Posts Tagged ‘Victorian’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Amy W’s Picks

December 24, 2013

My name is Amy and I am a read-aholic. Seriously, I read a wide range of genres and I will read it any way I can get it (e-reader, traditional book, audio book, etc).  Here are some pleasant discoveries from my year of reading. I hope you can include some of these books in your 2014 reading list. Enjoy!

crossingThe Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths
This first in the Dr Ruth Galloway mystery series has everything including a sassy, smart  female protagonist, a mysterious atmosphere, a colorful cast of characters, history and mythology. Dr Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist—to put it more directly, she is a bone expert. Her quiet academic world gets turned upside down when she is asked to examine bones at a local archaeological dig. Bones? At an archaeological dig? Big deal! Well it is a big deal when a local girl has been missing for nearly ten years and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson is committed to closing the case and putting her family at ease. To complicate matters, another girl goes missing. This is a fun page, intelligent page turner that will send you running to the next book in the series.

victorianInside the Victorian Home : a Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders
This book is delightful! It is one of those books you want to tell people about constantly but worry that they will roll their eyes after the sixth or seventh Victorian life fun fact. But it is packed with interesting tidbits at every turn of the page and you cannot help but be aghast at some of the details. Artfully constructed, Judith Flanders moves room by room through the Victorian home describing not only the practical uses of the room, but also closely examining Victorian society in its most intimate setting. This book is well written and supported by diaries and journals. So if you often find yourself at a loss for something interesting to say at a party, read this book and you will be the life of the party.

financialThe Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter
If you enjoyed the show “Breaking Bad,” you would probably enjoy this book about Matt Prior, a nice guy saddled with debt after following his ill-conceived dream. He is struggling to support his family and his marriage is falling apart. So one night at the 7 Eleven he falls in with some real losers in an attempt to keep his home out of foreclosure. Hijinx ensue, more bad decisions are made. You never stop rooting for Matt in this funny, fast-paced and heartwarming book.

wolfWolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Today’s scandals have nothing on Henry VIII and his henchman Thomas Cromwell. Wolf Hall takes place from the point of view of Englishman, Thomas Cromwell.  Cromwell was the son of a drunken blacksmith and rose from those humble beginnings to be the king’s right-hand man. This book is a challenging read everyone seems to be named Thomas, John, Henry, Harry, William, Mary or Anne. But it is very worthwhile to read this award-winning book, a historical look at the complexities of power that still rings true today.

attachAttachments by Rainbow Rowell
Alright, this was not my favorite book this year but this is one of my favorite contemporary authors and I am dedicated to reading anything she writes. My colleagues will have raved about a couple of her YA books published this year (Fangirl and Eleanor and Park) and I agree. Written for adults, this book is fun too! And the dialogue is witty and the characters are likeable. Lincoln O’Neill is kind of at a standstill and he takes a really boring, go nowhere night job monitoring email at a local newspaper. Things start to look brighter when he falls in love; unfortunately, he falls in love with Beth while reading her hilarious and honest email exchanges with her best friend and co-worker, Jennifer. Oh, and Beth does not know he exists and he knows the intimate details of her life which would be kind of creepy. Earlier I used the phrase “funny, fast-paced and heartwarming book”, it applies here also!

Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

April 19, 2013

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia Temminick drives her proper Victorian mother crazy. What with a household full of children and Sophronia falling out of dumbwaiters into the guests’ trifle, Mumsy packs her off to finishing school. But Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is not quite what one would expect of such an establishment. There are classes on deceit and deception, instructions on how to use hair accessories as lethal weapons against supernaturals, and demonstrations of how to use one’s décolletage to conceal secret documents. Math classes include word problems on how to divide poison so that only the guests that one wishes to poison receive it in their dishes. When someone reports Sophronia’s wandering in restricted areas, she is punished because she: 1) got caught, and 2) admitted her guilt.

