Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife

Author: Linda Berdoll
Published: April 2004 (Sourcebooks)
Category: Historical Romance
Quote of Choice: She was uncertain whether first to disabuse him of the notion of her forlorness, explain implicitly that their "disappointment" was not to be spoken of by a man with the morals and sexual appetite of a particularly libidinous goat, or simply smite him across the forehead with the fireplace poker.

I guess I'd be upset by this book if I were an Austen purist, but I'm not. I like her stories and love her characters, particularly those in Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. I'll say again that I haven't read Austen since high school and plan to remedy that situation if I ever unpack my books at my semi-new (at this point) apartment.

I've read one Pride and Prejudice sequel so far, and unlike Bebris' Pride and Prescience, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife feels as if it were really written in the 1800s. Upon reading the author's note, the reader is warned of a more passionate version of Darcy and Elizabeth, and the author points out that Austen never married, and therefore couldn't write about the intimacies of married life.

In this sequel, we join the Darcys right after their wedding day, but as seen throughout the book, the narrative flashes back to the few months prior to the wedding. Actually, the timeline goes forward and jumps back quite a bit. For example, an event will happen with the narration following Lizzy, and then in the next chapter, the same event will happen, but following Darcy instead, or his valet, or Lizzy's lady's maid.

I don't want to give anything away, but I can see why Austen purists would dislike this book. Berdoll shows us a more passionate Darcy, a very passionate Darcy, actually. I can also say that the Darcys enjoy a very happy marital bed. I think Berdoll holds very true to the characters as I know them, but yet again, I haven't read P&P recently enough to know if Berdoll held true to the way Austen wrote those characters.

It was an excellent read, and not one that is easily sped through. I've already purchased the sequel, Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley.

A list from Shirley

1. One book that changed your life?
Nancy Drew: The Clue in the Jewel Box by Carolyn Keene (Before I read this book, my teachers complained that I didn't read enough. After I started the Nancy Drew books, I couldn't stop reading.)

2. One book you have read more than once?
Every Harry Potter book. When a new one comes out, I read the new one first, and then the entire series leading up to that new book, and then the new book a second time.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?
The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop

4. One book that made you laugh?
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding

5. One book that made you cry?
Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey

6. One book you stayed up all night to finish?
Barely a Bride by Rebecca Hagan Lee

7. One book that took you too long to read?
Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

8. One book you are currently reading?
Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll

9. One book you have been meaning to read?
Angelica by Sharon Shinn

10. Now tag five people.
I'll skip this because I don't even have five people to tag. However, feel free to do this, Jennie.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Barely a Bride

Author: Rebecca Hagan Lee
Published: August 2003 (Berkley)
Category: Historical Fiction
Series: Free Fellows League #1
Quote of Choice: I am not chattel to be bartered for in exchange for a horse, nor am I a bone to be fought over by gentlemen who persist in behaving like hounds marking the lamppost boundaries of their territory.

I probably should've started with this title first, although you can get by quite easily starting anywhere in the series. As for setting up the members of the Free Fellows and their origins, Lee wrote a to-the-point prologue, with no tedious bits to bore the reader.

Griffin Abernathy, Seventeenth Viscount Abernathy and heir to the Earl of Weymouth, is about to join his cavalry regiment on the Peninsula. However, his father, the Earl of Weymouth, is quite distraught over the prospect of his only child and heir join one of the most dangerous branches of the military, thereby risking the extinction of their family line. Actually, Griffin kept his assignment a secret until two weeks prior to his scheduled departure. In order to secure the bloodline, Griffin's father (not an unkind man) blackmails him. If Griffin does not marry before leaving for the war against Bonaparte in two weeks, Weymouth will tear down Abernathy Manor (Griffin's home as Viscount Abernathy), leaving the servants and their families without a livelihood. Griffin agrees to find a bride, understanding his father's concern, and spends the next few evenings attending the social functions that Free Fellows are known to eschew.

During these social events, Griffin spots a beautiful girl and all others fade in comparison. She is Alyssa, youngest daughter (of five daughters) of the Earl of Tressingham. Her mama has high hopes for her youngest: a match to the Duke of Sussex, who happens to be the son of her close friend. However, Alyssa is not content to become a duchess because she wouldn't be able to pursue her hobbies since there would be more pressure to be prim and proper. She wishes to become a gardener, or rather, a garden designer who doesn't mind doing the dirty work (i.e. mucking out stalls so she can obtain manure to fertilize the garden). Lady Tressingham is constantly correcting her daughter's behavior, forbidding her to garden, ride her beloved horse without a chaperone, or interview the housekeeper about how she does everything, and then suggest how the housekeeper can run the household more efficiently.

Just a few days after beginning his quest for a bride, Griffin is introduced to Alyssa at Almack's, the infamous marriage mart, and quickly proposes. Despite the circumstances, he didn't do too badly, ending it well by saying, "You are the only young lady I've ever seen who made me believe I was meant to be her husband." Alyssa falls for Griffin, but it's up to her father to allow the marriage. Unfortunately, her mother is pressing for the Duke of Sussex to win her daughter's hand.

