Elizabeth: What Did You Read Wednesday?

The unplanned tWaterloo_Battleheme of this month’s reading turned out to be “Waterloo.” The famous battle, which will be marking its 200th anniversary in June, is a pivotal event of the Regency period and frequently plays a part in Regency stories, my own included.

My reading started innocently enough with what I thought was a quick dip into a military reference book to nail down once and for all which army regiment my hero Michael served with during his time in the military. One thing led to another, as it so often does, which is how I wound up taking the Woman at War course from the Beau Monde chapter of RWA. While the information about the role women played in the war was fascinating (and I’ll talk more about it in a later post), it was the basic military information provided that was of great interest to me, including tidbits like:

“It is hard for us to understand, but being an officer in the British army was very different from today’s modern army. . . . An officer could leave the battle front at any time he chose, to go on leave or resign his commission. He could also bring his wife and his whole family if he wanted, on his own dime of course. Again, the British Army could not deny him what was seen as simply one of any gentleman’s rights.”

Something Thought-Provoking

The book list provided during the class led me to my first reading selection: Dancing into Battle by Nick Foulkes, a social history of the Battle of Waterloo. Rather than focusing on the nitty-gritty details of warfare, with its strategies and manoeuvres, the book focuses on society in Brussels in the months leading up to the fateful battle. Even for someone not particularly interested in Waterloo, it provides a fascinating glimpse at the people of the period. With Napoleon safely ensconced in Elba (temporarily, as it turned out), travellers once again were able to visit the Continent and many did so to escape the cost of living in Britain.

“Within a couple of months Brussels had become like a Jane Austen novel that had gone on a Continental holiday. The topography of the town lent itself admirably to the re-creation of the pattern of life as led in a fashionable British spa town.”

Even after Napoleon escaped and made his way back into France, gathering troops along the way and raising the spectre of war once again, the balls, theatre, hunting, etc. of British aristocratic life continued there, seemingly unchecked.

“Those who commanded and shaped the Army of the time had grown up in a culture where splendour and brutality, elegance and violence were juxtaposed and co-existed in a manner that might seem bizarre by today’s standards, but which at the time was accepted as the norm.”

The book did a very good job portraying just how chaotic those last days leading up to the final routing of Napoleon were, with civilians trying to get to safety while the military were trying to get into position. The relatively brief battlefield chapters provide a vivid picture of the horror and confusion and perseverance and bravery of the battle that, seemingly, could have gone either way almost to the end. As Wellington was quoted as saying, it was “a near run thing.” We tend to think of war as something that happens away from regular life, but this book brought it all very close to home in a very thought-provoking way.

A New Author / A Classic

My next selection, An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer, seemed a natural  choice. Since I’ve never read any Heyer before (shocking, I know) this counts as both a new author and a classic for me. Although Heyer is known for her light-hearted Regency romances, war takes centre stage in the second half of this book. The book is overflowing with historical details, garnered through Heyer’s exhaustive research. It was very interesting to “see” many of the actual people I had read about in Dancing into Battle make an appearance in An Infamous Army. She did an excellent job blending fiction with reality. I’ll have to admit, however, that I did have a bit of trouble keeping up with the cast of characters. I think everyone in Brussels makes an appearance in the book at one point or another. I should have made a chart.

Better than all of the historical detail and name-dropping, for me at least, were the little snippets of description and commentary in the story, like this:

“Any woman would have agreed that the bodice of the wretched creature’s gown was cut indecently low, while as for petticoats, Lady Worth for one would have owned herself surprised to learn that Barbara was wearing as much as a stitch beneath her satin and her net.”

And her delightful phrasing, like this:

“The Earl took snuff with a wonderful air of distraction.”

I’ve yet to reach the end of the book (it’s close to 500 pages), so I can’t comment on how the actual battle was handled just yet, but I have high hopes – for that and for a satisfactory ending to the romance too.

