As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

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Oh, scissors – Flavia is back! Thanks to NetGalley and Bantam Dell, I had a chance to read an advance copy of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, the seventh novel in Alan Bradley’s fantastic Flavia de Luce series.

In this novel, we pick up with Flavia on a boat crossing the Atlantic as she departs England and her beloved home at Buckshaw to attend Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada. Flavia understands this school will train her to follow in the mysterious and patriotic footsteps of her mother and her eccentric Aunt Felicity, but she knows nothing about what to expect or what this training will entail. Most twelve year old girls would probably faint if their first night at boarding school involved a charred corpse tumbling out of their chimney, but Flavia – chemistry enthusiast, lover of poisons, and avid student of biological decomposition – is not your average twelve year old. Thanks to her habit of pocketing important bits of evidence and her ability to startle people into answering her unexpected questions, Flavia discovers that something is amiss at Miss Bodycote’s. Three girls have disappeared, and Flavia makes it her business to determine what has become of them, and whether one of them might be the unfortunate body from her chimney.

I absolutely loved exploring Miss Bodycote’s with Flavia. It reminded me of reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time and watching Harry learn his way around Hogwarts. At Miss Bodycote’s, there are day-pupils and boarders, chemistry labs with the very latest technology and equipment, teachers with a wide variety of backgrounds (among them an acquitted murderess), and a headmistress who seems uncannily omnipresent. The wings of the school are named after goddesses, the girls’ rooms after heroines, the houses after female saints, and the bathrooms after defunct royalty. There is a hierarchy among the students, both official and unofficial, that Flavia must learn to navigate, and she hasn’t been at the school for more than a week before she’s had several late-night visitors and an impromptu field trip into the Canadian woods to hone her survival skills.

Watching Flavia try to integrate herself into new surroundings was every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be. When she tries to mimic the other students’ slang and says to a classmate, “Spill it,” she is overjoyed to see that she’s used the phrase correctly. Flavia decides that “[a]ll those afternoons with Daffy and Feely at the cinema in Hinley had not been wasted after all, as Father had claimed. I had learned my first foreign language and learned it well.” She calls upon all her skills to learn her new environment – her ability to adopt the body language of “little girl lost,” squeeze herself into tight spaces, and (oddly) to vomit on command all come in handy in this story.

If you’re a regular reader of the series, you probably will miss Colonel de Luce, Dogger, Mrs. Mullet, Flavia’s sisters, and the other Bishop’s Lacey locals we’ve come to know and love. But Bradley introduces a whole cast of characters to take the sting out of their absence, and I found that this change in setting is breathing new life into the series. If you haven’t experienced Flavia yet, definitely grab a copy of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and get started. If you’re already a fan, you won’t want to miss the latest of Flavia’s exploits.

Pink IV: Ask the Author

Crimson Rose British cover

It’s that time again!

Since we’re wrapping up our month of The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, Lauren has agreed to return for another round of Ask the Author.  She’ll be popping by throughout the day to answer whatever questions you have about Mary, Vaughn, or anything else Pink IV.  Lauren, as always, thank you so much for visiting with us.

We’ll pick up with our rereading on January 1 with The Mischief of the Mistletoe.  If you’re confused about the reading order, take a look at this previous post to find out what’s up.

Pink IV Week 4 in Review

Good morning!  To all of you who celebrate Christmas, I hope you had a wonderful holiday yesterday.  I’d like to begin by announcing the winner of the library sale books: it’s Thea!  Thea, if you will email me at ashley.pinkforallseasons@gmail.com with your address, I will get your prize in the mail.  Merry Christmas to you from the Bubble Bath Reader!

And now, I will hand this post over to Sarah, who I believe deserves a big round of applause and huge Holiday Huzzahs for doing such a wonderful job of leading us through Pink IV.  Thank you so much, Sarah!  Take it away 🙂

Whew, here we are at the end of Crimson Rose . . . I can’t believe we are here already.  Alright, the ‘wrap up’ where everything falls into place and much that was once mystery has come to light.

