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Mar. 10th, 2017

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Busy busy week! But finally I am here to review things.

What did you just finish?
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. The tagline for this novel is 'Jane Eyre retold with Jane as a serial killer', but that's not quite accurate. This Jane does indeed kill multiple people, but it's always for good reason: in self-defense, to protect a child, by accident, etc. It is a more violent novel than the original, but with such a gleeful, revenge-minded attitude that the story never comes off as particularly dark.

Jane Steele hits all the main beats of Jane Eyre – an orphaned child mistreated by her aunt, spoiled cousins, a deadly school with a fragile, angelic friend, a job as a governess, a half-French illegitimate child, a gothic mansion with a mysterious locked room (though in this case it's a basement rather than an attic), dramatic meetings by the side of the road when a horse throws its rider, an angsty relationship with the master of the house, a tragic temporary separation, a mad woman – but mixed up, rearranged, and given new meaning. I particularly loved the section in the boarding school; I always felt like Helen deserved more screentime, and here she certainly gets it. But the book is not just a retelling; it's very much a modern retelling (though it's still set in 1800s England), with the feminism of the original amped up and made more similar to today's, and Mr Rochester's history moved from the Caribbean to the Punjab in order to tell a postcolonialist story about the Anglo-Sikh wars and the bloody price of Empire.

I do have to admit that I loved the beginning more whole-heartedly than the end, which just didn't seem quite as creative or enthralling. But that's a minor complaint for a book that could have been written with me in mind.


A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean. A Regency romance starring Lillian, a forgotten and lonely woman who is technically ward to a Dukedom, but in reality is stuck in an awkward in-between place: not quite a servant and not quite one of society, and so ignored by everyone. Desperate for attention, she falls in love with a painter and agrees to pose nude for a portrait after he promises that no one will ever see the finished product. He, of course, is lying, and promptly unveils the painting in front of all London at an annual exhibition, simultaneously renouncing his promise to marry Lillian and ruining her chances of finding another husband. The ensuing scandal finally draws the attention of the Scottish Duke who is supposedly her guardian, and he arrives in London determined to solve the problem, get her married off, and destroy the painting. But he has his own angsty past with society's rules and being an outcast, and they begin to fall in love with one another.

I wanted to read this book because the author's said in interviews that she was inspired by modern-day phone hacking scandals, and I was fascinated to see how she translated that into the early 1800s. (Also apparently the painter is based on Kanye West, which is hilarious.) On the other hand, I just do not get the whole Scottish idealization thing that's so common in the romance genre. Nothing wrong with it, y'all, but I do not grasp the appeal. At least this book doesn't phonetically spell out the brogue in every line of dialogue. There were a lot of lurid descriptions of sexy kilts, but I'm pretty sure they were tongue-in-cheek.

Overall, it's a decent but not great book. I liked the 'women shouldn't be judged for nude images of themselves' theme, but that's not exactly a new or controversial stance. The plot hit most of the expected cliches, but the writing was very funny and the hero's backstory was unusual and intriguing. Probably not a book that's going to convert any romance-haters, but if you're a fan of the genre already, it's worth reading.


The Backyard Gardener: Simple, Easy and Beautiful Gardening with Vegetables, Herbs, and Flowers by Kelly Orzel. A quite advanced guide to organic gardening. There's a lot of useful information in these pages, but it was beyond my skills and/or needs. On the other hand, if you want to know how to adjust the pH balance of your soil, establish multi-year three-foot compost piles, build your own greenhouse, lay out landscape fabric, or set up four-year crop rotation plans, this is the book for you! Given that I live in an apartment with a few windows and a fire escape to garden on, it was less useful to me. I did enjoy the long chapter on individual plants, giving specific tips on how to grow, harvest, fertilize, and protect each kind (mostly vegetables, with herbs and flowers getting much fewer pages).

It's a well-written, informative book, but not the one I needed.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.


Mount TBR update: Jane Steele puts me at 8.

What are you currently reading?
Deeds of the Disturber by Elizabeth Peters. #5 in the Amelia Peabody series!

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