Sunday, August 23, 2015

Mapp and Lucia

Mapp and Lucia
by E.F. Benson

The fourth installment of the popular series-- a hilarious study of 1930s manner and pecking order-begins when Lucia Lucas rents a summer place-the home of Elizabeth Mapp-- in the English village of Tilling. Between Miss Mapp's penchant for spying on the neighbors and Lucia's fussy sidekick, Georgie, the stage is set for a battle of wits.

My Reaction:
We didn't wait to read the next Lucia book, after all-- just kept right on going.

Very enjoyable, though some of the first part (in Riseholme) seemed slightly slow going to me, compared to the rest of the book.  Maybe that's a reflection of the fact that the author himself was (by the time of the writing of this book) less enthusiastic about Riseholme, compared to Tilling.

The whole series has been even better on the second read-through than on the first.  Witty and funny, of course, but also cozy.  I find that I remember only small bits and pieces of incidents yet to come, and specific remembered episodes always seem to pop up sooner than I'd have expected.

Highly recommended to fans of British comedy set "between the wars".

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


by April Lindner

Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance.

But there's a mystery at Thornfield, and Jane's much-envied relationship with Nico is soon tested by an agonizing secret from his past. Torn between her feelings for Nico and his fateful secret, Jane must decide: Does being true to herself mean giving up on true love?

An irresistible romance interwoven with a darkly engrossing mystery, this contemporary retelling of the beloved classic Jane Eyre promises to enchant a new generation of readers.

My Reaction:
To be brief:  If you've never read Jane Eyre, do yourself a favor and read that instead.  If you have read it and enjoyed it... do yourself a favor and reread it instead.

Enough brevity!  Back to my wordy, wordy ways.
Alright, so some people evidently read Jane and liked it-- even loved it.  I don't understand why, but then again, people can be strange.

Okay, okay!  It wasn't the worst thing I've ever read, but it was not remotely a good read, in my estimation.  (This is the second JE modernization I've read.  The other was The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which I also disliked.  Maybe modernizations/adaptations aren't for me, though I did enjoy the movie Clueless...)

The premise-- Mr. Rochester as rock star-- never excited me, but the author's introduction gave me a little hope.  She sounded like someone who treasured and understood Jane's story, so maybe she could make this retelling work. Sadly, where Jane Eyre soars, Jane could only limp along with a broken wing.

In her introduction, Lindner writes that "the book practically wrote itself" and "whenever I got stuck, I would open up Jane Eyre for inspiration and ideas"... Well, maybe if it had been a little harder to write (necessitating more reworking and reflection and, you know, effort), the result would've been stronger.  As for going to the original for "inspiration and ideas"?  Puh-lease!  Most plot points are a direct copy from Jane Eyre-- with just a few tweaks to fit the modern setting-- and much of the dialogue is clearly lifted right off the pages of JE-- and again "modernized", which apparently translates to "dumbed down" and "coarsened".

I'll get into the nit-picking below, but the bottom line is that the book utterly failed to "enchant" me.  However, if this was aimed at the "YA" (Young Adult) market, I guess I'm not part of the "new generation of readers" referenced in the blurb, so maybe that explains it.

Far from adding anything new or interesting to the story, this version traded strong characters and powerful romance for weak, bland, washed-out replacements.

Specifics (with SPOILERS):
Attn: SPOILERS for both Jane Eyre and Jane!

--I was really annoyed by Nico's totally unnecessary cursing.

--Copilot.  WHY? 

--Nico's and Jane's exchanges are so dull-- especially when compared to the conversations between Jane and Mr. Rochester.  I can sense the chemistry between the latter.  Not so with Jane and Nico.  Their attraction doesn't feel real.  You are told that they're in love, but you don't feel it or see it for yourself. 

--I don't think a single person ever drinks plain spring water-- let alone water from the tap-- in this book.  It's always "mineral water" or "sparkling water".  That isn't of the least importance to the story-- but I positively loathe the taste of mineral/sparkling water-- blech!-- so it's another reason to turn up my nose at the book as a whole. ;o)

--Why name Maddy's mother (the French "singing sensation") Celine?  Every time she was mentioned, I thought of Celine Dion.  I know she's Canadian, but still...  Why not choose some other "French-sounding" name that isn't already associated with a "singing sensation"?

