Clarissa Book 3: Good Girl Gone Bad

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There is a misconception that good people make for uninteresting characters. To an extent this is true. No one likes the goodie two shoes who is always doing the right thing and it does not make for a good character arch. There is also a twin misconception that deeply flawed and immoral characters are more relatable and I also see how this could be true. We like to see ourselves, even our flaws, in fictional characters and for a character to be fully rounded, they need to grow and change. 

In theory, Clarissa Harlow, the heroine of Clarissa: or The History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson, would be a flat and uninteresting character. She is presented as a model of virtue who tries her hardest to stick to a moral code, even if one that’s based on ideas that seem outdated by modern standards: that women are supposed to be pure and virtuous and if they are not, then they have no value. I prefer to think of it as Clarissa having too much self-respect to let Lovelace take advantage of her. Clarissa is an example of a character whose good qualities are what get them into trouble. The virtues she is admired for (integrity and dutifulness) are what send her on her downward spiral.

Clarissa writes to her best friend Anna Howe why she believes she is in the mess she is in “Oh my dear! An obliging temper is a very dangerous temper!-by endeavouring to gratify others, it is evermore disobliging itself!”  She has spent most of her life as a dutiful and obedient daughter and sister which has convinced her unscrupulous family that she is a doormat who they can make do whatever they want. Her integrity keeps her from bowing to their wishes that she marry the odious Mr. Sommes, even though they make her life hell to try to get to break. She stubbornly refuses to bend where a weaker spirit would have broken. 

During book three of the novel, Clarissa goes from the ideal child to a warning for potentially disobedient daughters. Anna’s mother, who previously saw Clarissa as a good influence on her daughter, forbids their correspondence. Due to her refusal to marry Mr. Solmes and her elopement with Mr. Lovelace, who they hate, Clarissa’s family disowns her, leaving her completely in Lovelace’s power.

Book three of Clarissa ends with the heroine falling deeper into Lovelace’s trap. She and Lovelace decide to go to London, where he provides her with seemingly respectable lodgings which are revealed to a brothel frequented by his rakish cronies. Clarissa’s desire to keep her independence and integrity and to escape the persecution of her cruel family ironically leads to her being an unwitting prisoner in a brothel, where she will be powerless against Lovelace’s unwanted sexual advances.

 

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A Review of The Mark of Athena and The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

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*** Warning: Spoilers *** 

The beginning of The Mark of Athena picks up right where The Son of Neptune ends. We are treated to the long-awaited Percabeth reunion when the Argo II lands in New Rome carrying Annabeth, Jason, Piper, Leo, and their satyr chaperone, Coach Hedge. But their happiness is not long lasting. When an accident reignites the conflict between Greeks and Romans, the seven (Percy, Annabeth, Jason, Piper, Frank, Hazel, and Leo) go off in search of the source of said conflict: the Athena Parthenos statue, which was stolen by the Romans thousands of years ago. They must also rescue Hazel’s half-brother Nico, who is being held captive by two showbiz obsessed giants. 

My alternate title for The Mark of Athena is “Percy Jackson: Civil War,” since one of its themes is the ongoing animosity between the Greeks and Romans. The actual American Civil War was part of the conflict between the Greek and Roman sides of the demigod worlds and the first battle between Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter happens at Fort Sumner, the site of the first battle of the Civil War.

Another one of the book’s themes is romantic conflict since it sets up two love triangles. Jason and Piper and Frank and Hazel are all now dating. Reyna has always had feelings for Jason, who never reciprocated them, which makes Piper feel insecure about their relationship. Hazel meets Leo, who reminds her of Sammy, her boyfriend from her previous life in 1941 who happens to be Leo’s great-grandfather which makes Frank jealous and a bit hostile towards Leo. I read a spoiler for The Burning Maze, the latest in the “Trials of Apollo” series which is a spin-off of “Heroes of Olympus” which says that Piper and Jason eventually break up but they still might have feelings for each other though Jason dies saving her. Reading The Mark of Athena, I can definitely see their relationship not working out. Prior to the battle at Fort Sumner, Annabeth, Piper, and Hazel have tea with Aphrodite in Charleston, South Carolina. Piper notes that Aphrodite does not seem terribly interested in her, specifically her relationship with Jason. Aphrodite only pays attention to someone when she wants to manipulate their love life, Percabeth being her latest pet project, and her not being interested in a couple is a sign that they are not going to last. On a tangential note, I imagine Aphrodite being Mrs. George from Mean Girls.

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Aphrodite having tea with Annabeth, Piper, and Hazel

Jason and Piper encounter Hercules at the Straights of Gibraltar and learn the story of how he was murdered by his spurned wife Deianira. Like his father before him, Hercules cheated on his wives countless times and Piper is warned that sons of Zeus/Jupiter are not the best boyfriends/husbands. Piper is insecure in their relationship with Jason, who is not the most emotionally accessible person. 

On board the Argo II,  Annabeth and Percy meet up in the Pegasi stable, where they kiss and fall asleep together. In the morning, they are scolded by Coach Hedge who is very strict about boys and girls not being alone together.

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Coach Hedge on board the Argo II

This being a novel intended for middle schoolers, details that anything beyond kissing and cuddling happened between Percy and Annabeth are not given but I imagine that the hunters of Artemis are not going to be seeking out Annabeth anymore.

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How I imagine Aphrodite when Percabeth is in the Pegasi stables

The quest of the seven brings them to Rome. Percy and Annabeth encounter Tiberinus, the god of the Tiber River, and his consort Rhea Silvia, the mother of Romulus and Remus, in the forms of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn from Roman Holiday. Annabeth finds the Athena Parthenos statue in the lair of Arachne, Athena’s mortal enemy.  Arachne was a talented weaver who claimed that her skills were greater than that of Athena herself and was punished for her hubris by being turned into the first spider, hence why Athena’s children suffer from arachnophobia.