Mary:  Brave and resilient.  She manages to save Vaughn, unmasks the Black Tulip and is instrumental in his defeat; mostly while in various states of ‘undress’.  She is not above using her feminine wiles if she needs to.  My favourite from her during these last chapters is during her confrontation with the Tulip “Mary swallowed hard and straightened her spine, dropping her coquetry like an outgrown mask.  The battle would have to be won on other grounds.”  She is the best type of heroine, in my opinion, no flustering, no panicking, no waiting for someone to ‘rescue’ her (although his appearance later is welcome) just pragmatism and logic; much like Jane and Henrietta.  A great wish of mine is that, should I find myself in such a situation, I would behave in a like fashion.  The ‘cherry on top’ is she gets her man in the end and without either of them having to resort to anything, ummmmmm, untoward (yep, let’s go with that).

Lord Vaughn:  Has recovered from his wound rather admirably and is determined to see himself free of his resurrected wife so he can marry Mary (marry Mary, that’s a fun phrase … sorry, it’s Christmastime, too much Elf).  He has a meeting with Anne, where he discovers that the Tulip is the next Jacobite ‘pretender’ (ooooh, I have highland Scots heritage and struggle with this a bit … however, I’m also a good Canadian and love Queen Elizabeth … ack!) and that he needs to save Mary.  I love his ‘uneasy’ partnership with Geoff in this portion, “he hadn’t intended either Pinchingdale or the tree.”  Then his gallant duel with the Tulip, where he rips his gunshot wound open, and then he guiltily turns back when he realizes that Anne didn’t get out.  Oh, Vaughn.  However, he winds up with his Mary and he’s glad of that, although it also means his children will be Geoff and Letty’s relations.

Anne:  My other ‘difficult heroine’ that I made a vague allusion to a week or so ago.  Her story would probably be a fascinating one as she is quite the complicated woman.  She managed to get herself under the dubious ‘protection’ of the Black Tulip and finally realized that Vaughn wasn’t such a bad option after all.  The amazing part is she is willing to risk her life to see that he is safe.  Is it just more self-interest on her part?  We’ll never know, but she made a very brave move to defy the Tulip the way she did, and she paid the ultimate price for it.

The Black Tulip/St. George:  Well, this was a beautiful move on Lauren’s part, I must admit.  While I feel like I maybe should have seen it coming, based on character moves in ‘Emerald Ring’, I really didn’t.  And to make the spin even better it has nothing to do with the French cause and Bonaparte!  It’s all about Louis and his supposed betrayal of Jamie’s father Bonnie Prince Charlie, absolutely brilliant.  While the Tulip manages to be totally menacing to Mary, and later seems to be beating Vaughn in their duel, it does appear that he died in the fire that brought down Lady Euphemia’s theatre.  Destroyed by his own ‘infernal machine’ and cruelty, poetic justice at its finest.

Colin & Eloise:  Had a lovely date, which included a nice interlude in her very blue hallway, and they seem to be on their way to an actual relationship.  Eloise set Dempster down rather nicely on her last visit to the Vaughn collection and Colin invited her to spend the week with him at Selwick Hall.  After all, there are multitudes of papers left to be combed through, and who better then Eloise?

That pretty much encapsulates the end of Crimson Rose.  Let me know if I missed anything in my summation that you think should have been included.  Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this journey and I really look forward to rereading the next books with you all!

Pink IV Dream Casting

Today’s post was written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance.
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Book series are fickle beasts. You can be reading them, and quite enjoying them, but sometimes you aren’t fully committed… yet. Of the entire Pink Carnation series, I view the previous two volumes as the weakest. Please don’t pelt me with scary balls of pudding tied up in pilfered ribbons! It’s just my personal opinion, and I actually am a little behind in the re-read (ok, you can throw evil darting glances at me here) so this is my opinion from when I re-read them a few years back so I might change my mind (though I doubt it). But here’s the point I’m trying to make… The Seduction of the Crimson Rose was when everything fell into place for me. This was the book that made me realize this was an author whose work I would read whatever they wrote. If an author can take previously aloof and unpalatable characters and make them stars, well, that’s an author I want to read. Go Lauren! It also made me hope that the series would continue, thankfully for us for a further eight volumes! Now to our cast…

