Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Review: Days of Rage

Days of Rage: America's Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence by Bryan Burrough. Penguin Press. 2015. Library copy.

It's About: A look at the 1970s -- where a handful of groups believed that violent revolution was necessary. Bombings, robberies, murders followed.

The Good: Let's just say -- yes, it's complicated. Days of Rage starts with the groups of the 1960s that gave birth to the Weathermen / the Weather Underground, and then how the beliefs, rhetoric, and actions of different groups influenced others, in both theory and action. It ends in the early 1980s.

Days of Rage doesn't include all groups that engaged in robberies and violence in the name of perceived greater good. It concentrates on a handful, including the Weather Underground, the Black Liberation Army, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the FALN. Depending on the group and the time, the reasons varied from racial injustice, the Vietnam War, Puerto Rican independence, corporate greed, -- the list goes on.

It's a fascinating look at the time, the actions, and the people. It covers many groups and many people -- there are going to be people or things that the reader will want to know more about. And for some of that, there are books and articles. For others? Not so much, because there are still things that are secret, unknown, with the keepers of the secrets unwilling to talk -- or dead. Days of Rage concentrates on these particular groups in part because of the links between them, either in overlapping participants or shared knowledge. Such as sharing safe bomb making techniques.

Days of Rage tries to explain why people - usually young adults - turned to violence. I say "tries" because while at times I understood, or came close to it, at other times -- no. I think it would be almost impossible to really explain it. While I was fascinated, at the end, it just seemed that a lot of people had gotten away with a lot of criminal activity because people romanticized violence. Because going underground was cool and sexy. And that the death and violence was viewed, even now, by those sharing their stories, as somewhat justified.

Actually, by the end, I was angry and disgusted with most of those talked about in this book. I would recommend this, absolutely -- because it does examine, and try to explain, why people do turn to violence and support those who engage in it. It's a great look at group dynamics, and control, and how and why such things happened. Days of Rage does not excuse what was done: I was thankful that one of the final chapters included the now-grown child of one of the victims of a bombing, someone giving voice to the horror and destruction that was done in the name of political beliefs. It's a voice that I think is still not heard by the some of those who engaged in or supported these groups... and it's one of the reasons I recommend this book.

And of course my thoughts turned to how these groups and their actions were and are presented in TV and films and books.

I can think of at least one YA book: Downtown by Norma Fox Mazer (1984), about a teenage boy whose parents are fugitive radicals.

River Phoenix starred in a 1988 film, Running on Empty, also about the teenage son of radicals on the run.

And yes, one of the parts of Days of Rage I found especially interesting was how as the people grew older, they became parents, and how that did, or didn't, influence what their parents did -- how the children were used as cover, or how someone could drive a getaway car and worry about making it home in time to pick up her toddler from daycare. While I respect the privacy of those now adult children, I do wonder what happened to them when parents were arrested.

The Big Fix was made in 1978, and I haven't watched it in decades, but the murder mystery involves former and underground radicals. And I also want to rewatch The Big Chill (1983) because it shows a group of people who were politically active but did not turn violent, and I want to see just how that is discussed, if at all.

As you can see, most of what I'm thinking of actually works made at the time these groups were still active; or within the ten years following, so that even if not active, people were still in hiding.

I'm sure I'm missing some -- I know the story of Kathleen Soliah/Sarah Jane Olson still finds its way into TV shows (suburban mom's criminal past is discovered!)




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Review: Corset Diaries

The Corset Diaries by Katie MacAlister. NAL. 2004. Library Copy.

The Corset DiariesThe Plot: Tessa gets a weird call from a good friend -- an opportunity to make a lot of money. Is your hair still long? Do you have a valid passport?

Thanks to an old friend, she has the chance to be in a historical reality TV show, A Month in the Life of a Victorian Duke. She'll play the American heiress wife.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Good: What could possibly go wrong?

Tessa is doubtful that she is really the ideal person to play the role of Duchess: she's 39, she's not skinny (do not tell anyone she is a size 18) and corsets, really? But the money would help give her chance to pay debts occurred from her late husband's medical bills. Plus, it may be kind of fun, right?

But who can have fun in a corset?

I laughed a lot at The Corset Diaries, at Tessa's trying to stay on-script while having a hard time with eighteenth century manners, servants, and, yes, clothes.

Plus, romance! Max is the man playing the Duke. He's five years younger than Tessa, which Tessa thinks is too big a difference ("when I was a ripe, womanly twenty, . . . he was a spotty, adolescent fifteen. . . . In dog years, our age difference is thirty-five years.") And she may have accidently thrown up on his shoes when they first met.

