Tag Archives: the warm fuzzies

‘As if money was a substitute for fair play’: feminist subtext in The Governess Affair

After the Vicki Essex review and the feminist heroine fiasco, I’ve been feeling like many of my latest posts have come down on the negative side of the critical spectrum. To balance things out, I kept an eye out for positive examples of romances with feminist leanings — and now I’m thrilled to say that Courtney Milan’s The Governess Affair has a strongly feminist subtext based around power, money, consent, and women’s autonomy.

{Be ye warned: spoilers abound. Also, at present the novella is free on Amazon, so I’d run right out and grab it if I were you.}

Cover for Courtney Milan's The Governess Affair: a light-skinned woman with dark hair wears a long gold gown. She has her back to the viewer, and is turning to look at the viewer over her right shoulder.

The book opens with a description of two men, one of them a duke, and the other, our hero:

An untutored observer would focus on the Duke of Clermont, apparently in full command … his patrician features were sharp and aristocratic. Compared with Hugo’s own unprepossessing expression and sandy brown hair, the untutored observer would have concluded that the duke was in charge.

The untutored observer, Hugo thought, was an idiot. (2-3)

Less than a page in, the visible marks of patriarchal power—expensive clothing, “patrician features”—are irrevocably undermined. Hugo isn’t a servant. He’s a former boxer who is now something of an enforcer, working to eliminate the duke’s many debts. If he succeeds before a given date, he will be rewarded with enough money to launch his own business empire. He successfully helped the duke marry an heiress, but the new duchess’ father was canny enough to put her fortune in trust, to be doled out on a regular schedule—provided, of course, that the duke does not do anything to irritate his new bride.

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Back to the Bookstore!

I go back to bookstore work the way Ishmael goes to sea: at occasional intervals, to better restore my sanity. Blogging may be light for the next two months, since I will be spending my afternoons, evenings, and weekends at a lovely independent bookstore in my area, job-sitting for a friend and former co-worker.

In a lovely ironical twist, I will also be working the night that E. L. James comes to sign. I’ve worked large events before — Harry Potter releases, Twilight nights, Alan Alda, Paul McCartney — but this is the first time I’ll be working a large event since becoming an author, and in a similar genre. Should make for an interesting experience, to say the least.

In all honesty, though, I’m excited to start again, particularly shifts at the information desk, which is the bookish version of adventure/puzzle games like Monkey Island. People approach you with questions, riddles, and items to be found — some of these you will know right off, while others take a little more thought and investigation.

Until November — and it is perhaps best not to mention this to management — Bernard Black shall be my patron saint.

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The Great Boat Book-a-thon

You know how you’ve picked the right crew for your tropical boat vacation? When you look around on the evening of the first day and discover that everyone has silently and unanimously concluded that it’s book time. We had paperbacks and hardbacks, mass markets, Kindles, and iPads. Even if you count an e-reader as one book, we had about three times as many books on this trip as we did people.

It was magical.

This also means I got more read than I usually would on a group trip—and in another wave of good fortune, everything I read just happened to be spectacular. So I thought I would recommend them to you.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed.

If you are looking for sword-and-sorcery fantasy with an older protagonist that takes place in an Islam-inflected world rather than your standard faux-medieval Europe, you are totally in luck. Characters include a tired old ghul hunter, an ascetic young dervish who needs to learn to relax, an orphaned tribal girl who can turn into a tiger, and some really terrifying monsters. The city of Dhamsawaat is as vibrant and unique as anything you’ll find in Dickens or Mieville. I really cannot recommend this highly enough, and I cannot wait for the next book in the trilogy.

The Siren by Tiffany Reisz.

One of our fellow vacationers was reading Fifty Shades and mentioned that it was a bit tamer than she expected. I said she ought to try The Siren, even though I was only a few chapters in at the time. This book, to put it plainly, does not fuck around. The characters are all thoroughly fleshed-out—which comes in handy, since that flesh gets seriously tested as the plot unfolds. This is the kind of clearly consensual, intense lifestyle BDSM that occasionally puts people in the hospital, but is also very intimate and emotional. Kink is a method of sexual expression, rather than a way to cope with mental illness (as E. L. James has depicted it). This book is also very Catholic, which surprised me more than the kinky sex but which was fascinating and unique.

