Books to Check Out: My Perfect Mistress by Carly Quinn

My Perfect Mistress (An Erotic Short Story) is Carly Quinn’s debut short story about a young woman named Zoe.  Between her divorce, the death of a parent, and the quick remarriage of the surviving parent, she’s having a heck of a tough year and needs to blow off some steam.  When her best friend suggests she go online and explore some alternative lifestyle websites, she figures she’s got nothing to lose if she’s just looking, right?

Right.

So she sets out to look for a Dom of her own to teach her the ropes, but what she finds is someone she never expects – Chase, the perfect man who’s looking for the perfect Mistress.  What follows are their online exchanges, from tentative hello’s and even a bit of storytelling on her end as she explores that power exchange a little bit more, and what follows next is, of course, the meeting.

Is she a Mistress or Domme as he tells her she really is?  Or are they both really just exploring the lifestyle together, fumbling towards a dynamic that would closely resemble D/s while getting to know each other, or are they serving as each other’s distractions?

Her Perfect Mistress is free to read on Kindle Unlimited.

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Review: Clean Break by Abby Vegas

Title: Clean Break
Author: Abby Vegas
Genre: Chick Lit

I enjoyed following Lane Haviland’s adventures – or is it misadventures – after she moves to Brooklyn thinking she’s sharing a nice apartment with a balcony only to find out she’s been scammed.  So after a quick visit to the police precinct to pour out her sob story and some unenthusiastic help from a chain smoking apartment manager, she ends up in a 6×9 basement room with a Manny Pacquiao poster that thankfully doesn’t hide a blood stain.   With new digs nailed down, she just needs a new job and she finds one as a personal assistant to a neurotic Manhattan housewife.

Lane’s got some issues with her past and though I wish this was explored more, it’s her personality that shines through for me in the book and the way she deals with every obstacle thrown her way.  When the love interest reveals himself, it comes in the form of a mysterious Russian handyman named Viktor who shows his heart underneath all that nasty scar and tattoos.  But there’s trouble brewing on the horizon and short of revealing too much  about what happens next, it kept my attention all the way through the end.  One thing I did wish was for the relationship between Lane and Viktor to be explored a bit more towards the end.

Overall, it’s a strong debut novel, and I can’t wait to read more of her work.

CB

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About the Author

Abby Vegas loves reading and writing books that feature feisty, flawed heroines. She grew up in New York City and lives in Connecticut. Visit her on the web at AbbyVegasAuthor.com.

 

Book Blast and Review: Drop Dead Handsome by M.K. Scott

Dilapidated Victorian house appears "haunted"

Drop Dead Handsome

M.K. Scott

Genre: Cozy Mystery

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REVIEW

The Painted Lady Inn is open for business and limping along in the B and B world. A high school reunion package assembles Donna’s least desirable classmates, including the backstabbing cheerleader, her narcissistic high school crush, and Arnie, whose cheesy poem had everyone calling her, hot mama. It’s all something she liked to forget. These are the normal guests.

An octogenarian self-proclaimed sleuth, Father Christmas, a dognapping couple, and a pair who is copying everything in the Inn to set up their own competitive establishment rounds out the group. Maria, the sister-in-law, has a matchmaking agenda for Donna. Daniel, her brother, finds himself serving as a referee with one guest’s multiple wives.

High school reunions can be murder. Detective Mark Taber is on the trail of the murderer, when he isn’t interfering in a smitten Arnie’s determined bid to woo the no nonsense innkeeper.

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Excerpt

By the time, she had the salts swept up and the broom stowed, Terri arrived. The woman swept in with the same arrogance Cleopatra must have shown entering Rome. A disdainful head tilt announced she’d been in grander accommodations. No mistaking the woman, she looked the same, only tighter as if her skin had shrunk, making her face all angles without any soft curves.

“Hello, Gentry, Terri, I have a reservation.”

Donna repressed an urge to remark that her presence made a reservation self-evident. “Yes, you do. Welcome to The Painted Lady Inn. Here’s your gift basket.” She pushed the remaining basket in Terri’s direction.

The woman pawed through the contents as her lips pulled down in a frown. “The bath salts that were advertised on the website ad are missing.”

Before she could answer, Terri continued.

“No way, I can carry it and my luggage upstairs. I guess it’s too much to expect a backwater establishment like this would have an elevator?” Her sneer announced she already knew the answer.

“Here at The Painted Lady Inn, we strive for authenticity.” It seemed a better answer than no, we don’t have an elevator.

Terri raised both eyebrows as she stared down at Donna, who had picked up both the woman’s suitcase and basket. Normally, the woman wouldn’t have anything on her height wise, but with her hunched over like Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame, she was at a disadvantage.

What did she have in the suitcase? Bricks? She stood, straightening her back and retaining as much dignity as possible. “You’re in B2.”

“Hmm. Should I assume there’s no running water?”

Count to ten. She inhaled deeply. While she didn’t think it was possible, the woman had grown even more malicious with age. “Excuse me?” Maybe she hadn’t heard right.

“If you’re trying to return to Victorian times, then they wouldn’t have running water.”

