Friday, October 21, 2016

Four Short Reviews

I wish I could tell you that The Lord of the Rings and my other current reads were keeping me busy, but alas, it would be untrue. I have not read any of my current reads for several days. Gasp! I have, instead, been working hard at a couple of immense projects that have reached critical stages this week. One of those is an arts conference my family is running on Saturday, and the other is that Top Secret Project I've been hinting at for a little while. Regarding which, make sure to come back early next week for some thrilling revelations!

In the meantime, then, it's back to the old Goodreads backlog. Here are a few short reviews of vintage novels, read in the last year, which somehow never found their way to this blog.

Gentle JuliaGentle Julia by Booth Tarkington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't read a lot of American humour, but this book was hilarious. Florence behaves a little young for a 13-year-old, but she's an unforgettable character - an imaginative blunderbuss of a little girl who takes a sudden shine to her pretty Aunt Julia's most hapless, helpless suitor (named, if you can credit it, Noble Dill) - and whose matchmaking attempts, assisted by Noble's wonderful gormlessness, wreak havoc upon the whole town.

I laughed out loud right through this book, but as time passed I became less convinced Tarkington would be able to give us a satisfying ending, given that the limp Dill is the closest thing we have to a hero. Indeed, the ending, while it made a decent punchline, and was pretty realistic, didn't satisfy.

Recommended if you want a good laugh and don't mind the weak ending.

Freckles (Limberlost #1)Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I feel bad for not liking Gene Stratton Porter as much as everyone else, but this one was a little too precious and sentimental for me, and it took me an age to get through. Some of you may have a higher tolerance for this kind of thing; in which case, there's plenty to like, especially some lovely writing about nature and a cheerfully preposterous long-lost-identity plot.

No Bed for BaconNo Bed for Bacon by Caryl Brahms
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fun, rollicking read satirising the Elizabethan era.

I wonder if I'm quite well-educated enough to get all the jokes. Parts of the book were laugh-out-loud funny ("In what manner that I have not already used," he [Shakespeare] asked Dick Burbage, "can I bring a heroine to life who has been most dead?" HA SO TRUE), especially everything to do with Sir Walter Raleigh. The book is fairly dry and straight-faced, and I couldn't shake the feeling that some of the jokes were flying over my head.

Even if some of them do, this is still a gloriously silly read which any fan of Shakespeare and the Elizabethans is sure to enjoy.

Do Butlers Burgle Banks?Do Butlers Burgle Banks? by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of Wodehouse's late novels, from a period when his work was losing lustre. Chuckle-worthy but never uproarious, PGW seems to be merely going through the motions in this tale of a young banker in hot water and the gentlemanly gangster who comes to his rescue. Most of the jokes read like retreads, and his roundabout way of saying things seems (dare I say it) a little plodding. And yet, despite the tiredness of the writing style, this farce is superbly plotted, full of outrageous twists and turns.

Good fun.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 14, 2016

Stage-Land by Jerome K Jerome

A while back I reviewed the marvellous Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K Jerome. Around that time, a friend recommended I follow it up with Jerome's satirical guide to late-Victorian theatre: Stage-Land.

Stage-Land was a quick read, good for a few chuckles, though not quite up to the insane brilliance of Three Men in a Boat. It profiles all the usual roles and plotlines common in melodramatic plays--the Hero, the Heroine, the Stage Child, the Good Old Man, the Lawyer, and so on.

On the Hero - "His name is George, generally speaking. "Call me George!" he says to the heroine. She calls him George (in a very low voice, because she is so young and timid). Then he is happy."

On Stage Law - "The only points of stage "law" on which we are at all clear are as follows:

"That if a man dies without leaving a will, then all his property goes to the nearest villain.

"But if a man dies and leaves a will, then all his property goes to whoever can get possession of that will.

"That the accidental loss of the three-and-sixpenny copy of a marriage certificate annuls the marriage.

"That the evidence of one prejudiced witness of shady antecedents is quite sufficient to convict the most stainless and irreproachable gentleman of crimes for the committal of which he could have had no possible motive.

"But that this evidence may be rebutted years afterward, and the conviction quashed without further trial by the unsupported statement of the comic man" - and so on.