Bottom line: a funny, hot romance with an older man and younger woman? And a story where they actually give a size to her shape? (No, seriously, usually body may be talked about with words like "curves" and "voluptuous" but it's refreshing to have an actual number mentioned). Plus tons of historical clothes and manners, with a modern attitude?

Yes, please!




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Review: Love by the Numbers

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (Love By Numbers) by Sarah MacLean. Avon Books. 2010. Library Copy. Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord 2010; Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart 2011.

The Plot: Regency England. The St. John twins are scandalous, for reasons beyond their control -- their mother famously abandoned children and husband -- and in their control...they are young, handsome, and Gabriel, the elder brother and the Marquess of Ralston, is a rake of the highest level.

When the twenty year old daughter of their mother's second marriage, Juliana, shows up on their doorstep, they recognize her as their sister and will do everything to have her socially accepted.

Lady Calpurnia is 28, plain, and because she wanted more than a husband looking for her fortune, she is unmarried. She realizes life has passed her by, and writes a list of what she would do, if only... if only she was a man, who acts, instead of a woman, who waits.

She makes a list... of the things she wants to do. And while Gabriel isn't on the list, a kiss is, and why not try for a kiss from the man she's had a crush on since forever?

The Good: Nine Rules was fun and hot; Callie is so well respected that Gabriel gets her help in introducing Juliana to society. And Gabriel is such a rake that Callie keeps running into him as she does the things that, if known, would make her not respectable. I liked this book; I liked Callie and her desire for more; I liked the level of spice. But, I'll be honest: I never warmed to Gabriel. I don't think he ever appreciated just how society had boxed Callie in. Basically, this volume, and Gabriel, just wasn't feminist enough for me. Gabriel never really "got it," and it seemed a bit like Callie was doing this more from being single than from being unhappy with society's limits.

BUT. I loved Callie, I loved her list, I loved her chance at love, I loved the spice.

And I LOVED Ten Ways, about Gabriel's younger twin brother, Nicholas. Nicholas is chasing after a runaway lady and encounters Lady Isabel Townsend. Isabel has been keeping home and family together, after her gambling father took off, permanently, to London, her mother died, and now her father is dead as well. But Isabel isn't just taking care of her younger brother...

Long story short, Isabel has created "Minerva House," a place where women can go, women who need a place of safety. Abused wives, pregnant girls, women with no options or choices. And if anyone finds out the truth, it'll all collapse. And here comes handsome Nicholas....  I loved the romance, I loved the spice, and I loved that Nicholas totally got what Isabel was doing and why.

Juliana's story is told in Eleven Scandals, which is her love story with the Duke of Leighton. The Duke, who avoids any hint of scandal and looks down on everyone who isn't him. Since Juliana is half-English and half-Italian and is arguably illegitimate, and the daughter of a merchant, with no title.... well. Yes. She's a scandal just by existing. And Juliana, like her brothers before her, both hates that she's being judged and also fights back with outrageous behavior.

It would be really, really easy to hate the Duke because he's so superior. But.... I found myself feeling sorry for him. Because just as Juliana and her brothers were shaped by their mother, so, too, has Simon been shaped by a world that told him, constantly, he was superior. I loved Eleven Scandals because, well, it brought him down a peg or two; he was made to see that he, and those he loved, were human. And there's nothing wrong with that.

And now I can't wait to read MacLean's A Rogue by Any Other Name: The First Rule of Scoundrels (Rules of Scoundrels), both because I enjoyed these books and because I understand there is at least some overlap in characters.



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins. Dutton Books for Young Readers. 2014. Library copy.

Isla and the Happily Ever AfterThe Plot: Isla is starting her senior year at her boarding school in France. She's had a crush on Josh for ages and ages, but he didn't even seem to know she was alive. (Considering how small her school is, that seems impossible.... and yet.)

But this year... this year may be different. Isla may be getting her happily ever after.

The Good: ajdlkjas;djs;ldjf;sd

That's not a type.

Yes, this came out last year, but I was saving it. Saving it for when I needed it.

And oh, I'm so glad I did. This is a companion to Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door; it's a true stand alone. I confess, I remembered Josh from Anna; but I didn't remember Isla at all. I need to reread....

I also need to go to Paris, right away. Like, yesterday. So any advice on super cheap airfare, and super cheap yet still nice places to stay?

