Oh Dear

Oh Dear

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." - Cicero

5 Stars
Monumenta Polonica: the first four centuries of Polish poetry : a bilingual anthology - Bogdana Carpenter

For anyone interested in Polish poetry, Bogdana Carpenter's Monumenta Polonica is the perfect introductory volume. This bilingual anthology spans four centuries of Polish literature, from the 14th century to the 18th century, introducing readers to poetry from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Baroque, and the Enlightenment. For the reader who is unfamiliar with the culture and history of Poland, Carpenter opens each epoch with a brief history, giving some historical context to the poems. She has also provided a brief biographical sketch of each of the known authors as well as some analysis of their styles. All of the poems presented in this volume were originally written in Polish, Carpenter chose not included any poetry written in Latin, which may have eliminated some important works. However, despite the omission of Latin works, Carpenter's anthology is still a rich collection that illustrate the wide spectrum of poetry produced during the first centuries of literature in Poland. Of particular note are the Laments of Jan Kochanowski for his beloved daughter Orszula, which were especially touching given the depth of the authors obvious grief. His poems and others within this text are ones that I will return to again and again.

4 Stars
The Making of a Marchioness
The Making of a Marchioness (Part I and II) - Frances Hodgson Burnett

Before watching The Making of a Lady on PBS I had no idea that Frances Hodgson Burnett had written for adults and curiosity drove me to purchase and read The Making of a Marchioness. It bore little resemblance to the film, it lacked the romance and the action that a film requires to capture the attention of a broad audience. The book was much more sedate, in my opinion. There was still a threat to Emily's life and she was desperately in love with Lord Walderhurst, but all of the elements required to make a modern period film were gone and instead the book was "diluted with unromantic realism" (1). And that wasn't a bad thing.

In The Making of a Marchioness Burnett develops a group of interesting and complex characters, and who can't appreciate that. While Lord Walderhurst is reserved and, dare I say, repressed the reader often catches glimpses of a softer side, unlike his heir Alec Osborn. Osborn is lazy, violent, and cruel. There is little doubt he is a true villain. His wife Hester definitely competed with Emily for my favorite character. She was pretty and clearly more intelligent, she at the very least had life intelligence. She struggled internally with her desire to have more in life with doing the right thing. She could be cruel and mean-spirited but at the same recognize what was being done for her and be thankful. I really admired Hester as a character, it was curious to watch her development throughout the book. But, ultimately, Emily was the heroine of this story.

Emily Fox-Seton is an interesting character in that she is a very atypical heroine. She is neither very pretty nor very bright and typically a heroine will be one or the other or both. She doesn't even have youth. As of writing this review I'm finding it difficult to come up with another character that doesn't have either intelligence or looks. Emily is naïve, extremely suggestible, and as many characters point out, not very intelligent. But she is a sensitive creature, she lives for others, she's dedicated to seeing to the happiness of others before herself. Like Hester, Emily's development was also a very curious thing to watch.

I feel that all too often we don't think people like Emily are worth writing about, they're not interesting enough for most writers or even for most readers. But characters like Emily are human too. They're humans who experience life just like those characters who are brilliant and/or beautiful and their stories can be just as touching to read.

However, it wasn't Emily's story, or Hester's, or the plot that made this book very interesting, rather it was the frank assessment of late-Victorian/early-Edwardian courtship and marriage. The relationship dynamics between Lord and Lady Walderhurst and the Osborn's, according to Gretchen Gerzina who wrote the afterword for the Persephone edition, was a reflection of Burnett's own marriages and marriages similar to hers during the period. Additionally, the book also provided a fascinating look at class and race relations, that at times proved difficult to stomach, historically accurate or not.

In the end I have to say that while I did enjoy the film a bit more, the book has definitely earned a place among my favorites as I appreciated viewing the world at the turn of the 20th century through Burnett's eyes and I look forward to reading more of her adult centered works.