--Jane tells Nico that she can't swim.  Nico is stunned.  "'Nobody ever taught you to swim?'  His eyes narrowed. 'That's criminal.'"  Ha!  Is it really that uncommon for someone to not know how to swim?  Calling it "criminal" to fail to teach a person to swim seems like taking it maybe a little too far...

--The swimming suit discussion (no suit? are you a nun? -- some nuns swim -- if you're on a hilltop, do you spin around and sing that the hills are alive with the sound of music? -- hee hee, oh Nico, you remind me of Captain von Trapp *heart-shaped googly eyes*) is awk-ward!  I blushed for the characters force-fed such cringe-worthy lines.

--Jane comes right out and asks Nico if he's been tested for STDs, after he regales her with tales of his scandalous past.  That could never happen.  Nope.  No way.  But it felt like the "responsible and/or modern and/or politically correct" thing to do-- and so it was done.  That happens several times over the course of the book.  Things that don't feel "right" for the story or the moment are shoehorned in anyway, because Oh-Em-Gee We Are So Modern Now.

--Nico has had a paternity test, which reveals that, "Mr. Rathburn, you are the father!"  I get the feeling that the author is convinced that in Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester is the father of Adele, too, and was secretly thrilled to be able to do away with any shadow of a doubt of the child's parentage in this retelling. 

--I've always enjoyed the house party section of Jane Eyre, but this book's version of it left me ice cold.  How disappointing that Rochester's bizarre/brilliant dress-up-like-a-gypsy-fortune-teller scheme was reduced to a snooze-fest involving nothing more exciting than a pack of tarot cards!

--Jane's nuclear family doesn't feel real.  They're just too awful.  Yes, there are families out there that are even worse-- more abusive-- but these characters are such an odd mixture of normal and terrible.  They feel like pure melodrama.  In Jane Eyre, the awful family made a little more sense.  The aunt (by marriage) resented her late husband's fondness for his niece, so she raised her children to look down on Jane and looked the other way when her son mistreated the girl.  That's horrible, but it feels more likely than that an entire family would so blatantly single out one child/sibling for emotional neglect.  I'm not saying it could never happen, but it must be a rare set of circumstances.

--The "declaration of love" scene (under the large tree) is hilariously bad.  "Even as I was giving you shit and you were standing up to me in that quiet, stubborn way you have, I had this feeling about you..."  Oh, swoon!  Why didn't my own husband accuse me of giving him shit as a prelude to the first "I love you"?  Some girls have all the luck!

--The lurve scene continues: "'But that's still not the same as wanting me because they know and understand me and like me even though I'm a flaming asshole,' he said. 'Jane, you get me.  And I think I get you.  Now can you f*****g well believe me?'"  Now, that's what I call romance!

--And then.  And then.  ...And then Jane and Nico "do it".  *giggle-snort*  It's like so totally perfect and romantic and everything like you wouldn't believe!  There's like this tumultuous, totes symbolic thunderstorm going on outside-- really romantic.  I mean, the old Jane Eyre wouldn't have done that, but whatevs.  Who gives a crap about that, right?  This is MODERN Jane, and modern Jane is hot to trot, you guys.  To sanctify the palpitating delight, we are carefully informed (the morning after) that Jane and Nico were "safe" (bien sûr).  Nico keeps a stash of what he calls "standard rock-star equipment" (~barf gurgle~) in every room.  (No, I'm serious.  That's what it says.  I'm looking at it right now.)  'Cause you never know when or where the urge to merge will completely overpower your better judgment or self-control, apparently.  Rock stars are so gosh-darn cool.

--I guffawed at the thought of Mr. Rochester insisting that Jane Eyre get breast implants.

--Nico's reasons for keeping Bibi locked in the third floor of his home were extremely weak.  As so many reviewers before me have noted, you can make the argument that Mr. Rochester's keeping Bertha Mason under lock and key at Thornfield Hall is an act of mercy.  At the time, mental illness was poorly understood, and there were no reputable places Bertha could have gone and received professional, compassionate care.