A reason why I enjoy Rick Riordan’s storytelling is that the books are pretty much road trip stories with the characters traveling to a specific location and having mini adventures along the way. He takes the time to describe the places where the characters stop (ex. Los Vegas, The Hoover Dam, Quebec) and make the reader long to visit there. It is because of this that The Mark of Athena is one of my favorite of his books. The Mark of Athena has stops in Atlanta Georgia, Charleston South Carolina, the Straights of Gibraltar, and Rome which were the parts of the book that I enjoyed the most. I’ve always enjoyed traveling and it’s fun to journey vicariously with the seven.

The book ends on a literal cliffhanger with Arachne’s lair collapsing in on itself and Percy and Annabeth falling into Tartarus. Among the Heroes of Olympus fandom, this is considered the ultimate example of Rick Riordan having no chill whatsoever.

The beginning of “The House of Hades” finds Percy and Annabeth traveling through Tartarus guided by a titan janitor named Bob. Meanwhile, their friends on the Argo II search out House of Hades in Epirus, Greece, in order to close the Doors of Death and keep monsters from escaping Tartarus.

One of the most interesting developments in the series occurs during a detour at the seaside town of Split in Croatia. Jason and Nico visit Diocletian’s Palace and face off against Cupid, the god of love. Nico has long supposed to be jealous of Percy because of his relationship with Annabeth but Cupid reveals that it was the other way around. Cupid forces Nico to confess his feelings for Percy.  Being born some point in the 1930s, Nico grew up in fascist controlled and strictly Catholic Italy and being openly gay would have been unthinkable for him. On top of that, Nico’s feelings for Percy are complicated. He blames Percy for his sister Bianca’s death and yet has always had a hero crush on him. The episode with Cupid also gives some dark foreshadowing for Jason and Percy’s relationship. Cupids worlds about them finding true love with each other are said somewhat sarcastically.  

Another romance blooms later on in the book. Leo is sent to the island of Ogygia by the snow goddess Khione, who he had a crush on in The Lost Hero. Ogygia is the home of the nymph Calypso, who is imprisoned on the island and cursed to fall in unrequited love with whatever hero washes up on her shores. Calypso is bitter because she had hoped to be released from Ogygia after the gods promised amnesty following the Titan war and on top of that, they send a scrawny runt like Leo to her island. Leo is different from the strapping, dashing heroes who usually end up on Ogygia and leave Calypso broken hearted when they return to the women they really love (like Odysseus to Penelope, like Sir Francis Drake to Elizabeth I, and Percy Jackson to Annabeth Chase). Leo fears that he is stuck on Ogygia because Calypso will never love him. As the days pass, Leo and Calypso grow to care for each other and share a kiss before Leo departs. The flirtatious Leo admits that he was never kissed before and swears on the River Styx that he will return for Calypso.  

The book ends with the crew of the Argo II back together again with a two-week deadline to the Feast of Hope, the date chosen for Gaia’s return. Will our heroes be able to stop her and save the world?

 

A Review of Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie Books and Films

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There’s something strangely cozy about an old-school murder mystery. A prim and proper setting but with dark secrets hiding underneath the gentile facade.  A familiar formula but with enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. It is just the stuff for a cold and rainy evening spent curled up in a warm and comfortable spot with a cup of tea.

The work of Agatha Christie epitomizes the who-done-it genre. I discovered her work a few years ago during the year I took off from school because of illness. Netflix used to have the entire Poirot series, which is based on Christie’s Poirot novels. After watching the series, I read three of the books: Lord Edgware Dies, Death on the Nile, and Evil Under the Sun. I’ve always loved to travel and the mysteries I enjoyed the most were the ones where Hercule Poirot travels to some exotic and glamorous location such as Egypt in Death on the Nile and the Cornish Coast in Evil Under the Sun. The books perfectly capture the ritual of travel: staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, seeing new and exciting places, and the eccentric people you meet while traveling.

Death on the Nile starts with newlywed heiress Linnet Ridgeway going on her honeymoon in Egypt with her new husband, the handsome Simon Doyle. But there is trouble in paradise: the couple is being stalked by Jacqueline de Belfort, Linnet’s former best friend and Simon’s former fiancee. A cruise down the Nile gathers our cast of suspects together, which includes a sex-obsessed novelist, a kleptomaniac grande dame, and a jewel-thieving mama’s boy. When Linnet is found shot dead in her cabin, the murderer and their motive appear to be straightforward but not all is as it appears to be.

The thing about Christie’s novels is that you do not really care about the person who is murdered. Even if they do not necessarily deserve to die, their death is not a great loss to the world. Linnet is a spoiled brat who thinks nothing of stealing a man from a less fortunate friend. When she asks Poirot to convince Jacqueline to stay away from her and Simon, Poirot pretty much tells her to suck it up and deal with the consequences of her actions for once in her life.  Linnet is not an evil person (she is hinted to be feeling some regret for ruining Jacqueline’s life) but she has few if any redeeming features. The sentimental Cornelia Robson laments Linnet’s death because was “so beautiful” which is pretty much the only nice thing anyone can think of to say about Linnet. 

Agatha Christie is one of the writers who established the standard who-done-it formula: our cast of suspects gather in a specific place, someone is murdered, a detective goes around trying to find clues and piece together what happened, and the detective gathers all of the suspects together in a room then goes over what they figured out had actually happened and points out the murderer. This formula applies to Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun. 

The 2004 television adaptation of  “Death on the Nile,” which was part of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, starring David Suchet (who also narrated the audiobooks of Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun that I listened to) as the title character, was one of my favorite episodes of the series. It guest starred Emily Blunt as Linnet Ridgeway Doyle, J.J. Fields as Simon Doyle, and Frances de la Tour as Salome Otterbourne and follows the plot of the novel pretty closely. The scenery, sets, and costumes are beautiful and I would definitely recommend it.  