(1) Marghanita Laski, from the back cover of the Persephone edition.

5 Stars
The Thirteenth Tale
The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

Diane Setterfield is the Vida Winter to my Margaret Lea. Just as Miss Winter's books ensnared Margaret Lea, The Thirteenth Tale ensnared me, however I didn't have the luxury of doing nothing but reading this enthralling book. Unlike my counterpart, Miss Lea. When I did have time to read I found myself pulled into the mysterious world created by Ms. Setterfield. Where secrets existed in abundance, where books are a central element, where words were chosen with obvious thought, and I lost track of time.

At the beginning of the book Vida Winter makes one request of Margaret, that there is no "jumping about in the story." She mustn't cheat or skip ahead by asking any questions, "everything in it's proper place," start to finish. And while Margaret was dependent on Miss Winter to finish the story, the reader doesn't have any such restrictions and is free to jump to the end at any point in time. I must admit that there were points in the story where I was tempted, but when Margaret agreed to Miss Winter's conditions so did I and anxiously I waited to find out if my theories were correct.

They were.

While this book is incredibly well crafted, the mystery at the center of this tale was obvious to me, although it did not under any circumstances detract from the books enjoyability or the suspense that built over the course of the story. Ms. Setterfield obviously has a knack for the Gothic genre. There were also questions I accumulated throughout the book, some were tied up neatly at the end, other not so much, but I'm one of those people who doesn't favor a tidy little bow at the end. Because I'm still left wondering, the book hasn't ended for me yet and probably never will.

This was and is a book that I hope never ends, that I hope I'm always left wondering about. Toward the end of the book Margaret is lost in her thoughts after being summoned to Miss Winter's side and I feel like her musings perfectly describe how I feel now that I've finished the last page with the prospect of starting a new book.

"Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes-characters even-caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you. Well, it was like that."

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
2 Stars
Nothing To Commend Her - Jo Barrett

Warning this review contains spoilers.

I was set to give this book three, possibly four, stars but the last chapter forced me to give it only two.

There was a lot that I liked about this book, it was a light easy read that had interesting and complex characters who I connected with. Agatha is a plain, outspoken bluestocking with insecurities that rival her husband's. She was a delightful character, who approached the danger she faced sensibly. Magnus, her husband, was horribly scarred in a fire and he proved to be an extremely sympathetic character. His self-confidence was severely damaged not only due to his scarring but also a first wife who degraded him prior to the fire. It was pleasant to read a male character who wasn't completely confident in his appearance. Additionally, the secondary characters were also very entertaining and endearing, with the disappointing exception of Katherine Reynolds, who may have come into the story too late and had too little character development to really become attached to. She read as a carbon copy of the heroine.

The plot felt slightly rushed at the beginning, for example the wedding felt quite abrupt, there was no explanation or reasoning from Magnus as to why he chose to marry Agatha, it just suddenly happened. However, the pace evened out a little more as the book progressed.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a great deal, right up until the last chapter. The character Beatrice was introduced very early in the book and it was quite clear to the reader that she was the one attempting to kill Agatha. My initial assumption was that Beatrice was in love with Magnus but that he never returned or recognized her affection and when he married his first wife, Elizabeth, she became angry. This was not the case. Instead Beatrice turned out to be in love with Elizabeth, who did not return her affections.

I found the use of the Psycho Lesbian trope to be unnecessary and slightly offensive. If this book had been written in the 80s I might (might) have understood, but in the second decade of the twenty-first century we should be moving past such outdated, harmful stereotypes such as the deviant homosexual. Again unnecessary and offensive. It also appeared slightly ironic given the otherwise progressive, at times anachronistic, treatment of women.

I want to give Nothing to Commend Her only one star, but I won't, I'll be generous, since I did like most of it, and give it two stars and block out/ignore the ending. However, I'll hesitate before attempting another one of Jo Barrett's works.