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I say things like, oh, I always cast the female first, and then of course comes two books back to back where I cast the male lead first. Make a rule for myself and then break it is apparently how I roll. But the truth is, how could I NOT cast Lord Vaughn first I ask you? He’s already been around for a few books, hijacking the plot and stealing our hearts with his snarky ways. There has always been one man in my heart that makes looking bad so damn appealing. That man is James Purefoy. He is able to be menacing yet bring some levity with perfectly timed jokes. The line about the lions in Rome, highlight of season two, easily (mauling lions do so ruin a good procession). Also he looks smashing in Regency clothing. I mean, seriously, look at those cravats in Beau Brummell: This Charming Man! But it’s his roles in shows like Injustice and The Following that bridge the attractive and the menacing snark that makes him my number one choice for Lord Vaughn!

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As for Mary Alsworthy, I wanted someone who had the raven haired beauty that the role demands, as well as the ability to look down on those below her and sneer. Also, because I’m OCD like this, I wanted someone whom I thought could believably (age and look wise) be Letty’s sister, forever Bryce Dallas Howard to me. I think that Natalie Dormer is perfect in this regard! Despite actually not truly having the raven locks (she sure fooled us in The Tudors) she looks fabulous with them and is only one year younger then Bryce! Plus, I mean, not to gloat, but seriously, everyone wants her in their projects now since Game of Thrones, and I had her pegged as Mary over five years ago… suck it, Hunger Games! Therefore I submit Natalie and James for your delectation and would love to hear your suggestions. Can I put money on someone suggesting Hugh Laurie?

You can see posts with additional pictures at these links:

Mary Alsworthy played by Natalie Dormer
Lord Sebastian Vaughn played by James Purefoy

Vanessa and Her Sister

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Thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine Books, I had a chance to read an advance copy of Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar.

In 1905, the Stephens siblings have moved out of their childhood home on the “right” side of town and into the avant-garde neighborhood of Bloomsbury. They shock their more conservative relatives by hosting mixed evenings at home and gathering around them an eccentric circle of artists that includes Lytton Strachey and E. M. Forster. The biggest commonality the group members have is their time at university with Thoby Stephen, but it quickly becomes clear that Vanessa and Virginia are the main attraction: Vanessa, the unflappable hostess and the group’s center of gravity, and Virginia, the mercurial writer whose moods can turn an evening on a dime. Their circle is enjoying being young, thinking big, and pushing boundaries, but a sudden death brings changes they could not have anticipated. Vanessa, the mother hen of the group, finds herself suddenly captivated by the idea of being cared for rather than being the caregiver, and her brother’s friend Clive is determined to marry her. This shifting dynamic sets the already volatile Virginia on a destructive course that will lead to a betrayal Vanessa could never have expected and is not sure she can endure.

The central conflict in the novel is Vanessa’s relationship with Virginia. Vanessa assumes responsibility for Virginia because she is older and because she has a nurturing temperament, but she forgets that she is not Virginia’s mother. I felt like all the characters made excuses for Virginia’s horrible behavior constantly. At one point, Vanessa says that “[b]eautiful Virginia is full of malice, but she is not malicious. It is just how she is built. She is governed by different forces than we… I do not think, in this case, Virginia meant actual harm; she just could not bear to be irrelevant.” Even when she is thinking critically about Virginia, Vanessa is not really seeing her clearly. The Virginia that Parmar shows readers is a monster, completely self-centered and bent on causing as much pain and devastation as she can. Parmar does a great job of making readers feel invested in the conflict – you’re pulling for Vanessa the whole time.

There were a few things about this book I found confusing. First, all the Stephen siblings and their close circle of friends have multiple nicknames for each other. These are used throughout the book with no explanation of who is who – there is only a list of characters (including nicknames) before the first chapter begins. It was nice to have the chart, but it takes you out of the moment when you have to stop reading constantly in the first few chapters to flip back to the chart and figure out who the heck Parmar is talking about.