About the Authors

MediaKit_AuthorPhoto_DropDeadHandsomeM. K. Scott is the husband and wife writing team behind The Painted Lady Inn Mysteries. Morgan K Wyatt is the general wordsmith, while her husband, Scott, is the grammar hammer and physics specialist. He uses his engineering skills to explain how fast a body falls when pushed over a cliff and various other felonious activities. The Internet and experts in the field provide forensic information, while the recipes and B and B details require a more hands on approach. Morgan’s daughter who manages a hotel provides guest horror stories to fuel the plot lines. The couple’s dog, Chance, is the inspiration behind Jasper, Donna’s dog. Murder Mansion is the first book in The Painted Lady Inn Mysteries. Overall, it is a fun series to create and read. Drop Dead Handsome is the second book in the series. Killer Review should be out in October 2016.

Social Media

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http://www.morgankwyatt.com/

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https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5826299.Morgan_K_Wyatt

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http://www.pinterest.com/morgankwyatt/

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http://www.tsu.co/MorganKWyatt

Buy Links

Amazon US 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01EQML0RO

Amazon UK 
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01EQML0RO

Amazon Canada 
https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B01EQML0RO

Amazon Australia 
https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B01EQML0RO

Amazon Mexico 
https://www.amazon.com.mx/dp/B01EQML0RO

Smashwords 
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/639885

Forthcoming on KOBO, iTunes & Barnes and Noble

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Book Review: Stuck-Up Suit by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward

stuckupsuit-smallTitle: Stuck-Up Suit
Authors: Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward
Model: Dusan Susnjar
Photographer: Tijana Vukovic

Shh…I bought this book for the cover (hence the credit for the model and photographer).  It was the fastest one-click I’d ever done, and I don’t regret it one bit.  The cover model is Dusan Susnjar and the moment you open the book and read about Soraya Venedetta’s morning on the train to Manhattan where she spots Mr. Stuck-Up Suit barking on his phone like he’s a god, you know Dusan couldn’t be any more perfect as Stuck-Up Suit or MBP (another nickname Soraya gives him) himself, Graham Morgan.

Soraya is a girl after my own heart, an Italian-American Brooklynite, who commutes to Manhattan everyday where she works for an advice column, Dear Ida.  She’s snarky, and she’s brash.  She doesn’t sugar-coat things, which is what Graham needs to snap him out of his self-important funk when she returns the phone he dropped on the subway.  For a man in charge of investment portfolios of the uber-rich, that he doesn’t even have a password for his phone was so unprofessional, but hey, what better way for Soraya to be able to look through his pictures to learn more about him before she returns his phone?  They actually don’t meet because Graham doesn’t think she’s worth seeing until he reads the text message she leaves him and it hits him where it hurts.

And suddenly the chase is on.

hard-teaser

Graham lives up to his nicknames, Stuck-Up Suit being the main one, and there were others like MBP (you’ll have to find that one out), although Poopface in Manhattan sticks with me right now.  He’s arrogant as heck and has built such a wall around him after weathering some major personal storms, but it’s no excuse for how he treats the people around him.  Underneath the tough exterior is a man-boy in a way, with some cute quirks that foreshadow one big twist that comes up.  And did I say that Dusan is the perfect Graham Morgan?  I totally get how these book conventions totally work when the cover models show up alongside the authors.  They f-sell books!

feel-this-way-teaser

What follows is a smart and witty and sexy banter between the two and I was rooting for them all the way, although by the time they end up in bed way before the 50% mark, I knew something was coming to tear them apart.  And boy, did they come, and some of them I spotted a mile away.  But I’m Team Graham Cracker all the way so I’ll go along with them.  I wish there was a bit more depth to some of the characters, especially the ex but there wasn’t and it baffled me to see the wealthy depicted the way they were-shallow all the way.  Except for the new Graham, of course, because Soraya has long p-whipped him back down to earth.

One of the things I loved about Stuck-Up Suit is the setting which is the very best city in the world (to me), New York.  And not just the Manhattan part of New York, but Brooklyn, too, and Queens.  There’s a bit of the Hamptons, but it’s been sanitized to look too perfect and shallow that I didn’t care.  If you pay attention, you’ll even know how to get to the East River from the 1 Train in case you need to toss some guy’s phone away.

My rating:  5 stars all the way

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Just adding it here…for reasons

Book Review: Baby For Keeps by Janice Maynard

Baby for Keeps (Kavanaghs of Silver Glen #2)Baby for Keeps by Janice Maynard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading way too many gritty and raunchy “romances,” I was in dire need of a change of pace, and so I set my sights to the tried and true romances of my teen years.  Yup! Harlequin!

I haven’t read Harlequin romances in a while, especially anything that featured babies, so this was my first.  I always thought babies were such a buzzkill to old fashioned romance, but I was wrong. So wrong. I mean, have you seen the baby on the cover?! Cuteness overload!

The guy is cute, too…

Baby for Keeps is about two people who first met in high school – she’s the awkward genius who skipped 2 grades and he’s the jock who needed tutoring so he could measure up to his family’s expectations – and they reconnect years later. He did steal a kiss from her once, and she hasn’t forgotten it.