On the Villain - "The stage villain is superior to the villain of real life. The villain of real life is actuated by mere sordid and selfish motives. The stage villain does villainy, not for any personal advantage to himself, but merely from the love of the thing as an art. Villainy is to him its own reward; he revels in it. 'Better far be poor and villainous,' he says to himself, 'than possess all the wealth of the Indies with a clear conscience. I will be a villain,' he cries. 'I will, at great expense and inconvenience to myself, murder the good old man, get the hero accused of the crime, and make love to his wife while he is in prison. It will be a risky and laborious business for me from beginning to end, and can bring me no practical advantage whatever. The girl will call me insulting names when I pay her a visit, and will push me violently in the chest when I get near her; her golden-haired infant will say I am a bad man and may even refuse to kiss me. The comic man will cover me with humorous opprobrium, and the villagers will get a day off and hang about the village pub and hoot me. Everybody will see through my villainy, and I shall be nabbed in the end. I always am. But it is no matter, I will be a villain—ha! ha!' "

On the Heroine - "Sometimes the stage heroine has a brother, and if so he is sure to be mistaken for her lover. We never came across a brother and sister in real life who ever gave the most suspicious person any grounds for mistaking them for lovers; but the stage brother and sister are so affectionate that the error is excusable.

"And when the mistake does occur and the husband comes in suddenly and finds them kissing and raves she doesn't turn round and say:

" 'Why, you silly cuckoo, it's only my brother.' "

As you can see, this book is a perfect hoot. And while some of the tropes lampooned within it have fallen into disuse, I was amazed by how many remain in use! If you have a spare half-hour and want to spend it chuckling, and thinking about how storytelling has and hasn't changed over the years, I do recommend Stage-Land.

Find Stage-Land on Project Gutenberg and Librivox.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Long Live the King! by Mary Roberts Rinehart

I know. I know. The vintage novel reviews have been a bit thin on the ground lately, mostly thanks to The Lord of the Rings taking up a lot of my reading time. NO REGERTS, as the ill-judged tattoo said. Still, I did find the time over the last couple of weeks to fit in my second Mary Roberts Rinehart novel, a tale of Ruritanian adventure and intrigue titled Long Live the King!

Nine-year-old Prince William Ferdinand Otto may be the Crown Prince of Livonia, poised to gain the throne upon the death of crusty old Ferdinand II, but he'd much rather have a clever dog that does tricks, a fig lady to snack on, and a small friend to play pirates with in the Park. Unbeknownst to William Ferdinand Otto, however, a revolutionary secret society is plotting his downfall, and as the old king's health deteriorates, the grown-ups around him resort to increasingly desperate measures to keep him, and the crown of Livonia, safe.

When wily old Chancellor Mettlich plans to marry second-in-line-to-the-throne Princess Hedwig to Livonia's old enemy King Karl of Karnia. Nikky Larisch, the young guardsman who loves Hedwig, and Countess Olga Loschek, Karl's discarded mistress and spy, are equally appalled by the idea. But can either of them do anything, short of betraying the entire royal family to the revolutionaries?

Meanwhile, a young student is kept under lock and key by a gang of conspirators. An old veteran is slowly induced to turn traitor. A young boy discovers the doorway to a secret passage in the park. And William Ferdinand Otto waits for the moment when he can finally have a pet dog of his own.

I thought this was a quite enjoyable book, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I did my first Rinehart book, When a Man Marries. Long Live the King! was much less comedic in tone, and I thought it was messily constructed. It has such a lot of different characters, with such a lot of different agendas, that it ultimately felt rather unfocused. Sure, there were plenty of memorable and engaging scenes and moments in the book, but they didn't feel very well woven together. One moment we would be reading about Nikky Larisch on a dangerous adventure in Karnia, and the next we would be reading about old Adelbert growing increasingly disillusioned with his country, or Prince William Ferdinand Otto looking for a lost ball. Perhaps it wasn't just the multitude of different characters that this story included, so much as the multitude of different tones and even genres. A bit of psychological drama, a bit of political intrigue, a bit of swashbuckling adventure, a bit of romance, a bit of kidlit, and so on. I felt it needed a stronger focus on just one element or just one character, in order to pull everything together.

While I can't say I ever lost myself in this story, I did enjoy certain aspects of it. I appreciated how Rinehart provides a subtle critique of both the ancien regime of this old (fictional) Eastern European monarchy, as well as of the revolutionaries. The revolutionaries are ruffians and cutthroats who believe they can give "liberty" to the people at the barrel of a gun, but it's impossible to miss Rinehart's disapproval of a society ruled by aristocrats who treat everyone beneath them--even their own children--as pawns in a game for power. But even this critique was subtle and balanced.

To sum up, I thought Long Live the King! was perfectly unobjectionable, but a little difficult to love. What about you? Have you read it? What did you think?

Find Long Live the King! on Amazon, The Book Depository, or Project Gutenberg.

Friday, October 7, 2016

THE RAKSHASA'S BRIDE - Giveaway winners and paperback release!