Oh, right, topic. So Isla. Isla is a middle daughter, a good girl, a top student. She has one best friend. And she's been in love with Josh for ages. Even though he's a slacker, and doesn't seem to care about the rules, and had a really, really serious girlfriend the previous year.

And what is beautiful and wonderful about Isla and the Happily Ever After is that it's about Josh and Isla seeing each other and falling in love.... In Paris. I'm so jealous I could spit.

He's a bit of the bad boy to her good girl, or at least that's how some see them. But really, he's the boy who isn't sure he even wants to be there, and she's the girl who does as expected. So he gets detentions and she gets As. And the main tension I felt, as this sweet, wonderful, love story unfolded is the fear of just what Perkins was going to do, what was going to be the problem that stopped Isla from getting her "happily ever after."

I feel compelled to say the next thing because it was a fear I had (and I'd avoided spoilers so...): NO ONE DIES. And there is something which separates these two, something out of their control. And what does one do, when there is a barrier to one's happily ever after? Do you go over, under, around...or do you quit?

Bonus: because this is at the same school as Anna, and Josh was friends with Anna and Etienne, there are a ton of references to them. And a couple, also, to Lola. And when Anne and Etienne do show up, just, sigh. Lovely. A wonderful end to the book and to the series.

Also? I really liked Isla's approach to sex, a mix of common sense and love.






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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Review: The Mistress Trilogy

More than a Mistress and No Man's Mistress 2011 reissue. Mary Balogh. Dell. Library copy. The Secret Mistress (with bonus short story Now a Bride) (2012).


The Plot: Regency England. A series about the three Dudley siblings: Jocelyn, the arrogant Duke of Tresham; his younger brother, Ferdinand; and their sister, Angeline.

The Good: Confession: I thought I was borrowing Balogh's The Secret Affair and downloaded The Secret Mistress instead so got hooked on an entirely different series. I also started with the third in the series, but because it's the "prequel" that takes place before the other two, I think it's just as well.

The Dudley brothers are well known rakes, and let's just say the reputation is both inherited and earned.

Angeline adores her brothers, with all their foibles and brashness, dares and mistresses, but as much as she enjoys them, and as much as she recognizes that most rakes in London are just engaged in a flirtatious game she enjoys playing, she does not want one for a husband. No, no, no. So when she sees Edward Ailsbury, the Earl of Heyward, she sees the perfect husband: a true gentleman. Who cares if her brothers think he's a boring, dry stick? Who cares if he looks at her and sees a young woman who babbles away constantly and has the worst taste in hats? Angeline will convince Edward that they are perfect for each other.

Jocelyn is the hardest of the siblings to warm too: but then again, his name may be Jocelyn but his title is the Duke of Tresham and everyone, including his siblings and friends, call him Tresham. He's powerful and arrogant and let me say: it took me a while to get over just how entitled and privileged he was. His meet-cute with Jane in More Than a Mistress is that Tresham is involved in a duel (it involves a duel over a woman not his wife, actually, someone else's wife), she interrupts shouting "stop" and the end result is he gets wounded and blames Jane. Jane ends up loosing her job and gets hired by Tresham as his nurse.

While I wanted to just smack Tresh in his total not-caring about someone "lesser" than him -- who cares if she gets fired? Who cares if she's out of work? How dare she interrupt men at a duel! -- I gradually warmed to him. In part because while he is just that arrogant, he isn't possessive or physically abusive towards those working for him. In other words, he doesn't think, "oh she's my servant now I can do whatever I want." But of course they fall for each other! Oh, and Jane has a secret: she's on the run from possible murder and robbery charges but it's totally not her fault.

Jane's backstory is part of what I'm enjoying about Balogh's works: much as these Regencies are about the time, and are about people who are lucky enough to enjoy the fun and rewards of wealth and title, there are also people who are punished by the system and have to figure their ways around it. Here, Jane was unlucky enough to born in a time when she couldn't inherit outright; when she was dependent on the goodwill of her guardian; when the system failed her, she had few options. And to go back to Angeline: one reason I like Angeline is because she's like Cher (from Clueless, not the singer.) On the surface, a ditz who loves clothes; dig deeper, and that's true but it's also true she cares for those around her and looks beyond the surface. Angeline's immediate response to Jane, even before her full story is known, is of compassion.

No Man's Mistress is about middle sibling, Ferdinand. Second son, so no property or lands. He wins a country estate, goes to claim it -- and finds it is inhabited by Viola, who insists she owns the property. A rom-com battle of wills begins, with both stubbornly refusing to leave the house despite the fact that it means they are living together, unchaperoned (except for servants.) They are also both attracted towards each other and trying to deny it.