Dylan Kavanagh comes from old money, and he owns a bar in a small town called Silver Glenn. Now single, he was once engaged to a Hollywood actress who fled the small town the moment the perfect role came along and he kinda is still recovering, mostly because you can’t hide much in a small town. Mia Larin is a researcher who thought she needed to heed the tick-tock of her biological clock before it was too late, and so she has a baby using a sperm donor, only to find out three months later that the grant funding her project fizzled and now she’s without a job. Broke and without any job prospects, at least not with a three-month old baby in tow and no childcare options, she sets out to Silver Glenn to see how Dylan is faring. I have no idea why really, since they haven’t seen or been in contact for years, but for now, I’ll go along with that premise.

That she brings a baby into a saloon was a surprise, but I’ll go along with that, too. Dylan sees her, sparks fly, he offers her a temporary job since his bookkeeper just bailed out on him. She can even stay in the apartment upstairs while she’s working and sending out her own resumes. Then the saloon conveniently burns down – and he offers his own guest room in his mansion as the substitute living arrangement. Of course, more sparks fly, there’s sex and more sex, and the baby is always asleep in the other room, and the perceived hangups of their past rear their ugly heads – he thinks she’s too smart for him and that the small town is no place for a genius who can find better opportunities in the big city, while she’s thinking, hmm, this arrangement’s not too shabby, and he really should stop thinking I’m way too smart. This is exactly why I picked an average man’s sperm, for crying out loud.

I took 1 star off because the ending just seemed rushed. There’s a mention of post-partum depression but that is never addressed on how she dealt with it (because we know that can be serious but I know, I know…this is a romance, but still…), and I just wished Mia had more sense about her to fight for what she wanted instead of acquiescing a lot to what he wanted. Otherwise, I’ll definitely be reading more of Maynard’s books, and at the moment, I think I have 3 more babies and billionaire stories to go in the box set.

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Book Review: The Sun and The Moon by Leslie McAdam

27206334She follows all the rules.

He’s going to teach her how to break them.

After a heartbreaking tragedy, successful attorney Amelia Crowley has numbed herself to the pleasures of life, clinging to a specific set of rules, finding strength in order and organization. When she meets easy going surfer Ryan Fielding, that organized life is turned upside down by a sea of washboard abs and sun-kissed hair.

Sexy and charismatic, Ryan looks for pleasure however he can find it in an effort to silence his own inner demons. Until Amelia crashed into his life the only thing he chased was the next wave. Refusing to break their connection and determined to break through her carefully crafted walls, Ryan sets out to throw out every rule in her book and show Amelia that pleasure can’t be planned.

Can Amelia let Ryan take the lead or will she cling to her rules and wipe out their chance at love?

Oh my. What can I say? I need a Ryan to break all my rules – which means I’ll need to make some rules first for him to break. But really, The Sun and the Moon is Leslie McAdam’s debut novel and it hits it out of the ballpark. It’s a refreshing take on a protagonist, Amelia, who’s proactive about her recovery from depression and willing to explore her biases regarding a few things, especially sex. She comes with a set of rules like only dial M for missionary and no guy ever spends the night. But the moment she meets surfer god Ryan, forget the rules because they’re there for the breaking – but with her full participation, no less.

I first read The Sun and The Moon on Wattpad and even then, I always thought Leslie’s writing as courageous and wickedly smart. She’s that rare writer who reminds me of a free spirit driving down the Santa Barbara coastline with the top down and the wind whipping through her hair. No holds barred courageous writing (hey, at least for me), sweet and oh-so-smart and sensitive characters destined to take you through a rollercoaster of emotions and a whole lot of naughty. So take that ride with Amelia and Ryan. You won’t regret it.

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Book Review: My Perfect Mistress by Carly Quinn

MistressMy Perfect Mistress (An Erotic Short Story) is Carly Quinn’s debut novelette about a young woman named Zoe.  Between her divorce, the death of a parent, and the quick remarriage of the surviving parent, she’s having a heck of a tough year and she needs to blow off some steam.  When her best friend suggests she go online and explore some alternative-lifestyle websites, she figures she’s got nothing to lose if she’s just looking, right?

Well, kinda.

When she sets out to look for a Dom of her own to teach her the ropes, what she finds is someone she never expects – the perfect man who’s looking for a Mistress.  What follows are their online exchanges, from tentative hello’s and even a bit of storytelling on her end, though what follows next is for you to find out, and I hope you do.

What surprised me first about My Perfect Mistress – right off the bat – is the cover.  It’s not your usual waif-like figured woman and her hunky man.  She’s a BBW and damn proud of it, too – which is a good thing and something I’d like to see more of.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Book Review: Under the Skin by Michel Faber

Under the SkinUnder the Skin by Michel Faber

I read this after seeing the movie, Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson, and it totally makes sense why Jonathan Glazer didn’t go with the first two screenplays which I heard were based closer to the book. I prefer his 2014 version better though it’s loosely based on Michel Faber’s book at this point, but definitely is much more effective onscreen, while Faber’s novel is perfect as a novel.

