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Saturday, January 07, 2017

Novel Information: Learning New Stuff from Books

New words and new information are side benefits of reading.  Do you sometimes read a familiar word or phrase and suddenly become curious about it?

Recently a book I was reading mentioned silk velvet, and for the first time, I wondered about how velvet was made.  A little research made me appreciate the fabric in a new way and realize that I would never be able to afford silk velvet.

Sometimes I'll read a familiar phrase or idiom and realize for the first time that it is a little weird and wonder about the origin. 
Bob's your uncle, an expression meaning "everything will be fine", originated when Arthur Balfour was unexpectedly promoted to Chief Secretary for Ireland by the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, in 1900. Salisbury was Balfour's uncle and his first name was Robert.  (a little nepotism goes a long way in making things fine)
In another recent read, I came across the word toxophily and had no clue.  The context was an archery contest, but I'd never come across the word before.  
2. of or relating to archery. toxophily, noun. Word Origin. C18: from Toxophilus, the title of a book (1545) by Ascham, designed to mean: a lover of the bow, from Greek toxon bow + philos loving.

I enjoy reading the blog The History Girls and on Jan. 3, there was an interesting article by Debra Daley about drugs and stimulants in the 18th c.  Laudanum and other opiate mixtures were mentioned, as well as Spanish Fly and laughing gas.  Two days later, I came across both Spanish Fly and laughing gas in a Regency novel by Ashley Gardner.  Serendipity!

The blister beetle was dried and powdered 
to make the aphrodisiac known as Spanish fly

Nitrous Oxide Party. In the late 18th century and early 19th century, nitrous oxide
was inhaled for entertainment and amusement

Ashley Gardner's Captain Lacey series was available as a three volume set (e-book).  I found all three historical novels entertaining and there were a couple of short stories included.

The Spanish Fly and laughing gas mentions were in  Book 2--A Regimental Murder.

I had some problems with Captain Lacey, but nevertheless, found the 3 novels interesting.  I was less interested in the short stories, but I'm not a short story fan.  Although I read these novels in the three volume set, the links are to the individual books.  I don't like the new covers which look so Romance Novel, so I used the original covers.  Evidently, Gardner writes romance which explains the new covers, but the Captain Lacey series is historical mystery, not romance.

The Hanover Square Affair takes place in 1816 and introduces Captain Lacey and several other characters who will appear in later books.  This first book in the series gives the basic background of Captain Gabriel Lacey and the hint of an overarching story line which includes his former commander, Colonel Brandon and his wife Louisa.

Lacey, a retired cavalry officer, suffers from a game leg and occasional melancholy.  Although Lacey comes from an old and respected family, his father squandered the family fortune, and Lacey finds himself with a mostly empty purse and few social contacts as a result.

He happens upon a riot in which an elderly man is shot and manages to get Mr. Thornton home to his wife.  Curious about why the man was trying to get into the house in Hanover Square, Lacey discovers that the family believe that the Thornton's daughter and her maid are being kept captive by the owner.

Interest piqued, Lacey decides to find out what happened to the two young women.   In the process, many of the secondary characters (who will continue to be important) are introduced.

A Regimental Murder is the second in the Captain Lacey series.  Lacey has found his post-military career in solving murders.  

Another interesting mystery and the return of several of the secondary characters from The Hanover Square Affair.

I do find Lacey frequently annoying, however.  And the Brandon connection becomes old fast--partly because of the repeated references to the reasons for the breakdown in the relationship between Brandon and Lacey and the recurring attempts of Louisa to heal their friendship.

This is the book that mentions Spanish Fly and the nitrous oxide (laughing gas) parties.  I love the happy chance that connected Daly's article and the mention in the novel within a few days time.

In The Glass House, the vices of Regency London are once again part of the plot.  

I found this one the least satisfying of three, although I was never inclined to abandon it.  

Some of the characters and relationships throughout are puzzling.  Mr. Denis, for example, continues to work to put Lacey in his debt, but then asks nothing.  Marianne and Grenville...what's up with that?  And the wearying conflicts with the Brandons--let them move to the Peninsula and be done.

I'm going to continue reading this series (my library is still closed).  I do enjoy Regency mysteries and hope to see less of the Brandons in future episodes.  

By far my favorite Regency mystery series is Kate Ross' Julian Kestrel novels.  I read them years ago and was devastated when Kate Ross died so young.

----- Have you learned anything new and interesting from reading fiction lately?


  1. This was so interesting to read. I went to the History Girls post, and I'm going to add the blog to my list.

    1. The History Girls has provided some truly interesting posts over the years! I loved that this one was so timely. :)

  2. Wow, I had no idea that they had nitrous oxide parties. That is so crazy. I love finding out interesting things through fiction reads. I have't read the Lacey novels but I believe I have a couple of on my shelves. Those covers though... definitely more romance-like than mystery.

    1. The nitrous oxide parties amazed me--can you imagine getting silly in those outfits! The Lacey novels are set in 1817, so the clothes were more in the Jane Austen style, but still! The new covers are misleading, probably to appeal to those who love Ashley Gardner/Jennifer Ashley's romance novels, but these are definitely not romances.

  3. This post reiterates what I have always told my daughter and grandsons when they ask why I spell so well and why my vocabulary is so large. Reading opens you to the world, past and present and if you are curious you can't help but learn a thing or two!
    xx, Carol

    1. :) Easy learning! Not only are we entertained, but we get a kind of lagniappe education on the side. Still thinking about your spider, Carol. :)

  4. I like it that some books make us curious and ponder. This series sound like an intriguing read. I'm definitely going for the original covers. :)

    1. Quite a bit of difference in the cover choices!

  5. those folks at the nitrous oxide party look like they are having a grand time! I love learning new bits from books or having my curiosity piqued enough to go searching for more information.

    1. Wonder how all of the participants after the gas wore off. :)