4 Stars
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ - Philip Pullman

In The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman presents an intriguing alternate version of the myth of Jesus Christ, in that he approaches the duality of Jesus Christ, who was alleged to be both man and god, literally, splitting him into two entities. In his version Pullman makes them twin brothers, Jesus and Christ, who are both tragically human.

In Pullman's work, Jesus represents the uncorrupted teachings of the Biblical Jesus Christ, who preaches about aiding the sick, the poor, the down trodden, and who loves all the little children. Jesus as a human is deeply sympathetic and this is especially clear in the chapter Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane. Matthew 26:36 notes that Jesus and three of his disciples go to the garden where Jesus tells them to sit while he prays but we have no notion of what his prayers are about. In The Good Man Jesus experiences a lapse of faith and questions the existence of God and his own mission to announce the coming of the Kingdom. This chapter ends with perhaps one of my favorite quotes from this book:

'From time to time we'll remember you, like a grandfather who was loved once, but who has died, and we'll tell stories about you; and we'll feed the lambs and reap the corn and press the wine, and sit under the tree in the cool of the evening, and welcome the stranger and look after the children, and nurse the sick and comfort the dying, and then lie down when our time comes, without a pang, without fear, and go back to the earth.

'And let the silence talk to itself...'

Jesus stopped. There was nothing else he wanted to say.

Christ on the other hand is portrayed as a literal representation of the Christian Church, in all of it's glorious corruption. Christ, in Pullman's version, is the author of the Bible, instead of the unknown figures who finally wrote down the gospels decades after Jesus supposedly lived. In The Good Man Christ alters the teachings of Jesus to better suit his own agenda, this is done at the urging of a mysterious figure who is either Satan (which the figure denies) or a very good conman, likely the latter in this scenario.

Pullman heavily criticizes the Christian Church throughout this book, even taking a shot at the sex abuse scandals that have been exposed in large numbers. However, Pullman doesn't criticize the essential teachings of Jesus, in fact he does the opposite and praises them. He deliberately separates them from the pernicious influence of the church by creating two different manifestations.

More than anything The Good Man is a brilliant illustration of how myths emerge, which according to Pullman was one of the goals he set out to accomplish with this book. It also connects nicely with the first book written in the Canongate Myths Series, A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong which set out (but failed) to explain the origins of myths. In Pullman's work we see how a story which may or may not have been based in truth is elaborated on and changed to suit the needs and the desires of the myth makers. If this isn't clear throughout the book, Pullman makes it explicit in the last chapter as Christ mentally outlines improvements to the many scrolls containing the life and teachings of Jesus that Christ wrote. And he is not the only one who revises his brother's story, Jesus' disciples also add a few things including the story of Thomas the Doubter.

Myths are not born over night, they're carefully constructed over years or decades and they can have many authors. They've been handed down one generation after another until they were finally written on paper and a deeply rooted part of our lives. Pullman has done an amazing job of depicting part of that development here and has provided a fascinating read for anyone interested in that process.

You know, if you're hopeful, if you're even a little bit happy about something that might happen, it doesn't affect the outcome. You could still give yourself a period of optimism, even if it all falls apart.

- The Snow Queen, by Michael Cunningham

2 Stars
Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation
Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation - Elissa Stein, Susan Kim
That last chapter was a real doozy and it took everything I had to finish this book, especially when I reached the last seven pages, and not give this a one star rating. The authors spend most of this book criticizing the feminine care industry/advertising agencies/drug companies for their "evil" schemes to make money off of ignorant unsuspecting women and yet we don't receive a peep out of them in the last chapter. They're left simply "unconvinced" when it comes to using magnetized underwear (magnet therapy - insert muttered "OMG" here) and the products offered by womanwisdom.com are praised for their attempts to "inject some celebration into a major life event".