I admit to also getting annoyed with Ferdinand: I mean, he won the property by gambling. It's not like he paid for it. And it becomes clear that Viola is living there, and has for a while, and runs the property, and that she would be homeless and without income without it. He seems to think she has options, or that the options of  "oh, go stay with my sister in law" is a real plan.

OK, and now here's a major spoiler. But it's the reason I really like Balogh and can't wait to read her other books. As you may remember from my review of the Huxtable books, women willingly became mistresses; and one did so deliberately, as a means to make money because she had no options. No Man's Mistress also addresses this issue, exploring why, and how, someone would become a courtesan -- that is, a high priced whore. And it does so in a way that has compassion; that points out the problems inherent in a society like that of Regency England; and it allows for second chances and happy endings.

And Angeline once again puts compassion and love first.

Oh! And I nearly forgot. There is a final novella with extra chapters. Now a Bride (Short Story) (The Mistress Trilogy). For the record? For romances, I love epilogues/final chapters, with the couple still happy and still together.

The good news: there are plenty more Balogh books to read. The bad news: Where to start? Also, how many of these, if any, are connected?







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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Review: The Huxtable Quintet

First Comes Marriage (Huxtable Quintent) by Mary Balogh. Dell. 2009. Library copy. Other books in the series: Then Comes Seduction (2009), At Last Comes Love (2009), Seducing an Angel (2009) and A Secret Affair (2010).

The Plot: Regency England. The Huxtable siblings don't have much but they have each other: oldest sister Margaret, who, after their parents die, has dedicated herself to raising her younger siblings; middle sister Vanessa, recently widowed; youngest sister Katherine; and their younger brother, Stephen, 17, who they hope to send to university.

All that changes with the surprising news that young Stephen is now the Earl of Merton. Elliott Wallace, Viscount Lyngate, had expected to come to their small village, take Stephen into his care to educate him on his new position, and be on his way.

He hadn't counted on the Huxtable sisters, and the family refusing to be split up.

The five stories tell the stories of Meg, Vanessa, Katherine, Stephen, and their cousin Constantine, who would have been Earl had he been born before his parents married.

The Good: How good? Well, I quickly downloaded these from the library, one after another. The book that was actually recommended to me was At Last Comes Love, about Margaret, the eldest, who put her life (and possible love) on hold while raising her siblings. But, of course, me being me, I had to start at the beginning. And I'm glad I did!

The Huxtables are a wonderful family. They are swept away from all the know and I was delighted to find that their entry into society, into the ton, was not one of meanness or pettiness. Their brother had good fortune, and the fortune was shared with all. They love and care for each other and I was disappointed when the series came to an end.

I also enjoyed how different each story and each Huxtable was. In First Comes Marriage, Vanessa is the plain one amongst her siblings; and when their brother's new guardian, Elliott, decides that the proper thing to do about all these young women is to propose to one of them, she steps up. Katherine is still young, and she feels like Margaret has already sacrificed enough, so Vanessa, seeing that Elliott is contemplating a proposal, proposes to him.

This series, especially for the sisters, also looks at marriages that aren't started in love but end that way. They start for other reasons, and sometimes that includes lust and attraction, but love comes after. It also allows for people to change, or to become better than they appear at first. In Katherine's story, (Then Comes Seduction), the hero, Jasper, starts as obnoxious, casually betting on whether or not he can sleep with someone with no regard for the person who is the target of the bet  -- Katherine. The story (which actually takes place several years after the bet) doesn't excuse Jasper but it does show how moves beyond that.

Margaret's story is told in At Last Comes Love, and what I liked about it is that it didn't deliver on what I saw hinted at in the first two books. In those books, Margaret had had a boyfriend who left home and later married someone else. I was expecting him to return and them to have a second chance; instead, well, Margaret wants nothing to do with him, so lies to say she is already engaged to another, and winds up engaged to a man who had caused a scandal years before and has his own, personal reasons for quickly wanting a wife.

In Seducing an Angel, Cassandra Belmont comes to London a young widow determined to take a rich handsome lover, and sets her sights on the angelic looking Stephen (now 25). It's a bolder view than most, and of course there is a reason behind her desire to take a lover (she's broke and is looking at the financial aspect of being a mistress) and to not be interested in marriage. And there's the little matter of the rumor about her: that she's a widow because she killed her husband. With an axe.

