Books, Free or Worth It

When it’s the holidays – i.e., time to spend your money on other people – it’s nice to get something for yourself. And it’s even nicer when it’s free, like these e-books!

Occasionally I stop by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books to see what the Smart Bitches are saying about romance novels, the state of book publishing, and whatever else they care to talk about – if they want to write about it, I’ll probably be amused. A Smart Bitch came Down Under and did a post on The Price of Books in Australia. The first statement in the first comment: “The prices seem insanely high…” This is especially sad around the holidays, when we love to give and receive books, and when we actually have some time to read ourselves. So: some free books that I enjoyed. Load up your e-reader before you head for the holiday hills.

Frances Hodgson Burnett – Best known for her children’s books, she also wrote for Victorian adults, and two of the most amusing examples of Victorian scenery-chewing are The Shuttle and Making of a Marchioness. The Shuttle is the kind of Victorian novel that gave Victorian novels a bad name back in the day. Depressing Gothic houses, simmering sexual tension, Yanks versus Brits, an idealized Gibson Girl heroine, and a cast of variably comic supporting characters (misplaced typewriter salesman G. Selden is my favorite). All this and a child character named…wait for it…Ugthred.

One of many florid scenes in "The Shuttle"

In a different vein, Making of a Marchioness is a well-loved Cinderella story, under the guise of one of those good-idea-marriage romance novels. Burnett can’t resist bringing the gothic back in the second half. Readable in a similar vein to the best of Georgette Heyer.

Lady Audley’s Secret – “Braddon’s “sensation” novel tells the story of Lucy Graham, a poor governess of unknown circumstances who wins the heart of the rich Sir Audley. When Sir Audley’s nephew Robert comes to visit with his friend George, George goes missing, and the book quickly turns into an action-packed detective story, Victorian style.” This summary leaves out the fevered gender wierdness throughout. Worth it for the female supremacist afternoon tea scene alone! Read and analyze with a friend for maximum fun. Well, maximum fun if you were an English major who liked women’s studies.

Vanity Fair – I am occasionally asked if I’m an Austen fan. The answer is no – I found Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a huge improvement over the original – but I am a tremendous Thackeray fan. If you enjoyed Austen, or you didn’t find Austen acerbic enough, you’ll enjoy this snappier volume, with its famous anti-heroine and ample socioeconomic satire threaded through the storyline, such as the famous “How To Live on Nothing A Year.”

White Shadows in the South Seas – This ripping adventure yarn is good if you’re interested in Pacific history, tattoos, or colonialism. Be advised: this starts out with standard early 1910s racism and moves to criticize the damage done by colonialism.  That said, it’s a page-turner that takes you to the Marquesas, a thousand kilometers from Tahiti, barely in time to experience the shreds of traditional culture while a flotsam of Western expats invents tiki cocktails, tries to make money, and, sometimes, learns what has been lost. Wildly popular and influential in the 1920s, several film versions were made.

This catalog at Girl Ebooks contains more treasures to download and read for free. The Hawaiian Archipelago and Roast Beef, Medium: The Business Adventures of Emma McChesney have already caught my eye.

For a book that is worth paying money for, and that makes a good gift between women friends, I recently recommended Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men to a friend.  Belle de Jour came to fame as an intelligent, witty sex-worker blogger, with her posts becoming several books and a television show. Today she has moved on, focusing on her work as a children’s health researcher and writing for The Telegraph.

Her “Guide to Men” is pitched at heterosexual women seeking to navigate modern love and sex. The British regional man-type guide isn’t much use to those of us outside the UK. And you may, or may not, agree with Belle’s take on gender dynamics and her occasional oversnarkiness. Her advice on dating, dealing with the realities of relationships, embracing singlehood if that’s where you’re at, and styling yourself for maximum tasteful sex appeal cannot be beat.