Monday, November 24, 2008

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

Anyone who's past their teenage years can identify with and remember the feeling that comes with first love. It overwhelms you just when your romantic dreams are most active and your hormones are least able to handle it. And you remember it for the rest of your life. Your mortal life, that is.

It was in this frame of mind that I picked up my daughter's copy of Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer.  The story of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, on the surface, is just such a story about teenage love.  However, it takes about two minutes to realize that there is something very different about the Cullen kids. Putting aside their alabaster skin, graceful poise, perfect hair and strangely colored eyes that can be a walking advertisement for Freshlook Colorblends contacts, they are normal seventeen year old teens.  Not convinced? You shouldn't be. Something very strange is lurking in Forks, Washington, and it's centered on the Cullen family.

Bella is a pretty  teenager prone to some awkward occurrences, like hitting classmates with badminton rackets and tripping over her own feet. She  comes to live with her father, Charlie, the Chief of Police, in Forks, where the perennial gray skies and rain  make the town an attractive spot for the local undead. Bella is irresistibly drawn to Edward Cullen,  another Forks teenager  (on the surface). It's her deep attraction to him and his to her, that gets them into trouble. And then miraculously, gets them out of it.

What drew me into this story and had me finishing it in two days, which is unusual for me as I usually do not read anything that even hints of horror, is the author's way of handling Edward's "affliction."  He seems almost normal, although highly sensitive,  for a seventeen year old who has lived eighty some odd years and has to quench his occasional "thirst" on some very interesting liquid.  He's kind, he's loving and affectionate and he loves Bella with all his heart, and will do anything to protect her, as will the rest of his adopted undead family. It's so endearing that you may actually forget the  premise of the book. Briefly.  After all, who wouldn't want to be loved like that? At any age??  Bella's casual acceptance of who or what Edward is and her willingness to be with him despite the fact her very life is dependent on his self control, adds to the appeal and the suspense There are other forces that these two need to be wary of. Edward is the least of Bella's concerns, and she tries many times to assure him that she knows he would never hurt her.

I loved this book. It wasn't the vampire elements (although the author managed to make even the lessons in vampire lore very interesting)  that got me. It was the innocence of first love between Bella and Edward.  That, combined with what Edward is, made this a page turner. I recommend this one and will be reading the sequels, as soon as I put a bandaid over the marks on my neck.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Duchess by Night, by Eloisa James

night_144 The Desperate Duchesses series continues with Duchess by Night, the story of Harriet, the widowed Duchess of Berrow. When I started this series, I was sucked in by Jemma, the Duchess of Beaumont and her story, but James has never seemed to get around to the most intriguing Duchess. However, Harriet doesn't disappoint by any means.

Harriet has a long and complicated back story, including the suicide of her husband, Benjamin, the Duke of Berrow, over a lost game of chess. Throughout the Duchess series, chess is a continual theme, but not so much in this installment. Harriet has made herself into a dowdy widow at only 27, and she is convinced there is no happiness left in her life, and her only distraction is helping preside over the local court while the judge drinks himself into a drunken stupor. Harriet realizes she needs some excitement in her life, so along with Isidore, the Duchess of Cosway, and the Duke of Villiers, she joins them at a house party given by the scandalous Lord Strange....dressed as a man!

Lord Strange is literally the richest man in England, and holds continuous house parties where actors, actresses, dancers and singers from his Covent Garden theater come to practice their shows, along with some other entertainments. In the midst of all this, Lord Strange is raising his highly intelligent daughter, Eugenia, while hosting scholars and the kingdom's most powerful politicians.  Lord Strange is....well, strange.  He his fascinated with engineering and has a replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa attached to his house.  As a favor to the Duke of Villiers, he agrees to take "Harry" under his wing and teach him how to be a man, despite is weird attraction to the "boy" and his feminine looks.  His lessons include riding very early in the morning, rare beef and beer for breakfast, and fencing lessons afterwards.  Needless to say, a duchess is not used to such activity, and poor Harriet does her best to keep up, while finding a freedom she has never known before, and has always desired.  Strange does figure out she is a woman, beginning an affair that painfully ends when Strange learns she is a duchess, and believes she is toying with him, as aristocrats sometimes do with the lesser classes.  All ends well, don't worry, but I won't go into detail here.

While not my favorite Duchess book, this one does have its moments.  Harriet's transformation into a confident woman is funny and sad at times, and Lord Strange's change from eccentric to responsible father is touching as well.  This is a light-hearted book, and a nice, quick read.

If you are interested in the Duchess series, the next installment, When the Duke Returns, hits stores November 25.