So, what have you read (or started reading) recently? Anything thought-provoking?

23 thoughts on “Elizabeth: What Did You Read Wednesday?

  1. Re-reads and somewhat dry research stuff on American in the late 1800s, early 1900s. I’m trying to find a gold nugget in all that dust . . . . I may take off a day during the weekend and read something just for fun. My TBR pile has expanded alarmingly since I started McDaniel.

    • Michaeline – I know just how “searching for a gold nugget in all that dust” can wreak havoc on the TBR pile. For every one book I read off the pile, I seem to find 2 more to add and 3 more things I want to learn more about. On the other hand, I’m learning all kinds of new things, so that’s a good thing, and I’ll never run out of things to read, so that’s another.

  2. I’m not reading anything thought-provoking, but I’m reading “The Red House Mystery” by A.A. Milne (the author of the Pooh books), which was published in 1922 and is the only mystery he wrote. It’s one of those locked-room-in-a-country-house stories and was a best seller for many years. Alexander Woollcott called it “one of the three best mystery stories of all time,” a claim that caused Raymond Chandler to describe Woollcott as “rather a fast man with a superlative” (thank you, Wikipedia!). I’m enjoying it without being too engaged in it—the main characters call each other Watson and Holmes, so it’s interesting to see yet another manifestation of the Holmes/Watson iconography—and the storytelling is frothy and amusing. But the story and tone are also dated now (nearly 100 years old!), and the characters seem like they’re from Central Casting. So it’s uneven for a modern audience. But I like old stuff and old books, so I’m having fun.

    • Kay- I did not realize Milne wrote a mystery. I will have to look that up, as I like both old stuff and old books as well. At 99 cents for the Kindle version, I only have to like it, not love it 🙂

  3. I’ve been binge-reading Ilona Andrews – I’d say it’s fantasy with romantic elements. A few weeks ago, Rachel Beecroft and I went to a talk by Eloisa James, and Eloisa said she enjoyed Ilona Andrews’ writing. I started with Burn For Me, which is the first of a new series. I really liked the world-building and characters, but I’m not good at waiting six months or a year between books when the romance arc or through line runs over a long series, so that was frustrating. Fortunately Iona Andrews also has the Kate Daniels series so I read the first seven of those back to back.

    One thing I’ve really enjoyed is the way she (I’ll say ‘she’, though the author is a husband-and-wife team) handles the romance arc. After the H&H become a couple, there are still Big Things that could drive them apart, and at one point I thought she was laying the ground for a Big Separation that would then have to be overcome, probably over another book or two. If she’d done that, I would have felt angry and manipulated, and I was getting ready to quit the story – but it never happened. The characters behaved like adults, faced up to the issues, dealt honestly with one another, and moved on stronger. It was a big moment for me as a reader – created a feeling of trust that the author would make good choices for her characters and made me want to read more of her writing in future.

  4. Let’s see, over the past week or so I’ve read a random selection of things: the new Eloisa James, Four Nights with the Duke – great fun, heroine was romantic author in 1799; the new Kylie Scott – the last one in her Stage Dive series, and, sadly for me, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the others; Dirty Filthy Boy by Christina Lauren – couple wed in Vegas, he’s French, she’s American – which was quite fun, though they dealt with the problems in their relationship by having sex, hence the middle half of the book was basically them shagging; Neanderthal seeks Human by Penny Reid, which was a lovely, original romance; The Virgin Romantic Novelist by Meghan Quinn – the romance was a bit annoying in this book but it has a couple of the funniest scenes I’ve read in a long time (I was almost choking I was laughing so much), so worth it despite its flaws; Slightly Scandalous, which was an oldish Mary Balogh I found in the local library here in St Ives – a nice traditional Regency.

    Next up – the latest Julie Anne Long, which came out last week. I’m really looking forward to it – can’t believe you haven’t tucked into it yet, Jilly!