In the modern world, with limitless resources at his fingertips, Nico could have found a better place for Bibi-- not only for her sake, but to protect the lives of everyone else living under his roof (including his daughter).  Before her final escape, she had already proven herself several times to be dangerous and capable of slipping out from under the not-so-watchful eye of her drunken guard.  It simply doesn't make sense. 

...Well, maybe it makes sense from the perspective of wanting at all costs to keep this tragic scandal under wraps.  Damage control.

--I'm sure we're supposed to be touched by the fact that Nico still loves Bibi and has been hoping that she might stay on her meds and re-emerge as the woman he fell in love with.  ...Ok, fine... But I much prefer the Jane Eyre version where Bertha was already going insane before Rochester's scheming father and brother tricked him into marrying her for her fortune.  He married Bertha before he truly knew her, and when he realized who/what she was, he was repulsed.  He made a foolish, hasty decision that nearly wrecked his whole life, but at least his affections aren't divided between Jane and Bertha.  He treats Bertha with a certain degree of kindness (rather than sending her off to languish in Ferndean's unhealthy atmosphere), but he's not kinda-sorta in love with her.  Call me selfish, but if I were Jane, I wouldn't want to share a man with the memory of his (still-living, but now insane) first wife.

I mean, Nico even calls Bibi and Jane by the same pet name, "Angel".  That is just creepy.  No, thank you.

--The St. John family's disdain for the suburbs is so refreshing.  "'Too smug,' Diana said. 'Too safe.'"  Isn't that anti-suburb garbage passé, yet?

--"Diana was looking for some kind of work that was better paying and more satisfying than her waitressing job, but she'd been a philosophy major and couldn't quite decide what direction her life should take."  *eyeroll*

--River St. John.  Betcha can't guess which character he was in Jane Eyre! ;o)  His own sister describes him as "socially helpless" and "kind of an idiot savant", and he definitely gives off a weird vibe.  St. John Rivers, though kind of scary in his cold severity, never struck me as autistic, though, and I don't know what to make of River St. John.  He gives me the creeps, to tell the truth.  It's one thing to have strong religious convictions, but there's just something off about this character (imho).   His "physical" moments with Jane give me the shivers-- and I don't mean the good kind! ;oP

--"...people dying of AIDS because drug companies like Davidson-Worth only care about profiting on the misfortunes of others."  A bit judgmental, there, River.  I'm pretty sure drug companies have to make money to keep running-- to pay their bills and attract investors-- to spend big bucks on experimental new drugs that might be even better, but oftentimes fail to pan out.  It's not quite so cut and dried as all that, Mr. Self-Righteous.

--"Don't you know that the ultrarich are the enemy of everything you've been working for these past few months?"  ...What?  ...The wealthy are the outright enemies of the poor and the homeless?  Hm.  That's news to me.

--Jane Eyre is a tower of personal strength.  She is subject to powerful emotions and passions, but she ultimately controls the impulses that would overwhelm her high principles.  She refuses to give in to desires that would lower her in her own estimation (and in the eyes of God, because she's a deeply religious character).  She is the epitome of the mentally, emotionally, spiritually, morally strong woman.

...By comparison, this modern Jane seems like a piece of dandelion fluff borne on the wind, going wherever the breeze takes her.

--The description of the Nico documentary was laughable and cringe-inducing.  "If there was a Mount Rushmore of rock and roll, he'd be on it." ... "...plying his trademark red Stratocaster like a man possessed..."

--The police chief laments the fact that despite a tip (from a mentally ill woman) that Jane was working in a New Haven soup kitchen, they failed to locate her.  "'Damn.  And there you were the whole time.  I imagine Nico will see to it that heads roll.'  'Don't worry,' I told him. 'I'll see to it they don't.' I may have sounded more confident than I was, but Chief Pettigrew looked relieved."

