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Anna Karenina

By Leo Tolstoy, 1876, European Historical Romance (19th Century Russia)

Grade:DSensuality:Hot but Subtle

Every once in a while, I read a book that could have been great except that the author made some basic mistakes. Leo Tolstoy is such an author and isn’t he lucky that he has an AAR reviewer like me to set him straight? Well, I hope so because Mr. Tolstoy is one writer who desperately needs to brush up on his history not to mention some of the basic laws of romance fiction.

Anna Karenina is the story of a young matron (that’s right a matron, not a widow or ingenue) who falls passionately in love with a soldier named Vronsky. Anna leaves her husband and son, has a child out of wedlock and eventually…well I won’t tell you that part but lets just say that Mr. Tolstoy has a lot to learn about happy endings.

Our story opens when Anna visits her sister-in-law, Dolly, whose husband, a philandering idiot, is driving his family to ruin. Anna advises Dolly to put up with him but then she meets Vronsky. There is tons of sexual tension with no, and I mean no, payoff except that you strongly suspect that things in the bedroom must be phenomenal. Anna certainly makes some bad choices (as Doctor Laura would say). In a European Historical this is pretty hard to believe. Another thing, talk about head hopping! We experience point of view of at least fifteen characters over the course of nine hundred and twenty-seven pages. Mr. Tolstoy, where was your editor?

Anna Karenina is Leo Tolstoy’s second book and he shows potential. If the book is ever reprinted I am hoping that he will revise it to be more acceptable to a nineteen-nineties audience. Perhaps Tolstoy could make Anna a widow, cut down the points of view and have them all immigrate to America at the end of the book?

This is not a bad book, just a mediocre one that could have been better with the sage advice of yours truly. In spite of my misgivings, romance readers who enjoy adultery, moralizing, illegitimate babies and complicated conversations that make you feel guilty, might want to give it a try.

— Robin Nixon Uncapher

Dear Laurie,

Thank you for sending me a copy of Robin’s review of Anna Karenina. I am sorry that she did not enjoy it. The more I have thought about her comments however, the more I believe that examining the torment of a virtuous woman who sins and ruins her life, is not the right book for the market at this time. I admit that it occurred to me before, but I got carried away,

After much thought I’ve begun a homespun romance. The book, Anna Mihalovna Drubetskoy’s Quilt, will be printed under a non de plume. I’ll be sure to forward you the ARC.

Yours respectfully,
Leo Tolstoy
War & Peace 1868
Anna Karenina 1876

Pride & Prejudice

By Anonymous, 1813, Contemporary Fiction

Grade:DSensuality:Not that I could see, and, believe me, I did look

Pride & Prejudice is the story of a middle-class family in the town of Meryton. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (who is treated very ill by the author, I might say) have five daughters, all of them without a single talent, except for the firstborn, Jane, who is prettier than any of her sisters, and the youngest, Lydia, surely a joy to any parent. Aside from those bright spots, I found the book unbearably focused on “tolerable” second daughter Elizabeth, who is too clever for her own good and makes no secret of it. Miss Elizabeth’s tender relationship with the ill-mannered Fitzwilliam Darcy is told with many complications and turns, including the secondary romance between lovely Jane and Darcy’s dear friend, Mr. Bingley, and delightful Lydia’s happy marriage to the dashing Mr. Wichkam.

While poor Mrs. Bennet suffers from Elizabeth’s stubbornness – the child dares to refuse suitor after suitor – Mr. Bennet is no help at all. It is apparently not enough that he never thought to provide for his dear wife and daughters after his death, but he also leaves most of the problems to his overwrought wife. Mr. Darcy, who showed so much intelligence at first by snubbing Elizabeth Bennet, goes to unjustifiably great lengths to win her hand, proposing not once, but twice. At least his efforts bring about the joyful occasion of young Lydia’s marriage to George Wickham.

The author seems to delight is making sport of good, honest, sensible people. Thankfully, her characters get what they deserve in the end. Affable Mr. Collins, although reeling from Elizabeth’s rude rejection, finds comfort and succor in Charlotte Lucas, and in the incomparable friendship and sponsorship of the Rt. Hon. Lady Catherine De Bourgh, a kind and sensible lady, with only tender feelings for other people’s needs. However, Lady Catherine is dealt an unfair hand when her daughter’s marriage to Mr. Darcy falls through, all because of the machinations of the intolerable Elizabeth Bennet.
Oh, how I cried.

After the absurdity of another novel by an anonymous author, by the title of Sense & Sensibility, I predict that readers will soon grow bored by this temporary obsession with the dull workings of the middle-class. As attached as the author is to Elizabeth Bennet, I will readily admit that I did not like her, not in the least. Jane Bennet, on the other hand, was a delight to get to know, sweet-tempered and lovely, as was her dear sister Lydia.

I dare say that it is my highest hope that whoever the author is, he or she does not trouble readers with any more novels that deal with such unfortunate, dreadful young women. I predict a forgettable career, and sincerely hope we readers never find out the author’s true identity.

— Rt. Hon. Lady Indes Post (aka Claudia Terrones)

The Changeling

By Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, 1623 (Reprint), Historical Romance

Grade:F+Sensuality:I wish!

The Changeling is yet another reprint that should’ve stayed out of print. When will publishers realize that we don’t want to read about love-hate relationships? The two most important characters spend most of their time plotting to kill people – and committing adultery.

The so-called heroine of this story is named Beatrice/Joanna – either the authors couldn’t decide on one name or the copy editors were asleep. She is engaged to Alonzo, yet when a nobleman named Alsemero waltzes into town, Alonzo isn’t good enough for her. But she doesn’t just dump Alonzo. She decides to have Alonzo killed! I’m not kidding here. She hires her father’s creepy servant, De Flores, to do the dirty work.

With Alonzo out of the way, Beatrice is now free to marry Alsemero. Then, that damn De Flores throws a monkey wrench in the works. You see, De Flores is secretly in love with Beatrice. As payment for killing Alonzo, he wants only one thing. Her virginity. She agrees to this, which makes me wonder if she didn’t have the hots for him all along.

Beatrice (or Joanna or whatever her name is) finally marries Alsemero. However, she realizes that she can’t sleep with her husband on her wedding night because she is no longer a virgin. Well, duh. Didn’t she think of that before sleeping with De Flores? Beatrice hires her waiting woman to pretend to be her and sleep with Alsemero.

Unfortunately, the waiting woman takes her job title too literally and spends most of the night in Alsemero’s bed chamber. Daylight is fast approaching, and Beatrice knows her deception will soon be discovered. Once she and De Flores put their minds together, the waiting woman is toast. Beatrice’s reputation is saved – for the moment. Without giving away anything, let me tell you that it ends with De Flores killing Beatrice, and then himself.

There’s not much I can say in favor of Beatrice/Joanna. She’s an evil, lying, manipulative… sorry, got carried away with myself. De Flores isn’t much better. Actually, he’s even worse. These two deserved each other. Reading about these people was like turning over a pretty stone and seeing ugly worms crawling around underneath it. Ugh. The strength of this play is in its charming secondary characters. At least they had morals.

A little hot sex might have saved this story. After all, the characters are obsessed with sex and virginity. Yet there are no sex scenes. What a disappointment! I wanted to know what that woman saw in De Flores.

— Anne M. Marble

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