The location of the school is also interesting. It is a dirigible constructed of three balloons fastened together, rendering the appearance of a caterpillar in the sky. Sophronia acquires a forbidden mechanimal, a metal, automated dog who runs on coal, just like the engines of the ship. She makes friends with the “sooties,” the boys who shovel coal in the engine room, when she sneaks in to gather bits of coal for Bumbersnoot. She also makes friends with several of the girls, and all of her acquaintances come in handy when she tries to foil a plot. One of the girls (or perhaps even a professor!) is trying to smuggle a new communication device to the flywaymen—or even worse, to the Picklemen! Sophronia and her friends are determined to thwart these enemies in the most fashionable and refined manner possible. If that doesn’t work, they’ll shoot them.

Fans of Gail Carriger’s adult series, “The Parasol Protectorate,” will enjoy this teen-oriented steampunk adventure. They will also recognize younger versions of some of the same characters and get acquainted with the ancestors of others. Carriger continues to casually introduce werewolves and vampires to the story and still displays her absurd, arch sense of humor. Although Sophronia appears to be completely human, she is as much a fearless and lovable heroine as Alexia Tarabotti. Teens and adults will have fun with this one.
If you would like to read Gail Carriger’s adult series, the first title in the series is SoullessEtiquette and Espionage is also available as a downloadable audiobook.  This review was previously posted on

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Inside the Victorian Home : a Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders

April 9, 2013

This book is delightful! It is one of those books you want to tell people about constantly but worry that they will roll their eyes after the sixth or seventh Victorian life fun fact. But it is packed with interesting tidbits at every turn of the page and you cannot help but be aghast at some of the details. I would give you some examples, but I really cannot spoil your fun and probably you would not believe me anyway.

Flanders wonderfully constructs the book around each room in the Victorian home. She describes the home in detail, the expectations set forth by Mrs. Panton and Mrs. Beeton (the Martha Stewarts of their time) and the reality. She illustrates with excerpts from literature of the time as well as letters and diary entries. The book describes mostly upper middle class Londoners but does occasionally discuss the serving class and the truly wealthy.

Flanders discusses the Victorian life by going past the physical aspects of the room but what actually went on in the room and how that was informed by Victorian society (or vice versa).  For example, the chapter on the Nursery discusses the Victorian view of children and parenthood. The chapter on the Dining Room includes information on Victorian cooking, or overcooking, as it were. The chapter on the Sick Room discusses the Victorian views on health, illness and death (including the various stages of mourning).

Okay, okay I cannot contain myself any longer! I will not give you any Victorian fun facts but I will let you know that these questions are answered in the pages of this awesome book:

-What common childhood ailment was actually a measurable cause of death for infants?

-What common home decoration was extremely toxic?

-How long was the recommended boiling time for macaroni? a>30 minutes b> up to 1 hour c>up to 1 hour and 45 minutes

So check it out! You will be amazed we are all still alive and you will wonder what our ancestors will think of our everyday life.
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A Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

December 28, 2011

 If you could change the past, would you?  And how would those changes effect the world as we know it?  Felix Palma tackles these questions and more in his genre blending Science Fiction, Fantasy,Time travel, Steampunk, Alternate history page turner.  The father of Science Fiction, H.G. Wells, is embroiled three intertwined mysteries involving Jack the Ripper, love, murder, a rip in the space-time continuum, magic, automatons, the future, the past, and much more.

When a young man loses the love of his life to the murderous fiend Jack the Ripper, he seeks the help of H.G.Wells and his time machine to go back in time and save her.  As the only man in the world that might have a time machine, Wells is the only one who can help change the past and right what is wrong.  But is is all what it seems?  Can we travel to the past or to the future and what are the consequences of such travels?

This book has the delightful quality of being, at the same time, exactly what I thought it would be and exactly opposite what if would be.  It is also one of those books that cannot be described in great detail without giving away too much of the plot.  Therefore, my description is a bit hazy and not quite clear, but I can’t have it any other way.  This book will delightfully surprise you and keep you guessing over reality versus imagination.

Take your own trip through time by finding and requesting this book in our catalog.