...First, Jane's an adult.  She was perfectly within her rights to disappear from Nico's radar without permission.  Second, why should it be in Nico's power to send heads rolling because they failed to find Jane and deliver her to him?  Third, UGH, Jane is so obnoxious!  And of course the chief is incredibly relieved to have Rock-Star Love-Slave Queen Jane speaking on his behalf!  Whew!  Thank goodness she's agreed to calm him down and save the world from the Wrath of Nico!

--Nico's wounds, compared to Mr. Rochester's, are negligible.  At first you may feel a slight twinge of "Oh, but he needs his hands to play guitar!  He's an artist!  It's how he expresses himself!"  Any pity of that sort is promptly smacked down by the news that if Mr. Lazybones would apply himself to his physical therapy, he can recover some (if not most) of his range of motion.  The only other souvenir of his fiery heroics is a small scar on his forehead, mostly hidden by his hair.  ...Yeah, cry me a river, Nico.

--In Jane Eyre, while Jane is away from Rochester, she discovers that a long-lost uncle has bequeathed her a fortune.  (No, it's not the most likely occurrence, but what is likely about the novel?)  When she returns to him, she does so as a woman of means.  The disparity between the two characters is (somewhat) reduced.  She's not vastly wealthy, like Rochester, but she's comfortably off, and she doesn't need his financial support, from a practical point of view.  She goes back to him as a free, independent woman.  Also, she is fully able-bodied, while he is now struggling to adapt to life with near-blindness and the loss of one hand.  In some ways, their roles have been reversed.  Meanwhile, Modern Jane comes back to Nico with... just a job.  She's started saving up to go back to college and someone has apparently filled her in on the existence of Pell Grants, but that's not quite on the same level as Jane Eyre's inheritance... Then there are Nico's injuries from the fire, which have been toned down significantly from what Rochester suffered.  Not much of a role reversal...

--Ah, the poetry of Nico's conversation when he's finally reunited with his One True Love (now that his old lady's officially kicked the bucket):  "For f***'s sake!  Am I losing my mind now, too?" ...  "This can't be real. ... This has to be an acid flashback."

--Jane tells Nico:  "Something just snapped.  I realized what an idiot I'd been, running away from the one person I value more than anyone else in the whole world."  ...O-kay, then.  So basically a huge chunk of the book was for nothing.  Great.  You learned nothing.  You didn't leave Nico to remove yourself from temptation.  Preserving your values-- your self-respect?  Meh.  You could care less about stuff like that.  You're such an endless joy, Modern Jane!

--There's an odd scene right at the end where Nico convinces a scaredy-cat Jane to look down over the edge of the top of the building for... some reason.  Just to check out the view, I guess.  I harbored a brief, wild fantasy that they'd trip and go flying over the edge-- but it was not to be.

--So is Nico basically just a fantasy version of Bruce Springsteen, then?  (And in that case, I think we all know who Jane's actually based on, given that she bears no legitimate resemblance to Jane Eyre...)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"Negotium Perambulans"

"Negotium Perambulans"
by E.F. Benson

In an isolated Cornish fishing village, there are forces of good and evil at work, and those who dare desecrate the holy have reason to fear the dark...

My Reaction:
This was an interesting one-- not especially scary, but a decent short story.  "The Thing" reminded me of vampires-- but not the sparkly kind, not the steamy kind, nor even the old-school kind that wear capes and turn into bats.  It reminded me of Lovecraft.  It reminded me of another of Benson's own works ("The Caterpillars").  (Benson must've had some sort of caterpillar phobia.  I have to admit, I find many of them repugnant, myself.  I certainly don't like to just stand and admire them.) 

In contrast, the parts about the narrator's youth in the village were pleasant reading.  They feel so genuine that I think they must be based at least partly on Benson's own experiences and memories.  The fact that I preferred this part of the story reminds me that (in my own estimation, at least) Benson is deservedly much more famous for his humorous tales of the everyday world than for his horror.  I'm enjoying some of these "scary tales", but none of them are nearly as downright satisfying as the Lucia series.

Non-Spoilery Quote:
--"One of the main reasons of my stopping here all these years was a feeling that I must not let the old house starve.  Houses starve, you know, if they are not lived in.  They die a lingering death; the spirit in them grows weaker and weaker, and at last fades out of them."

"And the Dead Spake..."