Evil Under the Sun follows Hercule Poirot to a seaside resort on the Cornish coast. Also staying at the resort is Arlena Stuart, an actress with a reputation for being a man-eater and a homewrecker. In toe are Kenneth Marshall, Arlena’s long-suffering husband, his daughter Linda, Patrick Redfern, Arlena’s latest boy toy, and Christine, Patrick’s mousy wife. When Arlena’s body is found strangled on the beach, Poirot finds that each of the resort’s guests has a motive for wanting her dead.

Evil Under the Sun is another case of Christie’s murder victims being less than sympathetic. Arlena is stupid and gullible and thinks of nothing but her appetites, specifically her appetite for men. Like Linnet, she is someone who has no compunction about stealing a man from another woman. No one is terribly sad about her death.

My friend Ashley and I recently watched the 1982 film adaptation of Evil Under the Sun, starring Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot and Diana Rigg as Arlena Stuart. It has several changes from the original novel. Instead of being set on the Cornish coast, it takes place on an island in the Adriatic. The characters of Mrs. Castle, the owner of the seaside resort, and Rosamund Darnley, Kenneth Marshall’s childhood friend, are combined into the character of Daphne Castle (played by Maggie Smith), who both owns the resort and is Kenneth Marshall’s old sweetheart. Miss Emily Brewster, a gruff and athletic spinster, is Mr. Rex Brewster (played by Roddy McDowell), a flamboyant writer, in this version. With an all-star cast, the acting in the film is fantastic. Because David Suchet was the Poirot I am most familiar with and who I think of when the character comes up, it is a bit disorienting watching Ustinov play the role, though he does a great job. The Adriatic scenery is gorgeous and makes me long to travel there. The one problem I have is the costumes which are 1930s via the 1980s and a whole lot of what-the-fuck: there are shoulder pads and garish prints and colors up the wazoo. One of Arlena’s beach outfits has a polka dot pattern which looks like the one on a package of Wonder Bread. The loud and obnoxious Mrs. Gardener wears an equally obnoxious outfit that appears to have been made out of a cheap plastic tablecloth. Despite this, the film is enjoyable and I would recommend it.

Alex, Eliza, and Historical Inacquracy

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For starters, I very much enjoyed Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz. It’s very well written and the story is a page-turner. In the wake of the smash-hit musical Hamilton, a number of novels have come out telling the love story of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler. Alex and Eliza is known as the fanfic/ romance novel version of this story, as opposed to more straightforward historical  fiction works like The Hamilton Affair (which I did not care for) and I, Eliza Hamilton (which I haven’t read but probably won’t, lest it give me The Hamilton Affair PTSD), and is the least historically accurate of the three.

Historical fiction is by nature, speculative. History itself often gives us only the bare bones of what happened and its the job of the author to provide the details. The courtship of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler is an example of this. We know when they met, when they started courting, when they got engaged, and when they got married but we don’t everything that went into getting from one of these steps to another.

Alex and Eliza is heavily influenced by Pride and Prejudice, mainly in how the dynamic between its two protagonists is set up. Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler first met in 1777, when he was sent to relieve her father, General Philip Schuyler, of command after the Continental Army’s loss at Saratoga. In Alex and Eliza, this makes Eliza dislike the young colonel, though he becomes smitten with her. Alex is pranked by some of Eliza’s friends, who send him a note, supposedly from Eliza, saying that she will meet him in the barn at midnight. He is upset when she is a no-show.  A misunderstanding causes our hero and heroine to initially dislike each other.

Hamilton and Schuyler met again three years later in February of 1780 when she came to visit the Continental Army headquarters in Morristown New Jersey, which I visited a year ago. The official reason for her visit was to aid her aunt and uncle (her uncle was surgeon-general to the Continental Army) but there was an unspoken assumption that she was there to find a husband among the Continental Army’s eligible officers. Hamilton’s letters show that he was smitten with Eliza, who he described as “unmercifully handsome,” and they were engaged within three weeks. The couple are reintroduced in Alex and Eliza when her carriage breaks down and he comes to her rescue. They become reacquainted when she inoculates him against smallpox. I do not think that these events happened since if they had, it probably would have come up in the letters that Hamilton wrote to Eliza during their engagement and marriage (her letters to him, unfortunately, have not survived) but are not out of the realm of possibility.  Doctor Cochran, Eliza’s uncle, is best known for inoculating the troops stationed in Morristown against smallpox. Having Alex rescue Eliza is conforming to the tropes of romance novels. These are examples of the author fleshing out the bare bones of history but Alex and Eliza does contain some glaring historical inaccuracies.

John Andre- Did they or didn’t they?

British war hero John Andre spent some time with the Schuyler family as a guests/prisoner of General Philip Schuyler. From all accounts, Andre was a dashing a noble figure and Eliza Schuyler is believed to have had something of a crush on him. Andre was a talented artist and sketched a portrait of Eliza. Her later fiance, Alexander Hamilton said that he was jealous of Andre’s “talents.” Hamilton and Andre would later cross paths again because of Andre’s involvement in the Benedict Arnold Affair.

In Alex and Eliza, Eliza dances with Andre at a ball and is so taken with him that she says she would run away with him if he were to ask. Andre and Alex compete for Eliza’s attention during the ball. Later on, Eliza explains that Andre proposed to her but she refused because a relationship between the two of them would be impossible due to their being on opposite sides of the revolutionary war.

Henry Livington- Who?