The protagonist, Isserley, is such an interesting character and the whole novel is such a trip I can’t even begin to process the emotions I went through reading the whole thing. She’s been altered in her home planet to look like a human, parts of her amputated, new things added in and yet even with all that, which is accompanied by constant pain in her present altered body, she doesn’t exactly belong on Earth, just as she no longer belongs to her home planet. She’s been sent here with a job to do and it made me wonder if there are other ‘processing’ plants or farms elsewhere in the world – if so, we’d really be in trouble.

Her plan so far is simple, and she’s been doing it for some time. She picks up male hitchers along the A9 in Scotland – and boy there are many of them! – but she makes sure to take only the ones without connections to anyone, no family, no kids or girlfriend, or anyone who’ll miss them. Then when she’s sure, she then flips that switch which paralyzes them and hurries to the farm so they get processed (I probably skimmed through these parts and all parts in the processing plant and will probably be a vegetarian pretty soon) and then after a rest, she heads out to do it all over again.

This was certainly a very disturbing book to me, with an ending that left me conflicted and wishing for a Hollywood touch (a happily ever after).  I’d like to think there is one, at least in my head, though for the book Faber’s version of the ending is perfect.

One thing I learned with this book (besides going vegetarian) is that I will never hitchhike.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

Book Review: Killarney Blues by Colin O’Sullivan

The sun on the lake sparkles. Only a laden, dark cloud in the distance has the audacity to ruin the perfect picture. Bernard has one eye on it, knows how things loom, how those clouds can hover, then open and pour, drench, saturate. But not yet. There’s a few more hours of this brightness, and he’s intent on enjoying it.

He’s very happy to be sitting out in it with this pretty American by his side: Laura. Laura from Texas. Blue-eyed. Bouncy. Beautiful. They both sit on the edge of the main pier and stare out at the lake, the sound of gentle lapping under their feet. It’s almost idyllic. So many scenes like this can be found in spots all over Killarney. Some famous, well-trodden places. Some hidden treasures that await discovery.

This is just one of the frequented runs, but yes, it is, for the most part, an almost-idyll. Perhaps he would take away the fishermen in boats to make the picture perfect; bit of Photoshop here, airbrush there, erase that black cloud for a start. Then it would be just right, perhaps. Bernard would be happy to sit forever like this. Just gazing out. Of course, if the picture is to be absolutely perfect then he’d have to substitute Marian for Laura. Then it would indeed be an ideal. Too many adjustments? Is this the way it is to be with him? Always too many adjustments?

via Excerpt: Killarney Blues | Betimes Books.

Killarney Blues was a quick read for me – quick because I wanted to keep on reading till the very last page – all in one sitting if I could have.  I read it in one day, and I loved it.

In Killarney Blues, the county of Killarney, in Irish Cill Airne, meaning “church of sloes”, is in County Kerry, in southwestern Ireland.  A popular tourist destination boasting more hotels and hostels than any other county outside of Dublin, it is by the northeastern border of Lough Leane (Loch Léin, meaning “lake of learning”), and is by itself a character in O’Sullivan’s tale about the lives of two friends, Bernard Dunphy and Jack Moriarty, and the different paths their lives have taken since one fateful day in the past – a day whose memories lie hidden beneath all the layers they’ve since put over whatever innocence they both lost.

billy-tBernard is a jarvey, a driver of a jaunting car popular with the tourists who come to Killarney each year, pulled by an old and ill horse named Ninny.  Bernard is considered weird by the townsfolk because he’s slow, and keeps to himself most, if not all of the time.  He is coddled by his mother, Brigid, who still makes him huge sandwiches and even tidies his room though Bernard is already thirty years old.   They only have each other, ever since John Dunphy, Bernard’s father, drowned in the lake when Bernard was only six or seven, a strange thing since John was known to be an expert fisherman.

Bernard is obsessed with the blues, playing them on  his guitar and recording himself on CD’s that he gives to his childhood friend Jack and the love of his life, Marian, even though Marian has asked him not to give her anymore.  She accepts them though, and even plays them when she’s alone, for her two friends, Cathy and Mags sure give her a hard time for tolerating the poor man’s attentions.  Bernard loves blues so much that even when Marian’s cousin gives him a nasty beating outside the pub one night, all Bernard worries about are not exactly if he’s all in one piece, but mostly whether his hearing is still intact, and his fingers aren’t broken.  Because how can one sing and play the blues if one can’t hear it or play it?

And then there’s footballer Jack (to us Americans, this would be soccer though), handsome and easygoing, with an undercurrent of danger lurking beneath the exterior.  There’s a rage in Jack that attracts people to him, especially the ladies.  Perfect for football, unless they pull the red flag on you and ban you from the game for life.

Even though he’s kinda got a main girl, nothing stops him from bedding a pretty tourist now and then.  It’s the thrill of the chase that Jack likes, the conquest afterwards, before life goes on as usual, and he’s back at work at the garage, or on the field with his mates for another game, or to the pub drinking and hunting again.

There’s a heavy undercurrent of sadness in Killarney Blues, and a lot of secrets.  Sad secrets.  It surrounds every character like the fog that comes down before the dawn, before or after the rain.  Even when the sun shines on a couple rare days on Killarney, and there’s not a cloud in the sky, there’s the thought of impending rain that’s sure to come, just like the thought of a menace that’s fast approaching and there’s nothing anyone can do to avoid it.  It’s a story about how one man’s actions steer the course of so many people in so many different directions, splits friendships and cleaves into the core of a boy’s innocence, planting a seed of darkness that simply awaits a sunny day to give it the energy it needs to sprout and bloom.