Today's the day--The Rakshasa's Bride, my retelling of Beauty and the Beast in ancient India is, is now available in paperback.

This is just the first in the series, and I hope to release the other titles (The Prince of Fishes and The Bells of Paradise) in paperback in due course.

Also, if you're already up to date on all my stories, never fear--I'm currently making the final edits to Death Be Not Proud. My beta readers so far have loved it, and I can't wait to share it with you when the time comes!

In the meantime, we have some giveaway winners to congratulate :)

The winners! 

Thank you all for making this such a fun event! I even got some terrific suggestions for fairytales I could retell next ;)

And here are the winners:

First Prize (The Rakshasa's Bride paperback): Laura M.
Second Prize (Fairy Tales Retold complete ebook collection): Benita P.
Third Prize (The Rakshasa's Bride 2nd edition ebook): Deborah O.

Congratulations to all of you. I'll be in touch to send you your prizes, and hope you enjoy reading!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Announcing THE RAKSHASA'S BRIDE Paperback Edition + Giveaway!

Hello, friends! Today, I get to share with you one of the super-secret projects I've been working on this year.

So far, all my fairytale novellas have been published in ebook format only. My intention was always to do a paperback edition at some stage, possibly as an anthology, but more recently I decided that a series of brightly-coloured standalones would be much cuter. Like, really cute standalones. With illustrations.


Today, I'm thrilled to announce that I'll be releasing The Rakshasa's Bride, my first fairytale novella, as a paperback on October 7th, 2016 - just a week from today.

The paperback is super cute, and comes with three pencil illustrations by the very talented Abigail Rowntree, my sister (see her Etsy shop here).

In addition, I've given the text itself a bit of a wash and a brush, since I wanted to move into getting my work professionally edited--and there just seems something particularly permanent about a paperback. So this is a whole second edition, complete with line-editing courtesy of the wonderful Brandes Editorial Services. There are no significant changes, but I flatter myself the writing is just that bit shinier.

While you're waiting for the release date, some small festivities are occurring. Over at My Lady Bibliophile, I have an interview with my dear friend Schuyler, discussing fairytales and creativity. Be sure to pop over and enjoy that!

In addition, we're both hosting a giveaway (which you can enter either here at Vintage Novels, or at My Lady Bibliophile) for one copy of the shiny new Rakshasa's Bride paperback, as well as other sweet prizes. Enjoy!

The Rakshasa's Bride
2nd ed. ebook now available on Amazon
Paperback releases 7th October 2016
Preeti Kamla has the evil eye. It’s the only explanation for the tragedy and disgrace besetting her once wealthy family. But when a handsome stranger in the village square tells her he has broken her curse, Preeti almost believes him.

Until a twist of fate whisks her away from everything she knows, and the gruesome Demon Rajah claims her as his bride.

A rich and romantic retelling of Beauty and the Beast in the style of a Bollywood epic. Novella, approximately 18,000 words.

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Black Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett

Woe! I don't have a vintage novel on hand to properly review this week, and the reason is that I've been a little short on reading time, which has left me inching through a number of longish novels--The Lord of the Rings, for instance, which I am taking in appreciative nibbles as I have the time for it.

So instead of posting a new review, I trawled through some of my recent Goodreads reviews, and am crossposting this review of Leigh Brackett's Black Amazon of Mars, from January--with apologies to those of you who've already seen it. Enjoy!

Black Amazon of MarsBlack Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

And now for my latest highly philosophical read...a masterpiece of literary fiction, laying bare the soul of Woman as with a scalpel, we have...BLACK AMAZON OF MARS!!! by Leigh Brackett.


So, rewatching a favourite movie, The Empire Strikes Back, recently, reminded me just how little I'd read of the work of legendary scriptwriter and Queen of Space Opera Leigh Brackett. These days Brackett's most well-known for her first-draft work on the second (and only really good) Star Wars movie, and though apparently very little of her work remains in the finished film, her pioneering work as an author of pulp sci-fi well merited the film's being dedicated to her.

Turns out she also recently had a centenary: December 7th, 1915, was her birthday. I nipped off to Project Gutenberg and downloaded (*clears throat*) Black Amazon of Mars!!!

This is really only a novella in length, but it was oodles of fun. Brackett's two main influences here are quite clearly Burroughs's Barsoom/John Carter stories and Howard's Conan the Barbarian. And while the story makes no pretences to either psychological or scientific realism, or to philosophical heft, it was jolly good--better written, possibly, than any but the best of Burroughs's or Howard's work. Brackett tells her tale with a glorious, taut economy of words--and of everything else. This is a very lean, spare story, but the plot and the world-building are both good enough to keep it from feeling like a mere skeleton of a tale. Pulp fiction was all about the plot and the melodramatics; with everything else pared down to the minimum, Brackett's essential artistic talent shines all the more brightly.