"And the Dead Spake..."
by E.F. Benson

On a quiet London cul-de-sac there lives a surgeon of unrivaled genius.  As he tells his friend (our narrator), he is convinced that it is possible for the dead to speak-- after a fashion.

My Reaction:
This story was somewhat less to my taste than the last.  It's fine-- an interesting premise-- but probably suffers a little from its age.  Some of these ideas might have seemed more shocking and creative when this was first published than they do nearly a hundred years later. 

Specifics (with SPOILERS):
--The surgeon's ideas for organ transplant were interesting (considering how long it would be before the first successful transplant), but he got a few things wrong.  Keeping the organ at body temperature, for instance.  (Don't they chill them during transport?)  He also seems to think that the organs can be kept for a longer period of time than is yet possible. Then there's the issue of selling the organs...

--I had to laugh at the idea that the living friends of the dead could recognize and identify the "voices" of the departed.  If they were said to identify their friends by the content of what they heard-- or even by the syntax or diction-- I could be persuaded, but by "the faithfulness and individuality of these records"?  These people recognized "the tones of the speaker".  If that means that the "recording" sounds similar to the voice of the living person, it is ridiculous.  (Yes, I am writing about a science fiction-y horror tale about attaching brains to phonographs and hearing the dead person's thoughts-- and still I say that this is a bridge too far.) 

Our brains don't determine how our voices sound, and the brain is not chiefly responsible for an individual's tone/timbre/resonance/what-have-you.  A voice is determined by a combination of factors, including vocal cords, voice box, lungs, nasal passages, the shape of the mouth and tongue, and the placement of the teeth.  (And more things besides.)  Am I nit-picking?  Maybe.  But it amuses me that someone with some fairly advanced ideas about "science-fictional medicine" could completely overlook/ignore something as basic as that. 

--The "confession from beyond the grave" scene was a bit of overkill for me.  We'd already been told that she was a murderer, so not much was gained by having her admit to it in her own words.  A little extra gooseflesh, I guess. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

"The Horror-Horn"

"The Horror-Horn" 
by E.F. Benson

While holidaying in the Alps, our narrator is treated to a hair-raising tale about Yeti-like creatures that live on a nearby peak-- the Horror-Horn.  Later on, he goes out by himself for a ski.  Whatever could happen next? 

My Reaction:
I'm not a Yeti aficionado-- never cared for Bigfoot or "swamp/skunk apes", either-- but this story was better than I'd expected.  Recommended!

Specifics (with SPOILERS):
--"It seemed that they were still in an upward stage of evolution, or so I guessed, for the story ran that sometimes girls had been carried off by them, not as prey, and not for any such fate as for those captured by cannibals, but to be bred from."

--The narrator's friend, making his way down the mountain after seeing one of the creatures, is terrified that he might run across another-- "with perhaps this time the breasts and insignia of womanhood.  That would have been the worst of all."  At first, I wondered why seeing a female would've been "worst of all".  Would it be somehow more horrific to see the female form thus debased?  ...Now it occurs to me that he feared being forcibly "mated" to the female.  Maybe he thought a male would "just" kill him.  (Or was it something symbolic about the female shape?)

--"Their very humanity was what made them so terrible, the fact that they were of the same race as ourselves, but of a type so abysmally degraded that the most brutal and inhuman of men would have seemed angelic in comparison."

--"There was a horror of the spirit ... which I experienced then, from which, I verily believe, I have never entirely recovered.  I saw then how terrible a living thing could be, and how terrible, in consequence, was life itself.  In us all I suppose lurks some inherited germ of that ineffable bestiality, and who knows whether, sterile as it has apparently become in the course of centuries, it might not fructify again.  When I saw that creature sun itself, I looked into the abyss out of which we have crawled."

--"Never had nightmare fashioned so terrible a countenance; the beauty of sun and stars and of the beasts of the field and the kindly race of men could not atone for so hellish an incarnation of the spirit of life.  A fathomless bestiality modelled the slavering mouth and the narrow eyes; I looked into the abyss itself and knew that out of that abyss on the edge of which I leaned the generations of men had climbed.  What if that ledge crumbled in front of me and pitched me headlong into its nethermost depths?"

