If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them. The title of this book was what moved it from the shelf into my hand, but this line from the back cover was what moved this book from my hand into my growing pile of library books. I was so excited to find a book imagining the events behind the scenes of Pride and Prejudice and expected to read Sarah and Mrs. Hill’s reactions to Bingley and Darcy’s courtship of the Bennet girls.

Perhaps most surprising was the fact that I became more interested in the lives of Sarah, James, and Mrs. Hill than those upstairs. I suppose it’s because I already know that story so well, but I think it also has to do with how interesting life downstairs was despite the mundane chore of cleaning mud off Elizabeth’s petticoats. The book didn’t exactly line up with my expectation, but I ended up loving it even more so because of that fact as we are introduced to an inventive world where the lives of the servants not their employers take center stage.

There wasn’t a single, new character I didn’t like — the mysterious James Smith, the naive Polly, the cautious yet curious Sarah — and I was surprised to connect so much with them given how much I love the original characters. While the novel doesn’t copy the style of Austen’s original — more romance than examination of life during this time period — the story Baker weaves for those characters that are referenced in the original novel fits in seamlessly adding rather than detracting from the original novel.

And I was so pleased to see how the servants agreed with some of my own ideas about those living upstairs, particularly as to whom Mr. Collins should have married. While I didn’t agree with all of their feelings towards those upstairs, it did give me something new to think about. Almost like having a conversation with readers of the original novel, which is something I love to do. Mr. Bennet takes on a characterization I think actually enhances who he is  in the original novel rather than detracts as I have seen others state.

Book Mentioned:

  • Baker, Jo. Longbourn. New York: Random House, 2013. Large Print. 560 pgs. ISBN: 9780804121149. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Random House. Retrieved: January 10, 2014.

Subtitled “The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune”, this book explores the mystery surrounding a home in Connecticut for sale that was sat unoccupied for nearly sixty years purchased by a reclusive heiress named Huguette Clark with her $300 million inheritance. This incredibly reclusive woman — no photograph of her had been seen publicly since the 1930s – owned a mansion in Santa Barbara in addition to the one in Connecticut and two apartments on Fifth Avenue in New York City, but spent twenty years in a hospital room despite her excellent health.

This book is crash-course into the underbelly of Montana politics as Clark is the daughter of William A. Clark, who owned a mine in Butte, bribed members of the Montana State Legislature in return for their votes to name him to the U.S. Senate, and was portrayed as the worst of men in the Gilded Age. Having read about Montana history and, particularly, about copper mining in Butte, this is the weakest aspect of the book. A list rather an explanation of why Clark’s inheritance was built of the back of Montana, although I appreciated the nod to both the hatred of Montanan’s to certain campaign financing rulings and the idea that the Clark’s were absentee landlords.

The real intrigue surrounding Clark’s inheritance is towards the end of the book and short enough that I don’t think an entire book was needed to explore her life. And given how reclusive Clark was, it seems evasive to read about her life in such detail. But, at the end of the book, the issue that matters the most — to her family, her caretakers, the writers and readers of this book — is her money, and the question is not so much how she spent her money but who should receive the remainder of that inheritance.

On the one hand, based on the interviews and examples provided in the text, it seems that Clark was a lucid woman capable of making her own decisions up until her death and her second will should be accepted as her final wishes. On the other hand, based on the interviews and examples provided in the text, it appears that doctors, lawyers, hospital CEOs, and her personal caregiver took advantage of her generosity. A $30 million payout, multiple homes across the boroughs of New York City, writing themselves as beneficiaries of the will they were hired to write screams of fraud, and I can understand why the state attorney would get involved.

Some of the beneficiaries surprised me; I’ve visited the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. but couldn’t recall any of the endowments mentioned in this book. But the worst offender, according to Dedman and Newell, is Beth Israel Hospital instructing their doctors and nurses to ask her for money, allowing them to accept gifts (conflict of interest, much?), and pressuring her to move locations despite her own wishes (her doctor said he wouldn’t treat her at another hospital in order to keep her at Beth Israel). The hospital received a payout in the settlement, which was decided after the book was published, but could be written out once more should Clark’s family and other beneficiaries of the settlement decide to recoup gifts, including a $3.5 million Manet painting, received during her life. Seems like a no-brainier given the case laid out in this book.

Book Mentioned:

  • Dedman, Bill and Paul Clark Newell Jr. Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune. New York: Ballantine Books, 2013. Print. 456 pgs. ISBN: 9780345534521. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Ballantine Books. Retrieved: January 8, 2014.

016

To be honest, I thought I would hit this landmark last year, and it seems almost fitting that I hit it on the eight of December and then took until today, the twenty-eighth, to comment on it, but here I am. 1,000 posts in five years of blogging (six next month) with 775 of them being reviews — 464 fiction books and 226 nonfiction books.