But don’t get me wrong about Killarney Blues. This isn’t a sad book, not by a long shot.  There’s  a great sense of hope within the pages, and each character comes to life under O’Sullivan’s pen.  His words swagger with purpose, never meandering too long on a scene, always moving the story forward, even when it goes back in time, like a faded photograph coming into view.  Lyrical to a point, one word flowing to the next, hardly stopping.  I read this novel and saw a movie in my mind – that’s how each page appeared to me – and that’s a good thing.

This story reminded me of a beautiful vase, now shattered to pieces on the floor.  But with each piece picked up and glued back into place, a narrative came into being, with each piece representing a character, beautifully written with all their flaws and realism, broken by their own imperfections and weaknesses.  But most of all, the dropping of the vase, once beautiful, representing by the act of a man, long gone, though his actions reverberate through the years, waiting, waiting for those sunny days in Killarney, when the sun finally gets to shine on that long buried seed, giving it the energy it needs to bloom – for good, and for evil.

Killarney Blues is written by Colin O’Sullivan and published by Betimes Books.  You can purchase your Kindle or paperback copy from Amazon.

Play Review: Slowgirl

 

1375916416_SlowgirlThere’s something about watching two actors onstage with minimal set design that makes one sit up and listen – really listen to what they are saying, as layers upon layers of mistakes and regrets are peeled one after another off a broken man’s back by his brash 17-year old niece. In my case, at least, it also made me realize just how much I have missed watching such riveting performances and just how much I love them.

Slowgirl is a 2-actor play that’s set in the Costa Rican jungle, where parrot calls, cricket songs and the scratching of the iguanas upon the tin roof are broken by the unabashed words of a 17-year old to an uncle she hasn’t seen since she was seven  years old.  When the play opens, we see Sterling, played by William Petersen (Gil Grissom of CSI) fixing a stack of books  in his little casa set in the Costa Rican jungle.  There really isn’t much to do here, and we see that as Sterling picks out a book to read, settles carefully into his hammock and reads till he falls asleep.  I bet that’s how his life is like every day – when Sunday just seems like a Monday and Monday seems like a Tuesday, and so on…

When Rae Gray’s Becky arrives, she startles her uncle awake and from here on, you see that this girl is a motormouth – go, go, go with her mouth, and now and then, she’ll even throw in a word or two that jars you back to reality and makes you wonder if 17-year old kids really do talk like this (they do).  In my case and at least for my companion, it was always a sexually related word, and maybe it was hearing it being spoken from a 17-year old character that made some people in the audience flinch a little, but I found it refreshing to hear it uttered in a play – plus it proved to be a ‘tell’ for her vulnerability (at least to me).

Rae-Gray-and-William-Petersen-in-Slowgirl-Steppenwolf-Theatre

Becky, we find out, has been sent to Costa Rica by her mother, Sterling’s sister, even though she really shouldn’t be out of the country because of a harrowing accident that’s currently under investigation for.  With her own father unable to look at her at the dinner table and a mother used to avoiding conflicts by simply, well, avoiding them, Becky now is in the hands of her uncle who has, it seems, fled the United States after his own set of seemingly-unfortunate events, and who has been living in the Costa Rican jungle for the last ten years, building trails and walking his hill-top labyrinth when he’s not reading books while swinging on his hammock.

Throughout the play, we see the characters slowly go through their individual journeys – though the journey that really matters here is Sterling’s.  For while Becky’s journey has just begun, Sterling seems to have surrendered to the notion that he will probably die in this tropical paradise, away from the only family he has, and even friends – by choice.  But is that a life worth living really, when everything else outside of you has just about gone to hell in a hand basket – where a young girl who has waited for him to come through with an empty promise seven years earlier is in dire need of a friend, and an ally?

Written by Greg Pierce, nephew of David Hyde Pierce, and directed by Randall Arney, Slowgirl stars William Petersen and Rae Gray, and is currently playing at the Geffen Playhouse till April 27.

Putting Slowgirl together with William Petersen and Rae Gray

More Than A Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and SouthNorth and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been languishing in my Goodreads queue for over a year, waiting for me to finally sit down and write a review.  Forgive  me though, if my memory is hazy, as I’ve read other books since finishing this one.  However, I am due for a re-read, and a chapter by chapter low-down on my blog (that would be the plan at least).  After I read this book, I did research Elizabeth Gaskell’s life and biography and wrote about it here.  It explains just why I love North and South so much, for she wrote what she knew, and most of all, she wrote of a world I am more familiar with than with any other classic.

North and South was serialized in the weekly literary magazine, Household Words, which was edited by Charles Dickens in the 1850’s.  The book begins with this brief introduction (from Project Gutenberg, where you can read the book for free):

First published in serial form in _Household Words_ in 1854-1855 and in volume form in 1855.