The second thing I found distracting was the novel’s composition. It’s written as though it is Vanessa’s diary, but there are letters and telegrams scattered throughout as well. I usually like novels that include letters – evidently Parmar’s first book about Nell Gwyn, Exit the Actress, was written in this style too. Some of the letters are written by Virginia or Vanessa, and those were easy enough to understand, but there is lots of correspondence between Lytton and Leonard Woolf. I knew Leonard Woolf eventually married Virginia, but he’s hardly mentioned at all in Vanessa’s diary entries, so these letters just feel random. About halfway through the book, suddenly we start to see letters from someone named Roger Fry to his mother. Who is Roger Fry? He never mentions knowing the Stephens in his letters, he’s never brought up in Vanessa’s journal, so what does he have to do with anything? We discover later, of course, but I thought that was a really weird way to introduce a character.

Despite these issues, I did enjoy the read. Parmar shows on several occasions that she really does have a beautiful way with words. She gives Vanessa some excellent, introspective lines about herself and the people around her. I’ll give you a few examples:

About Virginia: “Writing is Virginia’s engine. She thrums with purpose when she writes. Her scattershot joy and frantic distraction refocus, and she funnels into her purest form. Her centre holds until the piece is over, and she comes apart again.”

About the Bloomsbury group: “For all our confidence, only Morgan has done anything of note in the outside world. The rest of us are still living on the borrowed fuel of potential so far and have not left deep footprints.”

About herself and her painting: “We do not understand the boundaries and dimensions of what we have created until it is consumed by another.”

I’ll be interested to see what Parmar picks as the subject of her next book, and I will be willing to give it a try. If you enjoy books like The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, you’d probably enjoy Vanessa and Her Sister.

Library Sale Giveaway

Last weekend, Brad and I went to the Wake County library book sale. Have you ever been to a library book sale? I’ve been to a few, but the Wake County sale is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s so enormous, it has to be held at the NC state fair grounds. It is all in one building, but that building is slammed. So. Many. Books.

For a person like me who loves to read, you would think this would be heaven. But I felt so overwhelmed by the number of books around me, the number of people, and the lack of any organization beyond “general fiction on the right, mystery and romance to the left,” that I wound up feeling like Rachel in that episode of Friends where they try to find Monica a wedding dress. I just wanted to curl up under a table with my hands over my head and blow my safety whistle.

I digress. I think it’s really interesting to see what’s on offer at the book sale, because the books you see the most copies of tell you something about what books were trending in the past year or so. At last year’s book sale, I must have seen at least fifty copies of The Help. Strangely, this year I saw tons of copies of The Lovely Bones – I wouldn’t have predicted that one. I also find it interesting that I hardly ever run across a copy of a Harry Potter book at these sales, but there were entire boxes full of Twilight books. I’m not trying to hate on Twilight. I read and own all four of the books. But I think it’s interesting.

Brad found some biographies and histories, and I found a few hardback copies of Mary Stewart novels that I’m really excited about. Here’s the thing, though. Brad and I already have a LOT of books. We have stacks of them, actually. People say, “Oh, do you need bookshelves?” No. We have seven. They are full, thus the stacks on the floor. Brad and I walked away from the library book sale with 25 books.

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Since it’s nearly Christmas, and I love to share things with you, I am going to give away two books that I bought at the library sale. I have a paperback copy of Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea and Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden to put up for grabs. They are both previously owned, obviously, but they are in very good condition. Both books are excellent – The Winter Sea is actually one of my all-time favorites. I’m giving both books to one lucky commenter on today’s post. I’ll announce the winner on Friday.  Good luck!

Pink IV Week 3 in Review

Will someone please explain to me how it is already the third week of December? I feel like this can’t be possible, and yet here we are. Before I pass you all into Sarah’s capable hands for our Pink IV recap, let me announce the winner of the signed copy of The Firebird: it’s Kathleen Parker! Kathleen, if you will email your address to ashley.pinkforallseasons@gmail.com, we will get your prize in the mail to you.

Thank you all so much for entering and sharing the giveaway, and huge thanks to Susanna for the interview and prize! If you didn’t win, make sure you check back next Monday… there may or may not be another of Susanna’s books up for grabs.