The subplot with Henry Livingston, the man that Eliza’s family tries to marry her off to, is where Alex and Eliza feels the most fanfic like. It comes out of nowhere, just when Alex and Eliza are starting to become close. As the main obstacle to Alex and Eliza’s relationship, of course, he is a douche and an attempted rapist: he attempts to force himself on Eliza the night before their wedding and Alex comes to her rescue. Henry feels like a character in a fandom that Melissa de la Cruz did not like, so she paints him the worst possible light in her fanfic.

Henry Livingston in Alex and Eliza is the brother of socialite Kitty Livingston, a friend of Eliza’s and one of Hamilton’s early crushes. There appears to have been a Henry Livingston living in the correct place and around the right age to be this character but I could not find out if he was Kitty Livingston’s brother and he appears to have had no connection to the Schuylers.

Clothing- Frock Flicks would have a field day with this book. 

Eliza is described as wearing a pair of pantaloons under her dress which she describes as “risqué” and “French”. Pantaloons were indeed considered a risqué garment, associated with dancers and courtesans, not something a practical and respectable young lady living in the somewhat puritanical American colonies would wear.

It wouldn’t be for another forty or so years until we see pant-like garments commonly worn on females: pantalets, which worn under the shorter dresses of little girls.

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H. A Friedrich-portrait of a noble girl, 1820s

 

Underdrawers would not be worn on all women until the mid 19th Century.

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Underdrawers- 1840-60s

Aunt Gertrude, Eliza’s chaperone in Morristown is frequently described as wearing a blouse decorated with a cameo brooch. Women in the 18th Century would have worn a fitted bodice and skirt and what we would think of as a blouse would only be worn as part of a riding habit, rather than the domestic setting that de la Cruz puts Aunt Gertrude in.

Eliza’s boorish fiancé, Henry Livingston, insults the “jumper” that she wears in the first chapter he is introduced in. I had a hard time imagining what type of garment Eliza would be wearing in this scene. Jumper style gowns would not be worn until the 1790s, another ten or so years after Alex and Eliza takes place.

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September 1796 Journal des Luxus und der Moden

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Vigee Le Brun- Countess du Barry (1789)

I also thought that “jumper” could be a mistranslation of “jumps”, an unboned bodice worn in an informal setting.

Or it could refer to a bibbed apron

What universe is de la Cruz living in if she thinks that Eliza Schuyler in 1780 would dress like this?

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Alex imagines Eliza wearing an “ivory wedding bonnet.” Wedding bonnets are more of a 19th rather than an 18th-century thing.

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Wedding bonnet-1845

 

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Wedding Bonnet- 1845

Bonnet could refer to the frilly caps which 18th Century women often wore.

This is an example of an outfit that Eliza might have worn to her wedding to Alex. The bergère hat could be the “wedding bonnet” Alex is referring to.

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Wedding Dress of Jane Bailey (1780)

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Wedding dress of Jane Bailey (1780)

At her actual wedding, Eliza is described as wearing a veil. Wedding veils are not usually an 18th Century thing. Typically a cap or hat or a fancy pouf hairstyle with all the trimmings would be worn. The bridal outfit we would recognize wouldn’t come into place until the 19th Century. Queen Victoria is credited with popularizing the white wedding dress.

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Wedding Dress of Queen Victoria (1840)

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Queen Victoria on her Wedding Day (1840)

The color white is associated with purity and virginity so it was an appropriate color for a bride but it would not become the traditional color for wedding dresses until the 19th century. A bride in the 18th Century would have worn her best dress or had a particularly fancy dress made. It would not necessarily be white.  The wartime wedding of Eliza Schuyler, a scion of one of New York’s most prominent families, would not be the high society extravaganza that it would have been during peacetime but Eliza would have wanted to look her best.

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Some of the dresses worn in this story are described as being worn without a corset, especially those worn by the trim figured Peggy or the practical and unpretentious Eliza. An example of this is Eliza’s wedding dress. We have an image of corsets as a rib-crushing, patriarchy induced torture device worn only by the vain and frivolous or the old, overweight, and straight-laced but this is projecting our modern ideas of comfort onto the past. 18th Century women would have worn corsets from childhood and would have been used to it. Instead of warping the torso into an hour-glass shape with an impossibly tiny waist, corsets provide support for the bust and form a shelf from which the skirts hang. A dress worn without a corset would look sloppy and ill-fitting, not how even the tomboyish Eliza would wish to present herself on her wedding day.

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Henry Livingston is described as having muttonchops, which are typically considered an 18th Century style.

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General Ambrose Burnside (19th Century)- the namesake of the “sideburn”

Though we usually think of mutton chops or sideburns as a 19th-century style, it is possible that Henry Livingston would have worn something similar but less elaborate. 18th-century men were typically clean-shaven whereas elaborate facial hair is more of a 19th-century fashion trend.

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The clothing described in the story seems to be a ye olde melange of 18th century, regency, and Victorian.

Despite all of the annoying inaccuracies, Alex and Eliza is enjoyable fluff and I would recommend it for your summer reading.

A Review of The Black Moon and The Four Swans and Poldark Season Three

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I’m awaiting season four of Poldark but it doesn’t look like we’re not going to get it for a while. In between seasons, I like to read the novels in Winston Graham’s Poldark series that the previous season was based on. Season three was based on the books The Black Moon and The Four Swans.

Following Ross Poldark’s one night stand with his former sweetheart, Elizabeth, he tries to patch things up with his wife, Demelza, but stubborn refusal to admit to his failings and the torch he still inexplicably carries for Elizabeth, now remarried to his sworn enemy George Warleggan, prevent them from fulling reconciling. Ross would much rather go on a foolhardy expedition to rescue his friend Dwight Enys, who is imprisoned in Revolutionary France, and bring his cockfight with George Warleggan to the halls of Cornish power. The arrival of Demelza’s two brothers, Sam and Drake,  brings more trouble to the neighborhood. Free-spirited Drake falls for Elizabeth’s bashful cousin Morwenna, who is promised to a sleazy clergyman. Sam, a Methodist preacher, falls for the less than godly Emma Tregirls.