I’ve read several posts in my RSS reader over the past couple of months discussing a shift in blogging. Perhaps the most pertinent posts for myself would be the wrap of the Book Blogger Survey that was offered back in October, particularly Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness’ breakdown of participants’ responses to significant life changes and it’s impact on blogging. I found my reading and blogging slowing down last year as I entered my final year of undergrad, which I figured would happen given the thesis I was preparing to write.

But my posting further slowed down in 2013 as I started a new job in a new city for the summer and then started grad school in the fall and while I’m not willing to completely walk away from this blog, I don’t have to tell you all that it hasn’t been a priority for me in this last year. My hope is that once I graduate, once I have a job and lead a more stable life, I’ll be able to return to the wonderful rhythm of reading and discussing the books I’ve read.

Of course, I don’t mean to sound entirely melancholy. In addition to the non-bookish accomplishments in my life that are to be celebrated, I’ve read some great books in the last year, tackled some massive tomes that I never thought I’d finish, and am very pleased to celebrate 1,000 posts. And probably the most rewarding aspect of this whole slow down is I no longer feel that internal and external pressure to plow though books I don’t like for the sake of keeping my blog update or “relevant”. Although, if I learned that a long time ago, I never would have made it to 1,000 posts as quickly as I did.

Photo © Me. Taken: December 7, 2013.

Because I am so interested in Tudor history, particularly that of Anne Boleyn and her daughter Queen Elizabeth I, I have often encountered Mary, Queen of Scots in readings and film adaptations, but it wasn’t until I saw the latest television adaptation of her life — and I use the term adaptation loosely — that I became interested in her life beyond the small blurbs included in biographies of Elizabeth. A friend of mine suggested I read Fraser’s biography in order to better understand the real Mary rather than the one using her name on television.

Given the portrayals I often see of Mary in biographies of Elizabeth, I was not expecting to feel so sympathetic towards this young queen. Her first marriage, although to a young teen with many deformities, was by all accounts based upon love, but the way she and her crown where used in geopolitics earned her little goodwill with her people. Her subsequent marriages read more like something out of a television drama reminding us all that life is far more interesting than art.

And there is something eerie about following Mary’s life with knowledge of what is to come and with context provided to the reader that is not provided to Mary. She was a privilege young woman, but so poorly guided and abandoned in life by her advisers and her relatives that it is impossible not to feel for her. A fact that is do in large part to Fraser’s writing and her presentation of Mary’s life, which kept me riveted throughout most of the book, as it is the perfect mixture of in depth research and storytelling. I would be interested in not only reading more of Fraser’s biographies but also learning more about the lives that intersected with Mary’s — her husband, Francis; his father and mother, King Henry and Queen Catherine of France; her husband, Lord Darnley; and her son, King James I of England (VI of Scotland).

Two difficulties with this tome, though, was Fraser’s decision to place Latin, Greek, and French phrases and sentences in the text without providing a translation. Because I know only the basics of Spanish and none of the languages written in this text, I either had to keep my iPad on hand to look up translations or hope that context clues from the surrounding text would be sufficient. The other issue seems kind of silly, but I am accustomed to a few glossy pages in the middle of the text with pictures and this book did not have those pages. Instead, once again, I had to keep my iPad on hand and look up portraits of the people discussed in this book.

Book Mentioned:

  • Fraser, Antonia. Mary Queen of Scots. New York: Delta, 1993. Originally published 1969. Print. 613 pgs. ISBN: 9780385311298. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Delta. Retrieved: December 18, 2013.

Being the first responder on the scene of a tragic highway collision gives nursing student Haley Donovan the confidence she needs to be the kind of nurse she has always wanted to be. The experience introduces her to Lancaster County’s tight-knit Amish community of Halfway and allows her and psychologist Dylan Monroe to bring counseling services to the community torn apart by following this accident.

Elsie Lapp, owner of Halfway’s country store, once served as the source of cheer and goodwill for her community and her customers. But the crash combined turns her attitude inside out isolating her away from everyone but Ruben Zook. Yet Elsie’s dwarfism keeps her from connecting with Ruben in the way her father, her family, and her heart wants her to.

I started this book before bed expecting to read a few pages before following asleep. Instead, I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning turning page after page in order to find some semblance of happy and happiness in this tragic tale.  I certainly plan to read more of Lauer’s books as this was exactly what I needed following my long excursion into Westeros and the land beyond the Wall.

The book is rather evenly split between the story of Haley and Elsie, and while Haley grabbed my attention at the beginning of the tale, I ultimately wished the Englishers had taken more of a backseat to the Amish in this story. The complicated, emotional stories of Elsie and Ruben deserved way more attention than the portions dedicated to them at the end of this novel, particularly the story surrounding Ruben’s disfigurement.

Book Mentioned:

  • Lauer, Rosalind. A Simple Faith. New York: Ballantine Books, 2013. Print. 370 pgs. ISBN: 9780345543264. Source: Advanced review copy.
Book Cover © Ballantine Books. Retrieved: December 8, 2013.
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