Call me cynical if you want, but "a home-study course with topics including the shamanic power of menstruation, sacred geometry, the wisdom and madness of menstrual taboos, the eroticism of blood mysteries, and menopause as a second puberty" and "goddess gowns in various colors" definitely sound like a ploy to make money off of the insecurity women have concerning their periods to me. At least the feminine care industry are protecting my underwear from blood staining (note: "protecting") and the big drug companies are relieving my discomfort, in other words doing something useful.

This book was humorous, it wasn't all that bad and I read it in a little over 24 hours, which is why I'm still going to give it two stars, but I'm clearly not among the intended audience. I think this book might be aimed at those women who give you the stink-eye and think you're lower than dirt if you don't use those menstrual cups and actually buy pain relievers instead of herbal remedies. So if you're not one of them (more like me) I definitely wouldn't recommend this book.
4 Stars
A History of British Art (Acclaim for the Book and Television Series)
A History of British Art - Andrew Graham-Dixon
To be honest, even if the rest of this book had been complete rubbish (which it wasn't) Graham-Dixon's assessments of Pre-Raphaelite art, including his comments regarding Rossetti and Burne-Jones, and Edwardian Art, most especially his remarks on Sargent, would have been more than enough for me to give this book four stars.
1 Stars
Almost Perfect (Fool's Gold, Book 2)
Almost Perfect (Fool's Gold, Book 2) - Susan Mallery
There are reasons why I stick to historical romance novels, and Susan Mallery’s Almost Perfect provides a perfect example of why.

WARNING there are spoilers in this review.

Yesterday started Read-A-Romance Month, where everyday this month a romance novelist will contribute a post about romance and romance novels. One of the posts made yesterday was by Susan Mallery and right away I was interested in reading one of her books because her first statement is: "I am a feminist."

HA! To quote Jinx Monsoon from the fifth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race:


If you are a feminist, why doesn’t it reflect in your work?

Granted, I’m ninety-percent sure that this is the only romance novel that I’ve read by Mallery, so I don’t have much to base my judgement on and I can only hope that this is not representative of her work at large, but I’m not holding my breath.

The heroine, Liz Sutton left her small town of Fool’s Gold and moved to San Fransisco after her then boyfriend the “hero" Ethan Hendrix told his friends that she meant nothing to him. She later found out that she was pregnant. She tried to come back twice to tell him but the first time she found him in bed with another girl and the second she spoke only to his wife, who then sent a letter that was supposed to be from him telling Liz that he wanted nothing to do with her and to stay away from the town. Liz ends up having to return to town when she finds out that her brother is in prison and his daughters have been abandoned by their step-mother.

Her first night in town Ethan, here after known only as the asshole or more fondly the douche-bag, comes to her house and she tells him about their son and her attempts to tell him. He gets pissed and stays pissed about the fact that she kept his son from him for eleven years.

In any other situation I would have commended her attempts to handle this outside of court, but given the douche bags behavior that first night I think it would have been obvious that she needed to consult a lawyer.

And after the second time he confronts her and she shows him the letter that she received that was supposedly from him, she should have been all:


Because this does eventually go to court when the d-bag files an injunction to keep her from leaving town (WARNING SIGN FLASHING IN BRIGHT LIGHTS HERE). And when we do find out that she’s finally contacted a lawyer, the lawyer allegedly informs her that he/she does not need to be present and to work with the judge.


This is a supposed best selling author, so I have a hard time believing that her publishing company would be cool about staying out of this and a lawyer not getting involved when this could go wrong for her career.

Why she didn’t get a lawyer in the first place, who could have been prepared and even petitioned for a change of venue, is beyond me.

Oh, wait, it’s not…

The heroine (term used loosely) is just plain pathetic. She’s repeatedly called smart, but as far as I can see her light bulb is at only about 15 watts. Furthermore, she’s nothing more than a doormat. She’s bullied into hanging out with the girl who tormented her through high school, she’s controlled by the asshole, she lets little old ladies and young mother who know nothing about the situation degrade her on the street, hell even the kids get in on the action. She’s spineless.