Soulless by Gail Carriger

November 18, 2011

Alexia Tarabotti is the soul of formality and fits with the most proper set in Victorian London.  Well, as well as any soulless spinster with much too much Italian blood and much too great of an appetite possibly can. In a Victorian London where vampires set the social standings and werewolves run her majesty’s empire, being a supernatural is not that extraordinary.  Yet, being soulless is something of an oddity.  And when vampires and werewolves around London start disappearing, Alexia starts to garner some interest.  Lord Maccon, a loud, messy, gorgeous, improper werewolf, is sent to investigate at the queen’s request.  Fur flies (sometimes literally) when Alexia and Lord Maccon come together to solve this supernatural mystery.

I have to admit when describing this book to friends, I am the tiniest bit embarrassed at first.  People start to get the look, “You’re an adult reading a vampire-werewolf-romance-fantasy.”  But, as I insist to my judgemental friends, this book is different.  This book is good.  So good I succumbed and have read the entire series.  And the rest of the books are just as delightful, funny, and charming as the first in the series. Gail Carriger has create as supernatural romance series that even I, an avowed supernatural cynic, enjoy.   Now I must wait for the newest book to be published.   So I encourage you, dear readers, do not be frighten or ashamed of reading and enjoying Soulless.  It has a librarian’s approval.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

January 5, 2011

Many people think that the basic story of this novel is that a young man is able to remain young, beautiful and immortal, while his portrait grows old in his place.  However, that misses half of the story of what happens to Dorian Gray.  After making his fateful wish that he remain young and the portrait grow old, it soon becomes apparent that Dorian’s picture has also taken on all of Dorian’s sins, as well as his age.  Who among us would not at least consider being able to remain young in body?  Yet, if the cost was the corruption of our very soul, I should think that we’d all decline.

Not Dorian, though.  His friends Basil Hallword, the painter of the famous picture, and Lord Henry Wotton contribute toward young Dorian’s corruption by making him believe in the importance of youth and beauty, and thus causing him to become vain.  His vanity, in turn, causes him to make that fateful wish which ends up cursing Dorian with the illusion of being a beautiful and wholesome person, even while he goes on to commit increasingly grotesque, violent and depraved acts.  The picture shows all too well the state of Dorian’s soul – ugly, stained and corrupt.  But is it too late for him to save himself from this curse and damnation?  This, gentle reader, is what classic Gothic Horror is all about.

The other most appealing aspect of this book is Oscar Wilde’s wonderful writing and skill with his wit.  Throughout the novel, and mostly from Lord Henry’s lips, there is an almost ceaseless stream of wonderful one-liners.  This is evident before the novel even begins, when Wilde writes in his preface. “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.” Lord Henry’s bon mots, however are usually delivered in a form that contrasts two things or two sides of one idea.  A few pearl’s of Lord Henry’s wisdom include:

“I always like to know everything about my new friends, and nothing about my old ones.”

“Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed.”

“It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But . . . it is better to be good than to be ugly.”

This novel was used as evidence (despite the preface) against Oscar Wilde in his famous trial which led to his exile, prison, and death.  To be sure, he left our world too soon, but not before gracing us with some of the best plays, stories and writings of the Nineteenth (or any) Century.  Readers who enjoy this, will also enjoy his most famous play, The Importance of Being Earnest, too.   In fact, our classics book club had read that play, and then decided to read more by Mr. Wilde.

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The Witches of Chiswick by Robert Rankin

April 22, 2010

Okay, I just can’t resist including one more wacky, off the wall, wierd and supernatural story that also happens to be laugh-out-loud funny.  If you’re like most Americans, you’ve probably never heard of Robert Rankin. And that’s all right. I was like you once too. But, now I know who he is and why his books are great fun, and my life is so much better for it.  Rankin (not to be confused with Ian Rankin, the British Mystery writer) is a British author who writes what he calls “far-fetched fiction” – but what you or I might describe as humorous fiction that includes elements of science fiction, fantasy, the occult, steampunk, metafiction, and more.  He uses running gags throughout his novels and almost all of them take place in Brighton, a suburb of London where the author grew up.  Many of his novels involve conspiracies as well as the supernatural, and most of his titles are parodies of other, well-known and more literary books (this one is a play on John Updike’s Witches of Eastwick, naturally).  He also has many recurring characters, most notably the Guru’s Guru, Mr. Hugo Rune.

