Monday, March 16, 2020

Out of Print but Not Forgotten: "Princess Pamela" by Ray Russell

I have a fabulous co-worker (Katherine!) at the library where I work who told me about a book she read years before and that she used to check out of the library, in the town she lived in at the time, and reread every so often. She has pretty similar taste to mine, so, I searched for that book... and found not one copy, but two, so I was able to give her her own copy! That re-readable book is Princess Pamela by Ray Russell.

It is written in the form of a diary, the diary written by the title's namesake, Pamela Summerfield, Princess being her father's pet name for her as she was born on the same day as Princess Victoria. Pamela is a smart and observant diarist. From the very beginning she takes note of all the news and gossip that swirls around her and her well-off family. Her father owns a brewery, her mother keeps their home in order, managing the staff and acting as a hostess for what are called Saturdays at home, a time when certain friends or family are invited to call. She also has a beloved older sister who has married and moved away, and a brother in college studying for "holy orders" as a divinity student being the grandson of a bishop, his mother's father.

Pamela begins  her diary in 1837. It  is filled with the details of her daily life, descriptions of her family and, it is obvious from the reactions of those around her,  that she, herself,  is a lovely young woman of almost 18. She enchants potential suitors with her wit and intelligence, suitors of which we will learn more as we follow her diary through the months and years.

Pamela's voice is captivating and it is remarkable that the actual author of the book is a man who so  believably captured the innermost thoughts, fears and desires of  a young woman.  We, ourselves, are observers to the plights and passions of these characters, especially Pamela's. Her curiosity regarding the details of these passions often leads her to pester her worldly French hairdresser for advice which, at times, she is reluctant to give.

Princess Pamela is also very informative about the social issues and reforms of that time period, taking note of child labor and toxic food additives among the events and occurrences noted, making this a historical novel as well as a "diary". It is a book that certainly deserves to be remembered and one that can be read and re-read to savor all the details. It seems to be out of print, but used copies are available on both Amazon and ebay and well worth the effort of seeking it out.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Worth Every Penny: "The Lady and the Highwayman" by Sarah M. Eden

Elizabeth Black, a charming and beautiful young woman, is Headmistress of a school for girls. She is also the author of Silver Fork novels that appeal to proper society women. On the side, though, she is the secret author of  a Penny Dreadful series. Books that appeal to a much wider, and often lower class audience of readers. She writes these using a male pseudonym, Charles King, and this series is wildly popular.
So popular, that the reigning king of the Penny Dreadfuls, Fletcher Walker, is becoming more than a little alarmed. The reason for this worry is that he and a group of other Penny Dreadful authors belong to a secret society and one that uses its profits to do good. That is, to help those unfortunate urchins who live on the streets of London and face hardships and cruelty at every turn.
How can Fletcher, a former urchin, himself,  and his colleagues, keep the money coming in when  this Mr. King's popularity threatens to siphon off a good deal of that funding?
The hunt is on to find this mysterious Mr. King and find out his intentions. After being introduced to Miss Black at an event, Fletcher decides to enlist her help in finding Mr. King, of course, quite unaware that this enchanting, witty young woman is the very person he is seeking! What a dilemma! Ms. Eden has written a book that is so much fun and filled with such memorable characters, both our protagonists AND the characters they have created, as we also get the works of Mr. King and Mr. Walker interspersed with the stories of their authors.
I absolutely loved this book and these wonderfully appealing characters and their Victorian London milieu. There is romance! Mystery! And urchins! What could be better? Highly recommended for anyone looking for something enjoyably different. Or anyone that loves a good story!

Friday, January 17, 2020

Until Love Blooms Again: "The Stars May Rise and Fall" by Estella Mirai

 Exquisitely written, Ms. Mirai's gorgeous book The Stars May Rise and Fall draws us into the  world of a Japanese Glam/Metal style rock band, playing small clubs, hoping for their next big break.
Teru has been around bands and the drummer for La Rose Verboten for long enough that he has seen younger, newer bands appear and get record deals overnight while they struggle on. Between gigs, Teru works part time in a convenience store to make ends meet and afford his tiny apartment.  One night, he is surprised to find a note in the dressing room while preparing for a show. Someone had left him a card saying "I can help you. Call Me." and a phone number. At first, he thinks it's a prank, maybe one of his band members? None seem to know anything about it. Later, alone in his room, unable to sleep, he keeps thinking of the card. Finally, building up his courage he dials. Then after a couple of rings, he hangs up, feeling uneasy. Not minutes later, it rings. A text appears. "I heard you sing" it says. Teru explains that he is the drummer, he doesn't sing. Then the phone rings again, and a sensual male voice speaks, telling Teru he has a beautiful voice. That he heard him singing in the dressing room. That he can help him become a better singer. He asks Teru to meet with him. At his apartment. He explains it is difficult for him to get out.

Puzzled, Teru agrees, and a couple of days later he finds himself outside the apartment of the man who was going to change his life in more ways than he expects. This man, Rei, appears to be handicapped. He wears a silver mask covering one side of his face, the other side is beautiful. He also wears a blue wig. He has other physical disabilities, but they don't diminish his talent. He tells Teru he is writing the band's new break-out single.

From this first meeting, The Stars May Rise and Fall becomes a dreamy, swoony love story. A story, not just of Teru's blossoming, all encompassing love for  Rei, but about Rei's past, and his lost love and the hopeful love of a young woman for Teru.  It is a story of heartbreak, and persevering in spite of it. And all around are the clubs, and bands and the fans who can help make or break a band.

Partly, this is a very different retelling of Phantom of the Opera, and it successfully gives us the broken yet brilliant Phantom figure in Rei. This is a book that will stay with you long after you finish. The characters are so real you can hear their music as you read the words. Teru and Rei's love story, too, is one that will resonate with you. What happens between these two and the others in the band and on the sidelines is something you will need to discover for yourself . Available in print and as an ebook. I loved this one so much, I bought both!