The “hero" is a real piece of work, not only can he not accept that he bore much of the blame in this situation but he’s also controlling to the point of being creepy. Seriously, the dude, when he finds out that Liz is planning to leave town after she renovates her brother’s house BUYS OUT THE CONTRACT to have his company to the renovations. He even admits that he filed the injunction because he wasn’t able to control her years before!


The sexism in this book really got to me and it was times like this, reading books like this, that I wish it were a paperback and not a Kindle because I would have thrown it or burned it. Thankfully I didn’t buy this book, only checked it out from my library.

Mallery, at best, has only an elementary understanding of feminism. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great start, but she needs to become better educated about the finer points of feminism. Because seriously… the gender stereotyping alone had me wanting to rip my hair out. It becomes hypocritical at one point (mentioned in the next paragraph). She characterizes women in one way and men in another. The scene in the gym with the asshole and his friend, offers two great examples in only a couple of pages. First stating that the gym is “how girls workout" (obviously not manly men like them) and second that being insightful makes his friend feel like a girl, which is apparently a bad thing.

Then there’s this little gem about sexism, following a discussion with her son who has been talking with his father: “Her son, the sexist, she thought, faintly annoyed." Gee, I wonder where he’s picking that up from? She follows this up by giving her son a speech that sounds like something she probably heard once upon a time and repeats verbatim about how you can’t judge an entire group and place them in one category. This hypocrisy of this passage in this book was laughable.

A couple pages later when she confronts the asshole about it he admits to it claiming that it’s just one of those things guys say to one another and says that he will have to watch what he says to him in the future. For Liz this is a-okay. Because as long as he doesn’t speak them aloud he can still maintain his sexist beliefs and gender stereotypes. BTW, they also kiss following a couple of more sexist statements he makes…


The thing that really did it for me was her decision to stay in Fool’s Gold. Again we have to come back to the fact that this supposedly grown woman is behaving like a spineless child. Everyone, including the children pressure her into staying and she gives in, leaving behind her home in San Fransisco. Eleven years is no paltry amount of time, she’s built a life there, she has a home. The children would have adapted just fine. Instead she doesn’t think twice, she moves back to a town where she was judged and where no one helped her get away from her alcoholic and abusive mother when she was young. Oh, btw, they've all miraculously realized the error of their ways and have established a scholarship in her name. Now call me cynical, but it seems a little strange that the town folk would have a change of heart after she's become a best selling author.

This isn’t uncommon in contemporary romance novels where the heroine comes to the small town where the hero lives. In every book with this theme that I’ve read, in the end the heroine always gives up her life to accommodate his.

In addition to what I've listed above there is also the fact that Liz is pushing another woman into having a baby and that this same woman equates having a relationship with having children, that is not a healthy, mature outlook on adult relationships. There is also the fact that Liz's son and the author presumably believe that a woman cannot be a single mother, that there must be a mother and a father (I really do not want to know what Mallery's views on gay marriage are *shudder*). And to round things out, the author also throws in a random stalker who decides to kidnap Liz.

Dafuq did I just read?

Needless to say I will not be reading another book by Susan Mallery, she can keep her conservative "traditional" values to herself.
5 Stars
The Wall
The Wall - Marlen Haushofer
While reading The Wall it was as if I was reading something that I had written, not someone else. It was the same feeling I often get when I've read a journal entry that I wrote years ago, familiar but at the same time it seems as though everything written in that journal happened to someone else. The first person narrative helps with fostering that type of connection between the character and the reader, but with this book it occurred to an extent which I had not experienced before. It was fascinating. I wasn't left wondering what I would have done differently had I been in this nameless woman's shoes, but rather I knew that I would have done just as she had done.

The book concluded much as I expected it would, with no clear resolution and no answers. The Wall exists and this nameless woman is trapped within its confines. I do wonder if she tried to dig her way under but in a way I think I already know the answer to that question. There was no other way to end this book, there would be no happy endings. Even if she had managed to find her way to the other side of the Wall what was left for her there? Would she have even survived as she had on the inside?

