Eowyn, LOTR
Stephanie Plum, Lula, Grandma Mazur/mormor Mazur, One for the Money
Veronica Mars, Cindy “Mac” McKenzie, Veronica Mars
From Downton Abbey:
Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham
Lady Sybil Crawley
Lucy Pevensie, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe + Prince Caspian + Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Morgan, Cutthroat Island
Janet, Charmed Lives, Diana Wynne Jones
Tea with Mussolini: Most of the female characters.

As you can see this is a mix of characters from movies, tv series and books. They’re in no particular order, chronological or otherwise. I just put them in as I thought of them. Some are from the early 19th century, others from this year or last year and the rest from anything in between. Considering how long a period of time this is (nearly two hundred years) you could say that it’s a pitifully short list, but of course I’ve probably overlooked several great characters that I might have come up with if I’d taken more time to consider. Also, it’s just characters from the English-speaking world. Anyway, for what it’s worth, this is my list. Do you have one too?

Feb 11

Lark Rise to Candleford

Posted on Friday, February 11, 2011 in Historic, Reviews, TV series

Some time after I watched Cranford (see earlier review), I discovered another tv series set in nineteenth century Britain. In fact, it reminded me of Cranford, not merely because the two names Cranford/Candleford are similar. Like Cranford, this series is set in nineteenth century England (though roughly half a century later.)

The initial premise is smiliar too. A young woman, Laura Timmins, moves to live with an older woman – in this case her mother’s cousin, Dorcas Lane – to work in miss Lane’s post office, in a small town.

Again, like Cranford, this series is both funny and sad and most of all interesting. It too features a number of memorable characters, mainly female. In fact, that’s one of the few complaints I have. While there are.a few interesting male characters, the great majority are female.

Apart from Laura, the main character, and her relative and boss, Dorcas Lane, there are their two neighbours, Pearl and Ruby Pratt who own a shop selling the latest fashion, sometimes all the way from Paris. They are perhaps not exactly pleasant, but interesting and have their secrets, some of which are exposed in season 2 (which is as far as I’ve watched).

One of my favorites is Queenie (who lives in the hamlet Lark Rise, that Laura comes from). Queenie is easily the most likeable character in the whole series. She’s a wise old woman, who keeps bees, grows herbs and vegetables in her garden and knows much about healing. Over the years she’s taken in children and raised them as her own. Sadly, Queenie was never able to have children of her own. She lives with her common law husband (later they marry, properly in church), Twister. Twister is a bit excentric, perhaps going senile. He’s a good man, but he leaves the responsibilities of running their household entirely to Queenie.

Another favorite is Minnie, a girl taken in by Dorcas Lane, to train as kitchen maid. Minnie is funny, charming and filled with wide-eyed curiosity about her new world. She listens attentively and picks up new, long words like ‘extra-ordinary’ and learns to use them. Minnie, like many of the other characters, has her own dark back story, but despite all that, she remains happy and outgoing.

Mailman Thomas Brown, strict Christian, comes across as rather rigid and cold, but hides a heart of gold under his strict exterior.

Finally, I’d like to mention James Dowland – another favorite of mine. He shows up early in season 2 and he and Dorcas Lane end up arguing about just about everything, but it’s obvious that they’re attracted to each other. I won’t go into what happens between them. I will only mention that he’s one of Queenie’s foster children, who’s left Lark Rise, gone to London and returned to his native Oxfordshire, having made a fortune. James too has his secrets, but again, I won’t spoil the series for those who haven’t seen it. There are plenty of other interesting characters, but I think this will do as an example. If you like historic series, I can definitely recommend it.

Feb 11

Desperate Romantics

Posted on Friday, February 11, 2011 in Historic, Reviews, TV series

Desperate Romantics is another tv series set in the nineteenth century. It’s about the so called PreRaphaelite Brotherhood – a group of artists and poets who decided to challenge the current ideals of beauty and launched a new painting style (among other things). In private, many of them led tumultuous lives. They drank, took drugs, were involved with prostitutes and had affairs with each other’s wives. The series is narrated by a friend of the artists – Fred Walters – (I’m not sure if this man existed in real life or is a convenient invention to tell the story).

There’s a lot of sex and drama, and a bit of history, especially art history, but my remaining impression is the sad situation faced by women in those days. They either had to lead sheltered, anemic, boring lives or risk losing their reputations and end up as prostitutes. Dante Gabriel Rossetti (from a family of famous artists and poets) seems to have been a sex addict, chasing prostitutes and barmaids, as well as his own models, some of which were prostitutes and barmaids, but he married a young milliner’s assistant, Elizabeth Siddal. She becomes Rossetti’s model, wants to become an artist like him, but is frustrated both by the lack of interest in her work and her husband’s constant infidelity, and later dies of a drug overdose. It’s pretty much all like that. You get to see a lot of Aidan Turner’s naked body, and believe me, I’m not complaining about that, but also all those women. It made me sad.

All the men, except John Millais, who had his own premarital problems, were more or less in love with the same women, but usually the charismatic Rossetti had the best luck with them. For years he had an affair with his friend and ‘brother’ William Morris’ wife, apparently with Morris’ full approval.

At the beginning of the series, the ‘brothers’ are trying to get the art establishment’s attention and eventually are able to gain the famous critic Ruskin’s approval. Ruskin is married to a frustrated young woman, Effie, but apparently he hasn’t consummated the marriage – he finds the female form unattractive. During the course of the series, it’s suggested that he might be a paedophile, but he strenuously denies the accusation. Perhaps he was what today would be termed ‘asexual’, but on the other hand, who would admit to being a paedophile? In the later part of the series, Ruskin goes everywhere with a young art student of his, a fourteen-year-old girl. Effie has the marriage annulled, after a humiliating physical examination to confirm the fact that she is still a virgin. Soon after, John Millais marries her. Apparently their marriage is both normal and happy and in the end they have eight children (but you don’t get to see that in the series). As far as I can tell, it deals with about ten years of the ‘brotherhood’s career.

The only really likeable character in this series is John Millais, and I suspect that’s partly because he’s not really a main character. He was never the rebel the others were, and even from early in his career gained recognition by the art establishment.

The others, especially Rossetti, claim to understand women, but end up hurting their feelings, through lack of understanding of their situation. Ultimately all the women, except Effie, formerly Ruskin, later Millais, are more or less unhappy.


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