Monday, August 3, 2015

Thunder on the Right

Thunder on the Right
by Mary Stewart

Artist Jennifer Silver has come to the picturesque, secluded Valley of the Storms in the French Pyrenees to meet with a young cousin who is about to enter the convent there -- only to discover that the young woman has died in a dreadful car accident. Or did she?

Lies abound in this strange and frightening place, but seeking the truth could lead Jennifer to her own violent death.

My Reaction:
I went into this novel knowing what to expect from the typical Mary Stewart mystery-romance-thriller, and for the most part, all the usual elements were there.  Young Englishwoman?  Exotic, romantic setting?  Mystery for the heroine to solve?  Trusty "hero"?  Yes, all present and accounted for.  However, this is one of my least favorite of her books that I've read, so far.  (The other tied for least favorite would be Touch Not the Cat, though that might have something to do with the fact that I listened to an audio version of it.)

The setting started out alright but ultimately seemed lacking.  Maybe it was the convent that bored me... I breathed a sigh of relief when she finally left the convent and groaned inwardly when she returned.  The heroine and hero were passable at best.  I didn't love either of them, to be honest, and a couple of the other characters were downright irritating.  The key elements of the so-called mystery were so obvious to a seasoned reader that it was more a waiting game than a true mystery.  Less "I wonder why/how..." and more "I wonder how long until they finally realize that..."

Negatives aside, it wasn't a universally unpleasant reading experience-- just not the best, particularly for this author of several superior books. 

Specifics (with SPOILERS): 
--Are all of Mary Stewart's heroines beautiful?  I don't go so far as to request an outright ugly heroine, but they needn't all be absolute stunners, surely.

--I liked the gardening sister-- though I'm puzzled as to why her wiping her brow with the back of her hand was a "peasant gesture".  How does a fine lady wipe the sweat from her face?  Oh, never mind.  I suppose no-one but a peasant would ever exert herself to the point of sweating.

--As I haven't read all of Stewart's novels, maybe it's premature to make this kind of observation-- but isn't is a bit silly and boring that almost all of her traveling heroines go off to these exotic, romantic foreign countries, only to fall promptly in love with the only Englishman around for miles?  I can think of only one exception in the novels I've read, to this point.  All the others go for the English guy.  I mean, hey, there's nothing wrong with a nice British accent! ;o) But isn't it... boring, after the third or fourth time?  When I mentioned it to my husband, he said something about the two characters automatically having more in common, compared to anyone else around.  Well, sure, but... I still think it's dull.

--You know what else I think is dull?  When the hero and heroine already have a history, before we (the readers) get to know them.  Oh boy, a built-in, pre-heated romance-- just add drama to start the chemical reaction.  That's so very exciting.  All the tentative getting-to-know-you stuff's long past.  It has all the flavor of a big ol' wad of "ABC" gum (to harken back to elementary school days).  However, I'll admit here that I'm just being hard to please, because when Stewart comes from the other approach-- hero and heroine meet/are thrown together at the beginning of the book and fall in love by the end of the story, which is generally wrapped up in just a few days-- I'm one of those annoying readers who tsk-tsk over "Insta-Love".  You just can't win!

--Why does Stephen call Jennifer a "darling child"?  Has any woman ever liked that?

--There's this one scene that puzzled me...  Doña Francisca is watching Celeste.  "It was as if, from who knew what dark and bitter depths, a kind of fierce and yearning tenderness had been dragged up, and was straining like a passion at features which fought to deny it.  Love, in a place that knew only barrenness and the fires of frustration.  Jennifer, shocked again at the wave of acute distaste which swept over her, moved quickly and quietly..."  I wondered for a moment if it could be possible that Doña Francisca was/is Celeste's mother-- but on the other hand, it felt almost as if Stewart was hinting at something else entirely.  Jennifer's strong visceral reaction-- "acute distaste"-- seems to indicate... Well, anyway, it just feels odd.  Her later explanation to Celeste that Francisca is somehow living vicariously through the girl didn't completely account for Jennifer's own feeling of intense repugnance at the scene.

