Monday, January 5, 2009

Last books of 2008

I spent the last week at my mom's house outside Birmingham where my internet access was limited to my iPhone, so I didn't blog my reading. Here are my last two books of 2008. First three books of 2009 to follow in a day or so.

Dancing Into Battle: A Social History of the Battle of Waterloo (Nick Foulkes, 2006) isn’t your usual account of the battle that closed the Napoleonic Wars. If you want to know what happened on the field, you should read Alessandro Barbero’s The Battle, the Wellington chapter of John Keegan’s The Mask of Command, Jac Weller’s Wellington at Waterloo, or even Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Waterloo. But if you’re me and can do rough dioramas of Quatre Bras and Waterloo from memory using tableware (I’m such an exciting dinner companion, I really am!), or if you couldn’t care less about military history but love juicy 200-year-old gossip, Foulkes’ approach gives the conflict a context missing from the more conventional approaches.

Foulkes only spends a few pages on what happened on the battlefield, focusing instead on the social whirl in Brussels leading up to the battle, what the common soldiers thought of the countryside, Wellington’s behavior before and after the battle, how little the waiting civilians in Brussels knew of what was going on just a few miles away, etc. I recommend it to my fellow history geeks to round out your picture of the events of June 1815.

My last book of 2008 was Scandalizing the Ton (Diane Gaston, 2008). In 1818, a widow who’s already the subject of gossip because of the revelation that her late husband was a murderer causes further scandal by getting pregnant, with the timing such that the baby might be her husband’s, but it might not. The reader is in on the mystery--the book opens with the heroine engaging in comfort sex with a gentleman who aids her when she gets hurt fleeing the Regency equivalent of the paparazzi. Eventually she ends up with the father, but it’s a bumpy ride.

It’s a well-written and well-researched book, and I especially enjoyed the secondary romance between the heroine’s maid and a reporter who develops qualms of conscience about engaging in gossip rather than true journalism. But in the interests of full disclosure, I did have a problem with the heroine’s willingness to pass the baby off as her late husband’s. While that late and unlamented gentleman didn’t leave any property to speak of, he did have a title, and if the heroine’s baby had been born on time, he would’ve disinherited the cousin who was the rightful heir to the earldom. I guess it really doesn’t matter THAT much, but it DID nag at me throughout the story.

I think I’ve just over-internalized a character who’ll eventually show up in my WIP series (unless I change my mind before I get that far). She gets pregnant under similar circumstances and immediately decides her only choices are to marry the baby’s father if he offers or to have the child in secret and adopt it out, because she’d feel too guilty if the kid turned out to be a boy, thereby disinheriting her first husband’s brother. Of course, my Rebecca is A) painfully perfectionist and B) the product of generations of Puritans. Plus, if I didn’t make her so uncompromising on this particular issue, she’d cross an ocean to get away from the man with whom I intend her to have a somewhat tempestuous, mostly happy, and always interesting marriage, and I couldn’t have that, could I? But I digress. I should go work on the WIP instead of babbling about it.


Diane Gaston said...

Hey, Susan, I'd LOVE to have dinner with you. One of my favorite sights in my last trip to England was a visit to the National Army Museum in Chelsea where the Sorborne diorama is exhibited. Here's an interesting article about it

I also found a diorama on YouTube. Turns out there are a bunch of Waterloo battle YouTube videos (gotta love the internet)

I have Dancing Into Battle but have only peeked in it so far.

Thank you so much for including Scandalizing the Ton as one of your 2008 books. It squeaked in right in time!
I understand your reservations about the heroine's decision to pass off the baby as her husband's. It wasn't admirable.
Here was my thinking on it.
1. If she admitted the baby was another man's, she would give the baby a life of poverty as a bastard.
2. If she married the baby's father, she'd be marrying a rake and she and the baby would be completely dependent upon him; as her husband he would control everything. She'd just come from a marriage to a man who'd wrecked her fortune, what would happen to her and her baby if she married a known rake?
3. If the baby was born in time and was considered her husband's, the baby would have entailed property, a title, a place in society, and something to build a future on.

She chose number three, not the most admirable, I agree, but the choice that she considered best for her baby.

I actually like feedback like this on my books, Susan, because it tells me that I should be very careful in the future that I make the motivations of my characters very clear. I might not have been quite clear enough in Scandalizing the Ton.

Let me know when we can have dinner and play out the Battle of Waterloo with the salt shakers!

Diane Gaston said...

Oops, make that the SIBORNE diorama!!

Susan Wilbanks said...

Thanks for stopping by, Diane!

I'm glad you don't mind my feedback. I was a bit nervous about admitting my reservations, since I know you read the blog sometimes. And I've noticed this pattern where whenever I give qualified praise to a book, that's when the author actually shows up and comments on my review, even if I've had no prior interaction with him/her whatsoever.

I'd love to get together for dinner and play Waterloo with the salt shakers! I think I could do a pretty good Assaye or Salamanca, too...

Diane Gaston said...

I think you'd have me beat in the salt shaker wars. I'm not THAT knowledgeable.

Mary Marvella said...

Hey, Susan! You put a lot of work into this blog!