The titled The Black Moon refers to the natural phenomenon under which Valentine, the child that Elizabeth gives birth to eight months after marrying George and nine months after having sex with Ross, is born. Elizabeth’s baby daddy drama permeates these two books. It also is a bad omen for both Valentine and those around him.

Among those rescued from the French revolutionary prison is a handsome young naval lieutenant named Hugh Armitage, who proceeds to romance the long-suffering and long-neglected Demelza, which makes Ross jealous. When Demelza overhears that Ross and Elizabeth shared a kiss, she starts an affair with Hugh. Ross, being a hypocritical eighteenth-century man and an unselfaware blockhead, wonders who she could do this to him. This was the most controversial moment of season three. Some fans argued that Demelza should have been the “better person” and “two wrongs don’t make a right.” but I was glad that Demelza gave her husband a taste of his own medicine.

The Four Swans refers to the four main women in the series: Demelza (Ross’s long-suffering wife), Elizabeth (his lost love), Caroline (Dwight Enys’s wife), and Morwenna ( Drake’s lost love). Demelza struggles with her love for Ross but is seduced by the more romantic and emotionally attentive Hugh. Elizabeth tries to hide the true paternity of her son Valentine. Caroline stumbles in her marriage to the Dwight, who is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Morwenna is who is married off to the repulsive Reverend Osborne Whitworth but continues to pine for Drake.

I enjoyed the books and can’t wait until Poldark season four.

A Review of Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

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One of my favorite people on the planet is the historian, author, and television presenter, Lucy Worsley. I discovered her through the documentaries she has made and I always get excited when I hear that a new one is coming out, especially when the latest one was a tie in film for her latest book Jane Austen at Home.  In her documentaries, Worsley has outed herself as a Jane Austen fangirl. Austen is the poster girl for the Regency era and her books are synonymous with the era. In Jane Austen at Home, Austen is presented as a woman both ahead of her time and of her time. The stories she wrote reflected both her own life and the time period she lived in.  

The biggest paradox of Jane Austen’s life is that this godmother of romance novelists famously died an old maid. We have an image of her handed down to us of a prim spinster but Worsley’s biography tells us that she had a number of opportunities to marry. If Jane had married, the demands of running a household and raising a family may have prevented her from writing. Worsley’s argument is that Jane, independent and introverted, likely never had a serious inclination towards marriage. She was happiest when she was left alone to write, which is something I can relate to.

Worsley infectious enthusiasm for her subjects, which is evident in her documentaries, extends towards her writing. I have a difficulty reading nonfiction prose, finding it dry and boring, but as well as being a terrific television presence is also a great writer. Jane Austen at Home is a must read for those interested in the Regency period and for Jane fans in general.

A Review of The Lost Hero and The Son of Neptune

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***WARNING: SPOILERS***

Rick Riordan begins Heroes of Olympus, the sequel/spin-off series to his bestselling Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, in a way which reminds me of the opening number of the musical Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812: with a sense of outside dread and the absence of the character who would typically be the hero “There’s a war going on somewhere out there, and Andrei isn’t here.”  One could easily replace Andrei Bolkonsky with Percy Jackson, who has been missing for several days prior to the beginning of  The Lost Hero. Back at home, a beautiful young girl waits for our hero to return: “Natasha (Annabeth) is young, she loves Andrei (Percy) with all her heart. While Andrei’s is away fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, Percy’s disappearance may have something to do with the reawakening of the primordial goddess Gaia, whose army of giants poses an even greater threat than Kronos and his Titans.

Into this this hot, mythological mess step three new half-bloods: wise-cracking and machine savvy Leo Valdez, son of Hephaestus,  rebellious and feisty Piper McLean, daughter of Aphrodite, and the mysterious Jason Grace, son of Jupiter, who must battle rogue wind spirits, cyclopses, and giants to rescue Piper’s father and the goddess, Hera, who have been captured by Gaia’s forces and discover how they fit into the Prophecy of the Seven:

“Seven half-bloods shall answer the call,

To storm or fire the world must fall,

An oath to keep with a final breath,

And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death.”

Among the new characters introduced in this book, Leo stands out as a favorite. He is described as a short, scrawny, elvin latino with a huge personality who uses his wisecracks as a way of hiding how he feels like a third wheel who never belongs anywhere. As someone who’s insecurity tells them that people find them annoying and grating, Leo was the most relatable character. Leo is a rare child of Hephaestus with fire powers: “Anatole (Leo) is hot”, which caused his mother’s death when he was little, leading to him being passed from foster home to foster home throughout his childhood. His fire powers make him potentially destructive since the last Hephaestus child born with them was the guy that started the great fire of London. Leo’s chapters are a lot of fun because of his jokes and his backstory and inner struggle make him the most sympathetic of the three main characters.