And now, over to Sarah!

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Hello all and happy Friday!  By this point in our read we should have finished through Chapter 23, so I’m going to do a recap of what’s happening. Or maybe I should recap what isn’t happening – it would be a much shorter post.  If this book were published in parts and this set of chapters were one part I think it would be called “Revelations and Complications.”

Mary:  Our heroine goes through quite a lot in this portion of the book.  First we have the tediousness of practicing for Lady Euphemia’s play while Vaughn has done a disappearing act; Lauren’s heroes do like to do that don’t they?  Miles did that, too, as did Geoffrey… sorry, rabbit trail.  Any way Mary goes from pining for Vaughn’s company, although she claims to “despise, loath, and revile him,” to angrily confronting him on his disappearance, wherein her deeply hidden hopes of an eventual marriage proposal are smashed to pieces, to fighting the Black Tulip for a pistol in an attempt to save Vaughn’s life.   Then to top it all off, in typical resilient Mary fashion, she manages to bully everyone around her so she can get him home and looked after.  If only she could have fallen in love with someone who is far less trouble, like Mr. St. George.  He seems like such a nice man, and he clearly admires Mary.

Lord Vaughn:  Okay, I’m going to say it. Poor Sebastian.  I think this section of the book, and specifically the scene with Anne at the musicale, is what really endeared him to me.  As become evident at Hyde Park he’s finally found a woman he truly loves and respects, only to have his dead wife suddenly back from the grave, and turning up at the most inappropriate times.  I remember listening to the audio version and this passage stood out so vibrantly: “He knew that expression.  Next would come an innocent flutter of the lashes, followed by a charmingly perturbed expression, as though she were searching for the right words.  And, finally, the long, drawn-out, wheedling rendition of his name.  Sebastian…”  We also get more of an in-depth look at his emotions; he feels deeply, more than he’ll ever admit, for Mary, for Teresa, for everything that happened during the Terror, and much more.  To make matters worse, he’s been mistakenly labeled as the Pink Carnation and shot, so it’s been a rough couple of days for Vaughn.

The Black Tulip:  He’s made his second appearance, if he’s a “he” at all.  I’m still not entirely convinced the spy wasn’t the woman swigging gin and wearing a towering ruin of a bonnet, either a man disguised as a woman or actually a woman; see, complicated.  So the Tulip has reached out, as hoped, to Mary in Hyde Park.  Here’s where things get really interesting, Mary’s test of loyalty is to kill Vaughn since the Tulip is convinced he’s the Pink Carnation.  What really caught my attention here was the fact that Teresa was killed in Ireland for refusing to kill Vaughn!

Jane:  Not one to sit still, the actual Pink Carnation has been doing what she does so well, behind-the-scenes investigating.  She’s checked out Rathbone and, in the process, absolutely ruined one of his experiments.  Unintentional or not it was quite rude of her, really.  This section is also where we learn that the source of Jane and Vaughn’s alliance is none other than Anne, herself.  Vaughn couldn’t stay in France to investigate Anne’s “resurrection,” and the letters being used to blackmail him, so Jane does it for him.  Which brings us to…

Anne:  The return of the prodigal Lady Vaughn. Did anyone see that coming?  After faking her own death while running off with her music master she’s tired of trying to make it on her own and wants to return to her life and her husband.  He, of course, doesn’t want her back but that doesn’t matter to her. She wants to come back as Countess and that’s that in her mind.

We’ve also had St. George continuing to pop up here and there, I love that he tries to “out-Alpha” Vaughn at the musicale; that did not turn out as he expected.   I’m delighted that we’ve seen a little more of some characters from other books, both minor and major.  Mme. Fiorila makes a brief reappearance, much to Vaughn’s relief.  Richard and Miles seem to be heading towards reconciliation and the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale is wreaking havoc as always.  Nothing else from Colin and Eloise, they’re still ensconced in their cozy booth at the Greek restaurant with a carafe of red wine, life is good!

Question to ponder:  Anyone else have a complication or revelation that I neglected to mention in these chapters?  Be wary of spoilers from further ahead; only things that have happened in the book up to chapter 23, please!