    • Julie Anne Long – of course I have, Rachel! That was a whole week ago. We can compare notes when you’ve read it 😉 .

      • Oh, I’ve finished it now! I’m going to email you to meet up and then we can talk about it. I also read the latest Sarah Morgan because I was thinking about DWM – you should read it (if you haven’t already) and see what you think re your own writing. It’s very different in many ways, but I wonder if it might appeal to the same type of reader.

        • No, I haven’t, and that’s an excellent suggestion – thanks! I’ll put that on my list for this weekend, and then there’ll be even more to talk about when we meet up 🙂 .

    • Rachel – You’ve been a busy reader. I saw a ton of pre-publication press for Four Nights with the Duke. Glad to hear it was great fun. Neanderthal Seeks Human is somewhere in my TBR pile. Sounds like I need to move it up towards the top.

  5. Yesterday, for the first time in a really long time, I went to the library and looked through actual stacks to gather reading material. I’m trying to do less screen reading, and going to the library is even faster than Google Prime delivery. And I have a mad love of libraries, so it was awesome!

    First up from my library stash will be Louise Penny’s The Long Way Home. This is the tenth in her Inspector Gamache series, but it’s only the second one I’m reading. I like the series because Penny blends the small-town community feel of a cozy mystery with the big-city police procedural genre, as the stories have the dual settings of Montreal and small town Three Pines.

    After that, I think I’ll swing back to the Regency period with Julia Quinn’s The Sum of All Kisses, one of the books in her Bridgertons series.

  6. I tried. I really did.

    I tried to stretch my normal boundaries by reading some thought-provoking non-fiction (“Thy Neighbor’s Wife”, by Gay Talese). It seemed safe, since it came highly recommended by a good friend. I spent hours slogging through well-written descriptions of horrible people thinking horrible things. I finally gave up when I realized I was starting to skim. Life is too short for painful reading.

    I had much more success with “Fragile Things”, a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman. Short stories are (in my opinion) generally weird/creepy/dark. Gaiman books are generally weird/creepy/dark. It came as no surprise that Gaiman short stories are super-freaking-weird, etc. Still, if you want a quick master’s class in how to write vignettes, you could do a lot worse than that collection.

    Also read: Rest of the True Blood books (I’m grateful the series is over; the author wasn’t improving as she went along), the latest “In Death” by JD Robb (if you liked one, you’ll like them all, as there’s more variation in Farmer John’s sausages than there is in that series), and the latest Patricia Briggs novel (see “Farmer John” metaphor, above).

    • Scott – at least you tried :-).

      Fragile Things sounds interesting, though I may have to wait until I’m in a weird/creepy/dark sort of mood for that.

      I’ve yet to read any of the “In Death” books of JD Robb. Is there one in particular you would recommend starting with?

    • You know, I have a feeling that Neil Gaiman actually likes people. There are so many writers who just don’t, and they can write superbly, but you want to take a shower after you read the books. David Foster Wallace gets a lot of press for having been a good writer, but I feel he barely saw past his own nose.

      I’ve been meaning to get back into the Terry Pratchett books. Small Gods was so good, but so far, that’s the only one I’ve dipped back into. Must fix that. And apropos of that, there was a fabulous cartoon I ran across today on Pratchett’s death — it’s the cover of the Morporker, with a lonely Librarian . . . . Worth seeing for the poignancy. http://english.bouletcorp.com/2015/03/12/

  7. I’m reading The Pizza Connection: Lawyers, Money, Drugs, Mafia for my story. It is about Mafia heroin smuggling and money laundering. Very dry, but informative.

    • Michille, there’s a book called The Laundrymen by Jeffrey Robertson which is a not-so-dry take on the subject. It’s a few years since I read it, but you might find it useful.

    • Michille – the title at least sounds fun – and I’ll bet you are getting good information for your story – sorry it is dry though. Hardly a light-hearted read. Hopefully you have something fun to read on the list afterwards.

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