A Secret Affair involves another widow, Hannah, a Duchess, who also comes to London looking for a lover and settles on Constantine Huxtable. Hannah, like Cassandra, is whispered about -- but Hannah is whispered about because she was so young when she married, and her husband was so old, and it was so obvious that she took lovers while married and is about to do so again, now that she's a rich widow.

What I liked for all of these stories is that, well, the people are all likable. Even when they are being stubborn, or even if they've made less than wise choices in the past. Who hasn't? It also looks at the rules of society, and yes, they all have to play within those rules -- yet there are still certain freedoms for them to pursue. And that it isn't all light and laughs: spousal abuse, and the few options available to the women who are abused, figures in these stories. How society treats those who are marginalized, who aren't as fortunate in how they are born, is also threaded through.

All together, thought: a fun, enjoyable, sexy read and I'm sorry that my time with this family has finished. I look forward to rereading; and I look forward to reading Balogh's other books.

 



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

KidLitCon 2015 -- Get Your Tickets Now!

KidLitCon is the independent con organized by the readers, reviewers, writers, and bloggers of the kidlitosphere. It's the very definition of hands-on; no one person owns it; and it's been happening since 2007. It's also very flat -- it's not about stars, or big names (though there will be names you recognize on the panels and keynotes). It's about people sharing what they love; it's about hanging around and sharing coffee or ice cream and late night talk. It's about connecting in real-life with people you've spoken with, or read, online. And it is for everyone. Everyone belongs, everyone is welcome.

This year, it'll be in Baltimore, Maryland (the location constantly changes, so that one day one may be close enough to you.) Both the location and the organizers change yearly, which means that each year it's unique in how it's presented, who is there, sponsorship, etc.



Dates: October 9 and 10, which is a Friday and Saturday. Full details are at the conference website.

I haven't been able to attend for a couple of years, because of location. But now that it's a few hours from my home in New Jersey, I'm happy to say I'll be there! I registered yesterday; I made hotel reservations and have roommates lined up (since I'm paying my own way, roommates are a must --- plus it's a great way to reconnect with friends I see only every couple of years); and I also decided to go on the optional Sunday bus tour.

I will also be participating in two panels!

So, I'm all organized. Well, except for the prep for the panels. And deciding on clothes -- I will be taking the train and want it all to fit into one small bag.

I hope to see you there!



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Review: We Believe the Children

We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s by Richard BeckPublicAffairs. 2015. Review copy via NetGalley.

It's About: A look at the child abuse prosecutions of the 1980s.

The Good: We Believe the Children was the cry of the media, prosecutors, and families during the prosecutions and lawsuits of the daycare child abuse allegations of the 1980s.

I was in law school in the late 80s; I remember studying the varying ways that children were being questioned, and how their testimony was being presented in court. I remember thinking, how could children lie about such things? Why would they?

We Believe the Children gives answers to those questions, and not answers that are very comforting or easy. At this point, I think many familiar with these cases and the time know about some of the "why", about doctors and therapists and police and prosecutors and family members who, at best, weren't equipped to investigate such claims and, at worst, made it worse with leading questions, faulty science, and almost abusive questioning tactics of very young children.

Beck discusses those things, but also puts what was happening in the context of the times.Why, for example, was it so easy for people to believe? He points to fear, yes, but also the bigger context of politics -- it was easier for people to believe that the danger of abusers was outside the home (in the daycares, in places which employed those of lower socioeconomic standings), and to link those dangers to changing family structures (the "danger" came from the child being outside the home, in a daycare, so while the parent (ie mom) was not doing what she should).

How does memory work? What does it mean, to repress a memory? What is multiple personalities, is it real, and how does that contribute to what people think about child abuse and what children say?

This book is not an easy read; and the consequences of what happened in 1980s are still ones we live with, and not just in terms of the individuals on all sides of the investigations and prosecutions. Not just the people sent to jail, or the children subject to problematic questioning. It lingers in today's reactions that demand more than allegations; look at happened the last time "we believe" became a tagline. It's also still around in how people view daycare and parenting, as well as how child abuse is viewed, prosecuted, and treated.

It also raises the questions of how people believe what is reported in the here-and-now, without reflection. Truth be told, there are some things in the book that I've read before and agree with, but other points, well, I had a bit more skepticism about. I'd want to look more into, before agreeing a hundred percent.

We Believe the Children also made me think of novels, of fiction that is based on current events and "torn from the headlines" stories. Books that used these stories as parts of plots or motivations.



Other reviews: The New York Times review; The Guardian review.




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
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