The character of Piper brings up a number of issues that I have with the book. I get the sense that at Camp-Half Blood, the Aphrodite Cabin is looked down upon. They are mostly concerned with matchmaking and makeovers rather than quests and monster fighting and are seen as shallow and frivolous at best and stuck-up and bitchy at worst. Piper is tomboyish, rejects the trappings of femininity and her movie star father’s wealth, and is the token girl in the questing trio. Therefore she is a rare “good” Aphrodite daughter: “Sonya (Piper) is good.” With Piper, who doesn’t care much about her appearance but is still stunningly beautiful (if only we all could be that lucky) and doesn’t fit the stereotype of a makeup and couture wearing, boy-crazy Aphrodite daughter, Riordan is trying to do the “you’re beautiful without makeup”/ “you don’t have to be what’s expected of you” moral that is common in YA fiction but it’s highly unlikely that he would write about a daughter of Ares who wants to do beauty pageants or a daughter of Hephaestus who wants to be a dancer since traditionally feminine things are silly and degrading while traditionally masculine things are important and empowering. In the book’s defense, the negative traits associated with the Aphrodite children are mostly concentrated in the form of Drew Tanaka, the hyper-girly alpha bitch who is Piper’s antagonistic head counselor and  rival for Jason’s affection (“Hélène (Drew) is a slut) while the other residents of the Aphrodite Cabin are friendly towards Piper. And in the last series we had Silena Beauregard, who was girly and romantic but also kind, selfless, and a good enough fighter to get mistaken for her friend Clarisse La Rue, daughter of Ares and one of Camp Half-Blood’s fiercest warriors. I don’t hate or even dislike Piper but her characterization suffers from being defined more by what she is not (not a typical Aphrodite daughter/ not a typical child of a movie star) rather than what she is.

One interesting thing about Piper is that she is of Cherokee descent and the reader gets to learn about a mythology other than the Greco-Roman one most would be familiar with and which is the basis for both  Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus.

Jason arrives at Camp Half-Blood with no memory of who is he is or where he came from: “and what about Pierre (Jason)?”. He is revealed to be the brother of Thalia Grace, whose mother mated with the king of the Gods in both his Greek (Zeus) and Roman (Jupiter) forms with Thalia and Jason being the result. Jason being sired by the Jupiter form explains why he knows the Gods by their Roman names and understands Latin rather than Greek. Of the three main characters, Jason is the least interesting but he and Leo serve as excellent foils to one another. Jason is handsome, strong, and very attractive to girls while Leo is short, scrawny, and has terrible luck with his crushes. People find Leo annoying and he fears that he is little more than the sidekick/comic relief in the story while Jason is a natural leader and the story’s designated hero. Being noble and heroic, Jason has few other flaws besides the typical stress and uncertainty which a designated hero goes through.

At the end of The Lost Hero, we learn of another camp near San Francisco called Camp Jupiter which is from Roman demigods and is where Jason came from. The Greeks and Romans have an East Coast-West Coast beef with each other going back centuries. Camp Jupiter is where an amnesiac Percy finds himself at the opening of The Son of Neptune.  There he befriends the awkward but noble Frank Zhang (pronounced Jong), son of Mars, and the sweet but troubled Hazel Levesque, daughter of Pluto. Because he is a greek, the leaders of Camp Half-Blood, the fierce and beautiful Reyna and the sniveling and manipulative Octavian, are suspicious of him but send him along with Frank and Hazel on a question to find Thanos, the god of death, in the “land beyond the gods” (Alaska) and battle Gaia’s army of giants.

The difference between Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter is that Camp Half-Blood is more like a summer camp, albeit one where you train to fight monsters, whereas Camp Jupiter is more militaristic with a strict hierarchy and different cohorts. Camp Jupiter is part of New Rome, a beautiful city for Roman demigods where Percy dreams of living with Annabeth (the only name from his past that he remembers.)

Frank and Hazel have some of the most interesting backstories among the new characters. Hazel is a black girl from New Orleans who, like her half-brother Nico Di Angelo, grew up in the 1940s. She died when she was thirteen and was brought back to life due to the disappearance of Thanos. Frank is Chinese, from Canada, and is not only a son of Mars but a descendant of Neptune. They are much more compelling characters than Piper, I’m a rich girl with daddy issues, McLean and Jason, golden boy, grace.

Heroes of Olympus is getting off to a great start. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the books.

 

Clarissa Book 2: The Perfect Guy

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*** WARNING: SPOILERS***

Much of the first two books of the novel Clarissa or the History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson is taken up with letters written between the heroine, Clarissa Harlowe, and her best friend, Anna Howe. The contents of these letters frequently discuss the most complicated and important question that young women in the eighteenth century would have to deal with: who they should they marry?

Clarissa’s main conflict so far has been whether or not she should bow to family’s pressure to marry the rich but repulsive Rodger Solmes or accept the protection of the dashing but rakish Robert Lovelace. Rejecting or accepting suitors is one of the few areas where a gentile young woman like Clarissa had a say in their life and often that was not even the case. Marriages were arranged by your families and dictated by the demands of your position in society with the feelings of those involved given very little consideration. What Clarissa is going through is an extreme example of what many young women in the eighteenth century went through: pressure to marry someone they do not love or even like.  

The central conceits of the story, which Richardson is trying to subvert, are the old adages that all girls want bad boys and a reformed rake makes the best husband. Clarissa insists that she was no particular interest in Lovelace but always comes to his defense when people bad mouth him. This shows the complexity and ambiguity of  Richardson’s writing. Because the story is told through letters, Clarissa and Lovelace’s relationship has a “he said/she said” element to it. Despite her protestations that she is not attracted to Lovelace, we get a sense that she is lying to herself. Lovelace is a man who has seduced and ruined the reputation of many women while Clarissa is a woman of great virtue and integrity. She does not want to admit that she has fallen for Lovelace’s charms. Lovelace uses the implication that her love can reform him to try to woo Clarissa but we can tell that this is only a ploy. Anna Howe is being courted by the respectable and devoted but dull Mr. Hickman who she, proto Jane Austen heroine that she is, enjoys making the victim of her sharp tongue: “If a man is rash enough to woo me, he must take me as I am.”  Hickman is the suitor encouraged by Anna’s mother and he is framed as a good man who would make a good husband. 

Upper Class women like a Anna and Clarissa would never have to work or be able to pursue a career, so choosing a husband would be decision that would define the rest of their lives. Marrying a good man with a comfortable income would lead to a happy and stable life while the opposite could lead to a life of misery. Through the letters written by Anna and Clarissa, Richardson explores what makes a man a good suitor and how a girl should choose who to marry. Should she follow her heart or the demands and expectations of her family? Should she chose someone attractive and exciting like Lovelace or someone respectable and reliable like Hickman.