This book is brilliant, one of the best I've read in a very long time. It left me overwhelmed. I read it after seeing the trailer for the movie version and I can only hope that more people will read it too.
1 Stars
The Temporary Wife
The Temporary Wife - Mary Balogh
The Temporary Wife is not one of Mary Balogh's best. I was really attracted to the plot of this book, as contrived as it was, a Marquess advertises for a governess but is actually looking for a wife. There was a lot of potential here, but it quickly went out the window.

In the beginning I actually thought I would really like the heroine, Charity Duncan, she seemed practical and spirited, but half way through the book she proved to be nothing more than an annoying simpering sentimental naïve presumptuous little twit. The only thing that she was practical about was her sexual relationship with Lord Anthony, which was in complete contradiction to her naiveté. It makes absolutely no sense that a young gentlewoman from the country would that blasé about sex. By the end I despised the hypocritical little twit.

The hero, Lord Anthony, was actually tolerable. I enjoyed the sections told from his point of view and his slow reconciliation with his family. His character growth was probably the one thing that kept me from completely abandoning this book.

There was very little chemistry between the hero and heroine, I found it extremely difficult to believe they were in love.

On the whole, The Temporary Wife was boring and horribly repetitive. It is not necessary to repeat events from the point of view of the hero and heroine. It became especially irritating because Balogh did so in an inconsistent manner.

Given my dislike of Saint Charity, rolling my eyes more times than I can count, and wishing more than anything that it would end, I can't give this book anything other than one star.
3 Stars
Jane, the Quene: Third Consort of King Henry VIII
Jane, The Quene, Third Consort Of King Henry VIII - Pamela M. Gross
Jane, The Quene: Third Consort of King Henry VIII by Dr. Pamela Gross is not one of the most accessible biographies of the elusive Jane Seymour. Most internet outlets list the biography as selling for more than two-hundred dollars. I obtained a copy through my state's centralized library union catalog and, as someone who has always been fascinated by Jane Seymour, I'm glad that I did.

Dr. Gross's biography was the first of its kind published about Jane Seymour. As Dr. Gross notes, a number of works published about King Henry VIII's wives only include cursory information about his third wife, and much of it based on myth. Granted, little is actually known about Jane. Very few records remain offering any insight concerning her birth and childhood, her arrival at court, and her life with Henry VIII. This lack of information results in a short biographical sketch, less than two-hundred pages long. However, the information Dr. Gross was able to piece together results in an interesting image of a figure who has long been shrouded in mystery.

The thesis Dr. Gross presents in Jane: The Quene is not that Jane Seymour was passive and submissive, submitting to the command of either Henry VIII or her family, but rather a clever, deceptively shrewd, and demanding woman. A woman who actively capitalizes on Anne Boylen's waning position in King Henry VIII's court. A woman clever enough to know not to push her luck with Henry VIII. And a woman who paid the ultimate price to be queen. I didn't feel that Dr. Gross's characterization of Jane was in any way demonizing or biased (in contrast to Agnes Strickland's grossly biased characterization of Jane in her biography of Anne Boylen), but is rather an indication of the quality of her research. In fact I think her characterization gives Jane more depth than the pious and meek figure that is recognizable today.

While Dr. Gross presents a very well researched and informative biography, the editing detracts from the scholarly nature of the work. The spelling errors and incomplete sentences should have been corrected before publication. Furthermore, I felt that she used brackets excessively. The scholarly quality of Jane, The Quene, however, more than makes up for any editorial issues present.

Anyone interested, as I was, in reading a scholarly account of Jane Seymour's life should consider making an attempt to locate this book at a library in their state (or buy it if you have an extra two-hundred dollars lying around).

Dr. Pamela Gross was an associate professor of history at Adams State College (now Adams State University). She received her PhD from University at Buffalo, the State University of New York, where she specialized in Tudor-Stuart England.