Rune features prominently in this story, but I’m getting just a bit ahead of myself (or behind, it’s hard to tell with time travel).  Will Starling is our hero, and he lives and works in a dystopian future where synthetic food has made everyone (except Will) vastly obese and the world lives in 300-story towers, rarely venturing outside.  Will is also an art lover, and one day he notices a famous Victorian Era painting in which a person is wearing a digital watch.  How can this be?  When Will reports his unusual find, a murderous cover-up ensues.  Will confides is his best mate, Tim, who tells Will of a vast conspiracy to control the world led by a cabal of witches.  Will then takes a psychotropic drug that allows him to tap into the memories of his ancestors, which in turn reveal to him the fact that the Nineteenth Century was not what we thought at all, but an age of unprecedented technological advances, thanks mainly to Charles Babbage.  A Victorian Era robot is then sent forward in time to kill Will, but Will escapes in the robot’s time machine back to the 1800’s, where he meets his ancestor and eccentric genius, Hugo Rune.  The plot gets even more twisted and complicated (in a totally good way) from there, but suffice it to say that Will, Tim and Hugo have embarked on an adventure involving time travel, the hunt for Jack the Ripper, meeting H.G. Wells and the Elephant Man, another Will from an alternate future, Count Otto Black, the head of the witches, and Barry, the Sprout Guardian (don’t ask).

Robert Rankin may not be as well-known or as popular as other British SF humorists, such as Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, or even Jasper Fforde, but if you’ve ever enjoyed those authors, you owe it to yourself to give Mr. Rankin a try.  The audio versions are narrated by the author, who does an amazing job with the various voices, not to mention the natural British accent. Unfortunately, not all of Rankin’s books are readily available in the United States, whether you are looking in libraries or even your favorite bookstore.  But, if you hunt around a bit, you’ll find that his novels can be obtained, and you won’t even have to defeat an evil cabal of witches and save the world to get them.  Plus, with titles like: The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse and Nostradamus Ate My Hamster, you know you’re in for a rollicking good time.

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To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

March 4, 2010

Growing up I was crazy about the concept of time travel.  Perhaps I watched a bit too much Dr. Who, but the idea of going back and forth through time absolutely thrilled me. I would picture myself living in a spaceship with my very own robot.  Some things never change, I’m still a day dreamer  (although I don’t have a robot),  and I still enjoy a good time travel story. Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of my all-time favorites. This book is classified as science fiction but it is one of the most genre-blending novels I’ve read. With a bit of mystery, a dash of adventure, some comedy, and a healthy dose of historical romance, there are elements that I think would appeal to just about anybody.

The story begins at Oxford University in the year 2057. We encounter historian and time traveler, Ned Henry, who really needs a rest.  After all, he was just recently commandeered by wealthy American, Lady Schrapnell, to retrieve a relic from a cathedral before a WWII air raid.  After a series of misguided “jumps” to obtain the mysterious “bishop’s bird stump,” Ned is suffering from a serious case of “time lag.”

Unfortunately, Ned’s holiday plans are abruptly halted when he learns that another historian has accidentally brought  something back from Victorian England.  To make matters worse, he appears to be the only one available to go back to 1888 and return said object. Grumpy and disoriented, he lands in the wrong location, not knowing what exactly it is he is suppose to bring back. He eventually hitches a ride down the Thames with a few young men, an Oxford professor, and a bulldog.  One of the young men is attempting to meet a woman he cares for (who happens to be an ancestor of Lady Schrapnell.) The only problem is…the woman is destined to marry someone else and if she doesn’t the course of history could be altered forever.  Together,  Ned and fellow time traveler Verity Kindle stumble along as undercover Victorians to set things right.  Along the way, there are a string of memorable characters and hilarious situations. This is a comedy of manners that I’m sure will delight!

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