A Review of The Demigod Files and The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

***WARNING: SPOILERS***

The Demigod Files is a book of short stories which takes place between The Battle of the Labyrinth (the penultimate book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series) and The Last Olympian (the series finale). It contains three different mini adventures that Percy and his friends had between the events of the main story: Percy Jackson and the Stolen Chariot (where Percy teams up with his rival Clarisse, daughter of Ares, to retrieve her father’s missing chariot), Percy Jackson and the Bronze Dragon (where Percy and his capture the flag team take on a threat to Camp Blood), and Percy Jackson and the Sword of Hades (where Percy, Nico, and Thalia are sent on sent on a mission by Persephone to find her husband Hades’s stolen sword).

My favorite was Percy Jackson and the Bronze Dragon. An important part of the story is the budding romance between Charles Beckendorf (son of Hephaestus) and Silena Beauregard (daughter of Aphrodite) which is meant as a foil to that of Percy and Annabeth. Beckendorf and Silena have been crushing on each other for several years and at the end, he finds the courage to ask her out the camp’s Fourth of July fireworks. Beckendorf drops some hints to Percy that Annabeth likes him which Percy, being the seaweed brain that he is, does not quite get. Annabeth asks Percy to the fireworks in passing while gloating that her team beat Percy’s in capture the flag, proving Beckendorf’s point and the point of nearly two decades worth of pop-punk love songs: when girls act bitchy and treat boys like crap, it means that they like them and boys can’t resist girls who are awful to them.

I wasn’t originally going to read The Demigod Files but since I usually do two books in a review and there are only five main books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, so I decided to include this companion piece to make an even number. There is usually a jump of several months to a year between each book and this an interesting way fill in some of the gaps in the story. For example, Percy’s adventure with Persephone and the sword of Hades is mentioned in The Last Olympian.

As the war with Kronos escalates towards its climax, Percy finds time to spend with his friend Rachel, who complains that her father wants her to attend finishing school in the fall. This leads to the main problem I’ve had with Rachel as a character: Just when I start to like her or at least tolerate her, she does something to annoy me. Rachel is an artsy tomboy so finishing school is not her thing but can we as a society realize that the “you don’t have to act like a lady” message no longer applies since nobody is pressuring girls to act like ladies these days. In fact, I would argue the opposite.

Due to the pressure of supposedly being the demigod prophecized to save the world from Kronos, Percy enjoys spending time with Rachel because she allows him to feel like a normal kid for a while. He was he likes Rachel because she is less high maintenance than other girls (e.i. Annabeth).  My reaction was thus:

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When Beckendorf from Percy Jackson and the Bronze Dragon shows up to bring Percy along on another mission, Rachel has the audacity to kiss Percy before he goes. The opening scene of The Last Olympian is found in The Demigod Files as a sneak peek, so I had to suffer through this scene twice.

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my reaction to the Perchel kiss

Beckendorf is killed during the mission, leaving his girl-friend Silena broken-hearted. Despite this tragedy, Camp Half-Blood prepares for its final battle with the forces of Kronos, who are sending the titan Typhon to destroy New York, and try to figure who among them is the spy that is feeding information to their enemies.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is when it goes deeper into the backstory of Nico Di Angelo. He and his sister Bianca are the half-blood children of Hades and Maria Di Angelo, the daughter of an Italian diplomat and grew up around World War II. Because of the two world wars, Zeus decided that half-blood children of the big three gods (Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades) were too powerful and swore off having any more children (Zeus and Poseidon ended up breaking their promise and that’s how Percy and Thalia came about) and that Nico and Bianca should be destroyed. Hades wanted to keep his children safe from both the war and Zeus’s attempts to kill them after their mother was killed in an explosion, and so sent them to live in the Lotus Hotel, where time moves much slower, hence why they’re both children sixty years later.

Hades and Persephone are the closest thing Greek mythology has to a happy and functional couple and are everyone’s mythological OTP,  so it’s disappointing to hear that Hades screws around on Persephone from time to time during the six months of the year that she’s away.

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What I imagine was Hades’s reaction when Persephone confronted him about cheating on her with Maria Di Angelo

Luke, the series’s main antagonist, is slowly being taken over as the host for the resurrected Kronos and is conflicted by the evil that is consuming him. Like with most bad boys, the only thing that can save him is the love of Miss Right. Despite everything, Annabeth has been sticking up for Luke and hoping to save him throughout the series because he was her big brother figure/ crush growing up. She admits to Percy that Luke visited her prior to the events of The Last Olympian and basically asked her to run away with him. I can’t tell what creeps me out more: the fact that Luke is the host for an evil titan or the fact that Luke is about twenty-three while Annabeth is sixteen. Hermes, Luke’s father, blames Annabeth for not “saving” his son. Luke redeems himself in the end by killing himself to prevent Kronos from returning.

Among the other casualties of the final battle is Silena, the bereaved girlfriend of Beckendorf, who is revealed to have been the spy in the half-blood ranks.  She was seduced to the enemy side by Luke. Once Silena started going out with Beckendorf, Luke threatened to hurt him to keep her on his side. Silena also gets a redemption arc; she dies fighting for Camp Half-Blood during the final battle.

But the biggest priority of The Last Olympian: Percy and Annabeth must finally admit their feelings for each other and become a couple. Percy finally realizes that Annabeth loves him when she gets stabbed trying to protect him. As a reward for saving the world, Percy is offered immortality by his father but refuses because he wants to live a normal life (be with Annabeth). Rachel is chosen to become the next Oracle of Delphi which means that she has to remain a virgin, so she is removed as an obstacle. Annabeth is pretty much like:

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The book ends with Percy and Annabeth officially becoming a couple and taking Beckendorf and Silena’s place as the camp sweet-hearts.  I was fangirling so hard that I went and texted my friend Jasmine: “the Percabeth ship has sailed. This is not a drill.”