--"Thunder on the right" is apparently a good omen.  Never heard of that before.  Around here, thunder from any direction is a sign that you'd best find shelter immediately.  Lightning is deadly.

--Oh, all the exclamations of "Well, isn't that convenient!"  It's marvelously convenient that Gillian has a very rare form of colorblindness--  that Gillian has amnesia after her car accident-- that Gillian regains her memory after the bridge incident-- that Gillian has selective amnesia-- oops, I mean "retrograde amnesia" about just the time between her car accident and the bridge incident.  It's also super convenient that without even trying, Jennifer finds the letter Doña Francisca's been using to blackmail Bussac.  Then there's the mother superior's blindness...

--Ah, the changing times...  Jennifer's (slooooow) realization that Gillian and Bussac have been living in sin-- unmarried-- is somewhat priceless, by modern standards.  Um, look, honey... I'm a steadfast traditionalist, myself, but are you really that upset about the fact that she hasn't married him, under the circumstances?  I mean, at this point, Jennifer thinks that Gillian has gotten herself mixed up with a smuggler-- a murderer-- not to mention the whole bank-robbing angle.  And yet she finds it within herself to be upset about the fact that she's not married to the murderer... Classic Jennifer!  ;o)  (Jennifer's not the brightest of Stewart's heroines, to put it gently.)

--I guess Jennifer figures a few things out on her own, early in the book, but once she gets Stephen involved, she seems to put her brain into slow gear.  More than once, Stephen has to explain the obvious to her.  And then he goes off for the police by himself.  "Get thee to a convent!"-- Er, I mean, "Get straight into the convent and stay there till I come.  The rest's for me and the police; you'd better keep out of it."  Mwa-ha-ha ha-ha!!  Well, of course she doesn't end up staying in the convent-- but what a bossy hero!

--Celeste and Jennifer's chat in their shared room really brought it home to me that, UGH, they are both so annoying!  And Luis, a.k.a. Stallion-Boy?  Also so annoying!

--So there are no police in the village on a Wednesday?  And apparently it's common knowledge?  (At least, Bussac is well aware of it.)  It would be a wonder if anyone committed a crime on any other day.  Oh, wait.  I bet we're supposed to find that charming.  Like a French version of Mayberry and its sheriff without a gun.

--After Jennifer and Stephen make it to safety, they indulge in a little kissy-face (scandal!!).  "The men who had come with him were standing around the two of them, much as cattle will gather in a curious circle around any strange phenomenon that invades their pasture.  And twelve pairs of dark eyes watched them steadily, without the slightest trace of embarrassment-- watched them, indeed, with approval, envy, and the passionate interest of born connoisseurs."  ~snerk~  Cuz they're French, see?  And the French are... cattle-like and really into voyeurism?  Hee hee... High-larious!

--On a darker note... The French doctor (and everyone else involved, it seems) thinks that because Gillian has "retrograde amnesia"-- and therefore, is temporarily unaware of how she spent the past few weeks-- everything will work itself out just perfectly.  So she was lied to and tricked by Bussac!  No biggie!  She was a widow on her way to join a convent and instead ended up living (and sleeping) with a complete stranger-- a murderer, in fact-- because he convinced her they were married.  But why fuss over a little thing like that?  She's a young woman, so as far as we know, she could be pregnant and not know it, yet-- but meh.  It'll be fine!  Heck, what she doesn't know won't hurt her.  She may remember later on, the doctor admits, "but it won't matter so much then" because by then she'll be "stronger".  Yeah, I guess it's better than it could have been, for her to have a peaceful recovery period, but... :o/  Gillian seems to like Bussac pretty well-- murderer or not, he doesn't physically or verbally mistreat her, and it doesn't hurt that he has a certain animal magnetism-- which makes the whole situation less horrific than it could have been, but that doesn't change the fact that he lies to her to keep her with him-- to make her "accept" him. 

--Incidentally, I guess Gillian will just go back to England with the lovebirds.  She won't be staying at this particular convent, at least.

--It seems like many of my fellow readers agree that this wasn't up to Stewart's usual standard, but there are at least a couple who count it as a favorite!