The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America by Sally Denton and Roger Morris.

A great piece of non-fiction, full of speculation and anecdotes and behind-the-legal-scenes stories of how Las Vegas was founded on shady finances and money laundering and violence. Later it deals with presidential politics (so many Kennedys!) and the eventual corporatization of organized crime. It’s well-written and complicated and will very probably destroy whatever remaining political innocence you have. I was seeing conspiracy theories everywhere for at least a week after I finished this. Bonus points for being written before the current New Depression, so occasional delightful anachronisms will pop up about the sterling reputation of Lehmann Brothers and other now-defunct institutions.

A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant.

Cecilia Grant’s first book featured a chilly widow and a charming rake slowly opening up to one another. This book features a card-counting courtesan—she’s amazing—and an ambitious gambler with plenty of baggage from the battlefield. Together they have a plan to fleece a gaming hell, so it’s basically a heist story as well as a romance. If there’s a better way of getting me excited about a book, I haven’t found it yet (I love heist stories!). Ms. Grant’s usual poetic style and spot-on metaphors are back in full force, so definitely check this out if you like angsty, intense historicals.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Everyone who told me to read this book—there were at least seven of you!—was totally correct. It was great, and I loved it. I ended up buying three copies, actually: one is a signed first, but I didn’t want to take that on a boat, so I picked up a digital copy as well. But my iPad screen is difficult to read in direct sunlight—which there was plenty of, in the tropics—so when I saw a mass-market paperback for sale in one of our ports of call, I grabbed it as well.

Suffice to say, this is a book totally worth buying three times. Herr Thiessen forever!

And now I am in need of recommendations for what to read next. Suggestions, anyone?

{Disclosure: clicking on the above links may result in benefits to me. And by “benefits to me” I mean “more books for Olivia.” It’s a good thing.}

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My Big Fat Greek Wedding Outfit

This coming weekend Mr. Waite has not one, but TWO weddings in which he is a groomsman — plus there are another three weddings we’re attending later in the summer.

Which means: dressing up!

I discovered recently, to my surprise, that I had outgrown last year’s fancy wear. This was initially distressing, until I began thinking of it  not as weight gain but as an excuse to buy new fancy things in bright colors.

Turns out I may have been reading too much Homer lately — yes, in the original — because the Great Wedding Outfit is turning out to be full-throttle Greek goddess.

Thea Dress from J. Crew

One-shoulder jersey dress with ruching in jewel tones? I bought two — one in this lovely green, and another in eye-blinding orange. (They’re on sale!) One is a large and one is a medium, because I wasn’t sure which would fit. Surprisingly, both work in different ways, so I’m wearing one to Saturday’s wedding and one to Sunday’s wedding.

I’m pairing the dress with this necklace:

Uniform Bits necklace from Anthropologie

Oh, multi-strand seed bead necklaces … I could totally make this myself, but was too lazy to actually line up all the colorblocks and take the time to string all those tiny, tiny beads. The necklace comes in four colorways, but I thought this pink-and-gold version would go with both the green and the orange of the dresses. I’ve also got an aqua tank top with sequins — that plus this necklace and my long red hair = Olivia can dress in Botticelli colors and pretend she’s Venus.

Of course, the goddess of love has a magic girdle. I’ve got this belt:

Pixel Corset belt from Anthropologie

It’s stretchy and elastic and sits exactly where I want it to, while sparkling like a badass.

Cascade Snapshot cardigan from Anthropologie

Cardigans! They have taken the place of hooded sweatshirts from my high school and college days — comfy and warm, but a bit more aesthetically sophisticated. This one works surprisingly well with my Suddenly Plumper Rack (no complaints so far) and has some truly beautiful ruching in the back. Plus, it’s light enough for summer wear — I’m normally too nervous about white clothing, but there’s a time and a place for everything.

Shoes will be some kind of flat or sandal, unless I get really ambitious and want to try heels. Heels haven’t felt quite right since the Great Broken Toe of 2011, though, so my Stupidly Pretty Sandals will probably see some early summer action.

I’m going to try something new with this and post a photo of the whole outfit Monday. Right now, though, I have a wedding present to create. To the bead store!

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