This will not be the end of my Percy Jackson reviews since I will be reading the sequel series Heros of Olympus next.

A Review of The Titan’s Curse and The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

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Roughly a month in my experience with Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, I can safely say I’m Percy Jackson trash. Lately,  I’ve been in one of those moods where I don’t feel like doing much other than laying in bed, listening to pop music from ten years ago and reading fanfiction on Wattpad and that fanfiction has been exclusively Percy Jackson related. I’ve wasted plenty of time over the past few weeks watching fan videos on Youtube where people chose songs that remind them of the various characters or set clips from the movies to pop music. I’ve been told to stay far away from the film adaptations because they are terrible and from what I’ve  seen in the videos, I imagine that they are each an hour and a half of Logan Lerman and Alexandra Daddario giving each other fuck-me-eyes.

The Titan’s Curse opens with Percy and his true companions Annabeth and Grover, along with their new friend Thalia (the daughter of Zeus who has spent the last two books as a pine tree) rescuing a brother and sister named Bianca and Nico Di Angelo, who are later revealed to the half-blood children of Hades. During this quest, our heroes have a run-in with the forces of  Kronos, the titan who has been amassing an army of monsters and renegade half-bloods throughout the series in order to overthrow the Olympian gods. Percy and Co. are aided in the battle by the goddess Artemis and her band of huntresses but Annabeth is captured by the bad guys and held captive by Luke, the half-blood son of Hermes who has defected to Kronos’s side and serves as Percy’s main enemy.  Later on, word gets to Camp Half-Blood that Artemis has gone missing while hunting a creature prophesied to be powerful enough to bring down the Olympians. Our Heroes, Percy, Thalia, Grover, Bianca, and Artemis’s lieutenant Zoë Nightshade (which is an awesome name by the way) set off to rescue Artemis and Annabeth, our distressed damsels.

I was a bit confused at one point in the story. One of the plot points is that Percy and Co. have to rescue Artemis and Annabeth by winter solstice because that’s when the villains are to perform a sacrifice. At first, I thought that Luke and the other bad guys were going to kill Annabeth as part of a virgin sacrifice. Annabeth’s virginity is brought up at several points in the story. Percy finds out that she is considering joining Artemis’s band of maiden huntresses and he takes it about as well as one would if they heard that their crush might take a vow of chastity. The title The Titan’s Curse refers to how Annabeth is tortured by having to take over Atlas’s burden of holding up the sky which nearly crushes her to death (which is nothing compared to how badly she’s crushing on Percy). Artemis chews Luke out for harming one of the maidens she is supposed to protect (b.t.w I’ve read several fanfics where Annabeth is raped by Luke).  Because it is brought up that Annabeth is a maiden, I got the impression that a virgin sacrifice might be where the story is going but the intended sacrificial victim turns out to be a cute and seemingly harmless sea creature that Percy befriended earlier.

One of the effects that the book had on me is that I now want to visit the Hoover Dam since it is one of the stops that Percy and Co. make on their quest. There’s a running joke about how dam sounds like damn (“I have to go the dam bathroom” and “Let’s go to the dam snack bar and get some dam burritos.”). The Hoover Dam is also where Percy meets Rachel, a girl who can see beyond the “mist” which prevents mortals from being able to see monsters and other mythological stuff and will become more important in later books. We also get to meet Annabeth’s father, Professor Chase, a military history buff (like my own except my dad is into the Civil War while he is into World War I) who gets an awesome scene where he swoops in to the rescue the kids in a World War I Sopwith Camel airplane.

The previously mentioned Rachel returns again at the beginning of The Battle of the Labyrinth, the fourth book in the series when Percy finds out that she is set to attend the same high as him and the two of them take on some epousi cheerleaders. Annabeth is threatened by the presence of Percy’s new artsy, red-headed friend. My feelings about Rachel can be described as this: she seems like a cool person and has an awesome name and I don’t want to hate her but she needs to go away and let Percabeth (my OTP) be together.

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My reaction to Rachel

Kronos’s forces are planning on using Daedalus’s labyrinth to launch a sneak attack on Camp Half-Blood and to have Daedalus build a host body for Kronos. Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Nico (who still has a beef with Percy from when his sister Bianca was killed in the last book) descend into the labyrinth to find Daedalus before Kronos’s cronies can get to him. Among their stops along the way is Hephaestus’s forge (underneath Mount St. Helen’s), where Percy and Annabeth share their first kiss and Percy is shot out of a volcano. He ends up on the island of Ogygia where he is nursed by to help by the nymph Calypso (the brunette Veronica to Annabeth’s blond Betty and Rachel’s redheaded Cheryl Blossom). Like with Odysseus before him, Calypso develops feelings for Percy and offers him immortality if he should stay with her. It is implied that Percy’s sojourn at Ogygia is one of the obstacles that Aphrodite promised that she would put in the way of Percy and Annabeth’s love when she encountered Percy in the last book. But Percy returns to his friends to his their quest. Another of their stops on their trip through the labyrinth is an encounter with the sphinx, which is a hilarious dig at America’s standardized test system.

The Battle of the Labyrinth has a definite environmental message. Grover has been searching for the missing god Pan throughout the past three books. Pan appears towards the end of the book but he is sickly and dying because the wilderness he is supposed to protect is disappearing. When Pan dies, he passes on his spirit to Grover and the rest of the group and gives them the task of protecting what is left of the wild. 

The series is really starting to get juicy and interest and I can’t wait to see what happens next.