On its appearance in ‘Household Words,’ this tale was obliged to conform to the conditions imposed by the requirements of a weekly publication, and likewise to confine itself within certain advertised limits, in order that faith might be kept with the public. Although these conditions were made as light as they well could be, the author found it impossible to develope the story in the manner originally intended, and, more especially, was compelled to hurry on events with an improbable rapidity towards the close. In some degree to remedy this obvious defect, various short passages have been inserted, and several new chapters added. With this brief explanation, the tale is commended to the kindness of the reader;

‘Beseking hym lowly, of mercy and pite,
Of its rude makyng to have compassion.’

Given the editorial limitations placed upon her by Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell was still able to depict raw emotions between two much-loved protagonists amidst the harsh backdrop of industrial England. It was a world that Gaskell knew by heart, and  in North and South, she depicts both sides of that world from the view of someone who’s lived there – from the “masters” who owned the mills in Milton, to the workers who had to work 12 hour days just to get by, and from the newcomer to the North, used to London society as well as the tranquility of the English countryside of Helstone, where her father worked as the minister.

One of the things that struck me is that children as young as five had to work at this time (maybe not depicted specifically in the book, but the character of Bessy Higgins, at nineteen, seems so old because of the work she’s had to do since she was a child).  Equally hard to imagine is that children worked up to 12 hours a day alongside the adults, and even with reforms, their work hours were reduced to eight hours. Eight hours!

Although hours varied from trade to trade and family to family, children usually worked twelve hours per day with time out for meals and tea. These hours, moreover, were not regular over the year or consistent from day-to-day. The weather and family events affected the number of hours in a month children worked. This form of child labor was not viewed by society as cruel or abusive but was accepted as necessary for the survival of the family and development of the child.

….Charles Dickens called these places of work the “dark satanic mills” and E. P. Thompson described them as “places of sexual license, foul language, cruelty, violent accidents, and alien manners”.

– Via Child Labor During the British Industrial Revolution, EH.net

Just as Jane Austen wrote about the world she knew, Gaskell wrote about industrial England because she bore witness to the struggles of the poor working class whom her husband, a Unitarian minister, served.  Mary Barton, which was also titled A Tale of Manchester Life, was Gaskell’s first novel, and in it, she tells the story of the difficulties faced by a family of the Victorian lower class.

‘I had always felt a deep sympathy with the care-worn men, who looked as if doomed to struggle through their lives in strange alternations between work and want[…] The more I reflected on this unhappy state of things between those so bound to each other by common interests, as the employers and the employed must ever be, the more anxious I became to give some utterance to the agony which from time to time convulsed this dumb people.’

– Gaskell, ELizabeth. ‘Preface.’ Mary Barton. London: Chapman and Hall, 1850. v-vii.

In North and South, we learn about two stubborn characters from both sides – the naive yet headstrong Margaret Hale, daughter of an ex-parson turned private tutor who has spent at least ten years living in London’s high society with her wealthy aunt Shaw, and John Thornton, master of Malbrough Mills, a self-made man who earns the ire of Margaret because of who and what he is – basically an industrialist, nouveau riche, if you will – and of his views on industrialization and its benefits to the world – and his initial view of those who find themselves in poverty. Through their attraction for each other, they learn of the others’ struggles, especially of the poor working class as depicted by Higgins and his family – and Boucher – as well as their struggles further exacerbated by the workers’ strike over higher wages.

NandSPromo-41

I saw Thornton as a man riding the wave of modernization that hit England at the time, yet able to see beyond the bottom line as best he could, even investing in expensive machinery to benefit his workers, while Margaret was just a tad too sheltered and idealistic with her views.

Having lived with the Shaws in London, and the quaint town of Helstone with her parents, one can’t really blame Margaret for seeing life through rose-colored glasses in the beginning.  It is through her naivete that gives us, the reader, a chance to learn more about industrialized England through her eyes, from the fluff that clogs the lungs of many workers, including Bessy Higgins, who suffers from consumption or ‘waste’ as Bessy calls it, to Margaret’s assumption that the “lead-coloured cloud hanging over the horizon” signified rain when it was actually “unparliamentary smoke” from the mills’ chimneys.

But they both redeem themselves quite well throughout the book as they both fall in love with each other, and learn of the world that they once viewed so differently.  I love the passages that Gaskell writes to illustrate John’s love for Margaret, beginning with his observation of her bracelet falling down her wrist,

Mr. Thornton watched the replacing of this troublesome ornament with far more attention than he listened to her father. It seemed as if it fascinated him to see her push it up impatiently, until it tightened her soft flesh; and then to mark the loosening—the fall. He could almost have exclaimed—’There it goes, again!’

Gaskell, Elizabeth (2004-07-01). North and South [with Biographical Introduction] (Kindle Locations 1739-1741). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

his feelings when she is unable to see him for reasons he is not privy to at the time,

Although he hated Margaret at times, when he thought of that gentle familiar attitude and all the attendant circumstances, he had a restless desire to renew her picture in his mind—a longing for the very atmosphere she breathed. He was in the Charybdis of passion, and must perforce circle and circle ever nearer round the fatal centre.