From a worldview perspective, I was fascinated to compare Brackett's story with Edgar Rice Burroughs's. Brackett's hero, Eric John Stark, we are regularly told, has only the lightest veneer of civilisation over a caveman core, having been raised by animal tribes on Mercury. As a pulp hero, he is obviously intended to be the coolest, biggest, baddest warrior barbarian ever, and he's all about the primal urges, which is what makes him so cool. That puts him in rather stark (pun not intended) contrast with Burroughs's chivalrous Southern gentleman hero John Carter. What makes John Carter so cool is that as well as being the best swordsman on two worlds and an unstoppable one-man-army, he's also a thorough gentleman, a man of refinement and self-control. Everyone on Barsoom is a barbarian; it takes the Earthman to transcend that, to win the princess's hand through humble service, tame wild beasts through kindness, and become the Totally Awesome Warlord of Barsoom through winning the savage loyalty of his barbaric opponents.

Brackett's story was good. But when it comes to main characters, give me John Carter over Eric John Stark any day.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 16, 2016

Messiah the Prince by William Symington

Over the last year or so I've taken to reading some classic devotionals in small bite-sized pieces each day. The latest I finished was a reprint of the 1884 edition of William Symington's Messiah the Prince, Or, The Mediatorial Dominion of Jesus Christ.

Symington, the minister of a small Reformed Presbyterian church in Scotland, like many other members of that small denomination down to the present day, saw himself as an heir of the Covenanters whose war-banner read, "For Christ's Crown and Covenant." But what exactly does it mean to be for Christ's Crown? All Christians know that Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven, where he sits ruling and reigning at the right hand of God the Father, until all things are put under his feet. That much we can all agree on pretty clearly. But it's in the finer details that we tend to get lost. Exactly what does Christ's kingdom consist of? How is it ruled? And perhaps most importantly, what effect does it have on our lives?

The modern Reformed world is pretty strong on what it means for Christ to be Priest. He made atonement for our sins. He was our sacrificial lamb. And he intercedes for us. If not for Christ's priesthood, there's no way we could be cleansed of our sins.

We're less firm on what it means for Christ to be Prophet. Still, we tend to have a pretty good idea that this involves Christ's revelation of his will to us and all things necessary for our faith and edification, via his Word and assisted by his Spirit. If not for Christ's prophetic office, we would never hear, or understand, that Christ's sacrifice was for us.

But we're perhaps shakiest of all on what it means for Christ to be King. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, "Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies." According to Symington, if it wasn't for Christ's kingship, we would never accept salvation. It takes a king to conquer us, and not just us, but all our enemies too.

Symington's 350-page book is by far the most in-depth discussion of Christ's kingship that I've ever come across--and yet it's little more than a systematic unpacking of the above Shorter Catechism quotation. It answered questions I've had all my life. After all, when Jesus Christ came to earth, his message was the Kingdom of God. But what is the kingdom? When did it begin? Is it the church? Is it the whole world? Is it purely spiritual? Or does it take place on earth? Who are its citizens? How are they ruled? What benefits accrue to them? How does Christ's kingship affect the church? Does Christ's kingship affect the state, and if so, how? And will Christ's kingship ever end?

These are just some of the basic questions answered in this book. I did have my concerns with part of it, especially the parts where Symington argues for the establishment of religion by the state. While I disagree with him, he does make a fairly reasonable case, which gains strength because he's arguing for something a bit different than what we've seen so far in the establishment of religion. Thinking through his arguments pushed me to develop my own views a little further, so that was helpful.

On the other hand, most of this book was absolutely terrific. I particularly appreciated Symington's explanation of the how the kingdom embraces both the saved and the unsaved. Christ's dominion over believers is obviously the minimum requirement, but Symington goes further, showing that in order for Christ to subdue his (and our) enemies, he must also have dominion over unbelievers and indeed, the entire cosmos. The relevant verse explaining how these fit together is Ephesians 1:22, where it's explained that Christ has been made "head over all things to the church"--that is, for the church's good. The Kingdom is far wider than those who recognise its dominion.

But this is just the starting-point. Messiah the Prince goes far beyond an academic recognition of Christ's kingship, pushing the concept home in areas that go far beyond most Christians' comfort zone. But this is all to the good: if Christ is our king, then we can have hope for everything under his rule. This book was a daily shot in the arm, a daily reminder to be confident and have hope. It ought to be prescribed as a tonic. Read it.

Find Messiah the Prince at Amazon or the Book Depository.


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