Thankfully, Griffin played dirty. He played to Tressingham's weakness for breeding champion foxhounds and horses. In exchange for Alyssa's hand in marriage, Griffin guaranteed Tressingham access to Weymouth's prized foxhounds for breeding, and loaned a prize stallion to him for the duration of his service in the war. Of course, the deal was made and Lady Tressingham was less than pleased to find that her daughter would wind up with a viscount instead of a duke.

Alyssa planned a huge society wedding in less than a week and it was a great success. She and Griffin had three days together before he departed, and they had to make good on the whole "securing the bloodline" thing. She didn't conceive, although it wasn't for lack of trying. While Griffin is in Spain, they communicate frequently by letters and it's sweet how Alyssa sends homemade soaps and lotions to her husband, his valet, and his lieutenant, who has become Alyssa's greatest fan.

After Alyssa realized she wasn't pregnant, she grew depressed and didn't come out of her room for days. Because Griffin had told Colin and Jarrod, the other two members of the Free Fellows (the Duke of Sussex joins later) to watch over Alyssa, they quickly went to action. It was very telling of their character when they visited so frequently and were so concerned over their friend's wife.

Do not despair! Griffin comes back from the war a hero, although he was severely traumatized. It adds some brevity to the whole romance thing and I liked it because it made the whole story deeper and more meaningful when the happily ever after came around.

It was an excellent read!

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Author: Bill Buford
Published: May 2006 (Knopf)
Category: Cooking/Biography/Travel
Quote of Choice: "I said fine dice! This is not a fine dice! I don't know what they are, but they're wrong." I had been cutting carrots for two hours, and then, like that, they were tossed; they were that bad.

I stumbled across this title on Amazon's top seller list (I think it was #18 at the time). I proceeded to put myself on the waitlist for Heat at the NY Public Library. Unfortunately, I was the 279th person on line for about 11 copies of the book. Thankfully, Jennie put Heat on her waitlist with the Brooklyn Library, and it came in last week!

Bill Buford, a journalist, met Mario Batali at a birthday dinner for a mutual friend and decided to satisfy a lifelong culinary curiousity by becoming a kitchen slave in Batali's restaurant, Babbo. Buford spent a little over a year in Babbo's kitchen, beginning as a prep chef. Basically, the restaurant runs in two main shifts: the prep shift in the morning and the service shift during dining hours. Bill had no professional cooking experience, and being plunged into the hectic prep kitchen of a three-star restaurant amongst a lot of pros who regarded him as an interloper wasn't easy. Gradually, he became accepted as a member of the staff, even becoming a line chef, working the grill, and manning the pasta station. His presence was of great help in times of need when the kitchen was short-staffed.

Buford later went on to travel in Italy as many chefs do to learn real Italian cooking. He spent a few weeks learning from the woman who first taught Batali how to prepare fresh pasta. Apparently, she was a bit bitter about how she's struggling to make a living while Batali learned from her and is a rich and famous chef now. She taught Buford her secret ravioli recipe, but only on the condition that he not reveal it to Batali. He then spent even more time as an apprentice to the world famous butcher, Dario Cecchini, and actually became a spectacle for tourists wanting to catch a glimpse of the Dante-quoting butcher. Buford tried to answer only in monosyllabic Italian words so he wouldn't give away the fact that the tourists had travelled to this little Italian town to see traditional Italian butchering methods only to find that an American was making the sausages.

Buford's book is tells a few stories all at once. Batali's education and rowdy antics are interlaced with Buford's experiences at Babbo. From all of the Food Network programming I've seen, Batali seems to be a really cool guy, but arrogant. Well, at least he doesn't seem as arrogant as Bobby Flay (he's on my celebrity chef blacklist, which includes Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee). I'm amused by Batali's marijuana infractions while at Rutgers, which is also my alma mater, and the story of how he once served foie gras with a sauce made of a reduction of orange soda and Starburst candies.

I've learned that I will never order the special at a restaurant. At Babbo, the special is the food that's left over and must be sold before it's gone bad and must be tossed. Bill also tells of the time when he was chopping celery and threw the florets in the garbage. Batali comes in and sees that the florets are being tossed, only to take them out of the trash because they're the most flavorful part of celery. For Batali, it's a business: take the raw materials and make the most out of them to sell them at the highest price possible.

After reading this book, my respect for the people who take part in the daily operation of a restaurant has grown immensely from the already high esteem I held them in. Everyone works so hard and there's so much pressure to maintain the high standards the customers expect. Buford wrote about his kitchen fellows with the utmost respect, from the hard work and dedication of the Latins to the maddening perfection of the big guy, Batali.

However, I'm not sure that I want to eat at Babbo after reading this book....