Gaskell, Elizabeth (2004-07-01). North and South [with Biographical Introduction] (Kindle Locations 6302-6304). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

his desire to protect her, despite what he perceives as Margaret’s indifference for him,

Miss Hale might love another—was indifferent and contemptuous to him—but he would yet do her faithful acts of service of which she should never know. He might despise her, but the woman whom he had once loved should be kept from shame; and shame it would be to pledge herself to a lie in a public court, or otherwise to stand and acknowledge her reason for desiring darkness rather than light.

Gaskell, Elizabeth (2004-07-01). North and South [with Biographical Introduction] (Kindle Locations 6529-6532). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

and Margaret’s agonized thoughts for Mr. Thornton’s opinion of her after a perceived indiscretion

Why do I care what he thinks, beyond the mere loss of his good opinion as regards my telling the truth or not? I cannot tell. But I am very miserable! ….But it is hard to feel how completely he must misunderstand me. What has happened to make me so morbid to-day? I do not know. I only know I cannot help it. I must give way sometimes. No, I will not, though,’ said she, springing to her feet. ‘I will not—I will not think of myself and my own position. I won’t examine into my own feelings. It would be of no use now. Some time, if I live to be an old woman, I may sit over the fire, and, looking into the embers, see the life that might have been.’

….’I dare say, there’s many a woman makes as sad a mistake as I have done, and only finds it out too late. And how proudly and impertinently I spoke to him that day! But I did not know then. It has come upon me little by little, and I don’t know where it began. Now I won’t give way. I shall find it difficult to behave in the same way to him, with this miserable consciousness upon me; but I will be very calm and very quiet, and say very little. But, to be sure, I may not see him; he keeps out of our way evidently. That would be worse than all. And yet no wonder that he avoids me, believing what he must about me.’

Gaskell, Elizabeth (2004-07-01). North and South [with Biographical Introduction] (Kindle Locations 7578-7586). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

Their trials and tribulations go beyond just the two of them, as there is the subplot of Margaret’s brother, who is wanted for his involvement in a mutiny at sea, and whose return can risk  his life should he be discovered on English soil.  There is also the story of the Higgins family, who befriends Margaret and affords her a glimpse into the life of the Victorian lower class first-hand.

ns4-237I also love the relationship between John and his mother, Mrs. Thornton, even though she is vilified by many – though I suspect it has more to do with Sinead Cusack’s amazing portrayal of Hannah Thornton in the 2004 BBC Mini-series and thus ends up having her character further maligned – poor thing – in fan fiction and sequels. There’s nothing like a mother’s love and I suspect that as much as we might hate women like Mrs. Thornton, when faced with the care and well-being of our own sons and daughters, we might just as well be her – though we are not aware of it.  This exchange between them occurs just as the strikers enter the mill yard and Thornton tells everyone to go to the back rooms where they will be safer.

Mother! hadn’t you better go into the back rooms? I’m not sure whether they may not have made their way from Pinner’s Lane into the stable-yard; but if not, you will be safer there than here. Go Jane!’ continued he, addressing the upper-servant. And she went, followed by the others.

‘I stop here!’ said his mother. ‘Where you are, there I stay.’

Gaskell, Elizabeth (2004-07-01). North and South [with Biographical Introduction] (Kindle Locations 4055-4058). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

Many people believe that because of creative differences between Gaskell and Charles Dickens – and boy, were there differences between them, with Dickens even blaming Gaskell for the decline in readership of Household Words when he himself upstaged North and South with the publication of his own Hard Times –  the ending for North and South was rushed. And maybe it was, but when Gaskell turned the serialized novel into a book, she didn’t really change the ending that much, if at all.  You can even see a copy of ending of the actual novel later on in the post.

Sunday [?17 December 1854]

My dear Sir,

I was very much gratified by your note the other day; very much indeed. I dare say I shall like my story, when I ant a little further from it; at present I can only feel depressed about it, I meant it to have been so much better. I send what I am afraid you will think too large a batch {o} of it by this post. What Mr Wills has got already fills up the No for January 13, leaving me only two / more / numbers, Janry 20, & Janry 27th so what I send today is meant to be crammed & stuffed into Janry 20th; & I’m afraid I’ve nearly as much more for Jany 27.

It is 33 pages of my writing that I send today. I have tried to shorten & compress it, both because it was a dull piece, & to get it into reasonable length, but there were [sic] a whole catalogue of events to be got over: and what I want to tell you now is this, Mr Gaskell has looked this piece well over, so I don’t think there will be any carelessnesses left in it, & so there ought not to be any misprints; therefore I never wish to see it’s face again; but, if you will keep the MS for me, & shorten it as you think best for HW. I shall be very glad. Shortened I see it must be.

I think a better title than N. & S. would have been ‘Death & Variations’. There are 5 deaths, each beautifully suited to the character of the individual…

Via Letters of Mrs. Gaskell to Charles Dickens, The Gaskell Web

Charles Dickens sent off his reply less than a month later.

TAVISTOCK HOUSE, January 27th, 1855.

MY DEAR MRS. GASKELL,

Let me congratulate you on the conclusion of your story; not because it is the end of a task to which you had conceived a dislike (for I imagine you to have got the better of that delusion by this time), but because it is the vigorous and powerful accomplishment of an anxious labour. It seems to me that you have felt the ground thoroughly firm under your feet, and have strided on with a force and purpose that MUST now give you pleasure.

You will not, I hope, allow that not-lucid interval of dissatisfaction with yourself (and me?), which beset you for a minute or two once upon a time, to linger in the shape of any disagreeable association with “Household Words.” I shall still look forward to the large sides of paper, and shall soon feel disappointed if they don’t begin to reappear.

– Via Letters of Charles Dickens to Elizabeth Gaskell, The Dickens House

Regardless of how Gaskell chose to end her novel (and I have no qualms at all with the way it ended – to me, it was perfect), the  rest of the story of John and Margaret is up to the viewer.  And as fans of the book – and the BBC mini-series – have seen, the story has spawned countless sequels, prequels and the rewriting of the story itself.

Speaking of the BBC mini-series which starred Daniela Denby Ash as Margaret Hale and Richard Armitage as John Thornton, it’s easy to confuse the events in the book with those depicted in the 2004 adaptation.  No, John did not beat a worker he caught smoking in the book, though the controversial scene provided the right mood for TV viewers to hate him, so soon after seeing him stride into Margaret’s view and up the stairs, and before one could sigh and say, my that’s a handsome man, he turns around and beats someone to a pulp.  Nor did Boucher cast the stone that hit Margaret.  But the mini-series certainly brought renewed attention to Gaskell’s writings – so I’ve got no qualms there.

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 It also brought Armitage center stage, and I have to admit, as I read the book after seeing the mini-series in one sitting, I saw no one else but him as John Thornton.  Gaskell certainly knew how to write prose from a man’s point of view without it seeming too girlish (if that’s a term) and unbelievable.  And while the ending of Gaskell’s classic is way more chaste, the ending of BBC’s 2004 mini-series, still chaste as romantic scenes go, takes the cake as the best kiss ever.  But hey, don’t take my word for it…

If you’ve ever wondered what Dickens’ Household Words looked like, here is the edition where Gaskell’s novel was serialized in – Volume X, in 1854:

2014-02-13_13-59-31table of contentsand the last page/chapter

theendYou can even purchase the 1854 1st BOUND VOLUME of Charles Dickens’ Household Words Magazines which has the full original serialized novel on eBay here.

A few of the quotes I love from this book:

“She’s not accomplished, mother. She does not play the piano.”
– Fanny Thornton

And this:

“One word more. You look as if you thought it tainted you to be loved by me. You cannot avoid it. Nay, I, if I would, cannot cleanse you from it. But I would not, if I could. I have never loved any woman before: my life has been too busy, my thoughts absorbed with other things. Now I love, and will love. But do not be afraid of too much expression on my part.”
– John Thornton

Review: Unmapped Country

Unmapped_cover1_220x310Chrissie Elmore’s Unmapped Country: The Story of North and South Continues starts off from the chapter-before-the-last-chapter of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South, or Chapter LI (51 as 52 would be the final chapter).

Besides continuing from the book, it is also loosely based on the 2004 BBC adaptation starring Daniella Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage, without the ending the mini-series opted to use which, during that time, would have left both their reputations in ruins. Unmapped Country also uses some of the characters introduced in the series, like Mr. Latimer, the banker, and his daughter, Miss Latimer. Elmore writes the book close to the way Gaskell wrote it, which means it was written in the vein of the time. You could literally read Gaskell’s book, skip the final chapter and continue with Elmore’s book without missing a beat.

Unmapped Country: The Story of North and South Continues follows the travails of two characters – Margaret Hale, now a wealthy heiress, and John Thornton, a mill owner who has recently been forced to shut down his own cotton mill due to the economic climate. It follows each character’s journey to certain realizations about life and each other, despite a proud mother unwilling to let go of her son to someone as spirited as the very woman who saves her son’s business, and a society stuck on how this class or that class of people should act and what rightly deserve.

Oh, the many missteps they encounter just to get to first base were so frustrating yet charming at times, but it built up the excitement as I continued to read the book.

It was also nice to read the growing awareness Margaret develops in the struggle to pair her moral ethics with the decisions she has to make regarding her investments and there were a few instances where I found myself saying, “you can’t save the world and stay wealthy at the same time!” – something I’m sure Bill and Belinda Gates are often faced with themselves (on second thought – probably not).

It is a well-researched book about the Industrial Revolution, one that got me digging into my garage for my own book on the Industrial Revolution – only to realize that I may have given it away to the local library by accident.  I like books that do give me enough background of the times, especially if I’m unfamiliar with said times.  And though the narrative often gets bogged down by the research Elmore has made, the events flow from one to the other, eventually culminating in an event that brought tears to my eyes (quite unexpectedly) and gave me goosebumps (again, unexpectedly) and finally to its charming, much-awaited conclusion.

 

Unmapped Country: The Story of North and South Continues was one of the many North & South themed books I found on Amazon, written mostly by fans of the BBC miniseries and Richard Armitage. While some of the books focused primarily on marital relations or the continuation of their love story, I picked this book because the reviewers said it was the one closest to Gaskell’s vision and way of writing – which worked for me.