The Talisman Ring

talisman ringOne of the great pleasures of my life — and probably yours too — is making exactly the right book recommendation to someone. It’s not as easy as some people think it is. You can’t just love a book and then hand it on to everyone you know; there are virtually no books that are suitable for everyone. (And we’ve all encountered people who thought they were — “Oh, I loved this, I know you’re going to love it too!” Er, no.) You have to know the person, know what other books they’ve loved, even know what kind of mood they’re in or what their state of mental and physical health is like. Someone who has just had a baby is not going to be reading the same books as someone who has just retired. And so forth. But when you get it right, and the person comes back to you and says, “Oh, I loved that book!” it’s like having created something, like introducing someone to a person they’ll have an ongoing relationship with.

So obviously I was very nervous about recommending Georgette Heyer’s The Talisman Ring to my summer book group. (We focus on strong female protagonists, and my fellow members had expressed a lot of doubt about romance novels.) I could have recommended one of her books to one member of the group without too much trepidation, but a) I hadn’t read this particular book, and b) I was making the recommendation to an entire group! Still, I did my homework — I called on Lisa, my favorite Georgette Heyer (and Dorothy Dunnett, and Dorothy Sayers, and…) reader, and I felt happy about what she offered.

The Talisman Ring starts off with an arranged marriage. Lord Lavenham, on his deathbed, decides that Sir Tristram Shield will marry young Eustacie de Vauban — this, despite the fact that they don’t suit each other even a little, and that Eustacie is longing for some adventure before she settles down. It isn’t long before she decides to go seek that adventure (she heads off to become a governess, and an occupation she is less suited to could be ill-imagined) and adventure certainly finds her, in the shape of her cousin Ludovic, whom everyone thought was on the Continent after allegedly committing murder. In fact, he is working as a smuggler, and as soon as Eustacie runs into him, she decides he must obviously clear his name. It only needs the addition of young Sarah Thane (far more sensible than Eustacie) and her brother Hugo to complete the party at the local inn, and a villain — but I’ll say no more.

My book group approached this novel with great trepidation. “Bad Jane Austen,” they said, in the first few chapters. “Limp Scarlet Pimpernel.” But then, as soon as they realized that Heyer was doing a hilarious send-up of the entire genre, that the romance wasn’t headed the way they originally thought, that there wasn’t a cliché to be found, and that the women were much stronger than it may at first have appeared, they all succumbed! Admittedly, Heyer’s romances aren’t deep. This is light, frothy reading — wonderful fun, like watching a farce where people are pushed on and off stage at precisely the right moments. But at the end of a long summer, it was just what we all needed.

Have you had any good (or bad) experiences recently, recommending books to people? What’s your favorite book to recommend?

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18 Responses to The Talisman Ring

  1. Ruby Scarlett says:

    This sounds much better than the Heyer I’ve read so far, actually. Should give this a try .

    One of my closest friends recently gave me one of her favourite books to read (I won’t give the title here for fear of scaring people off of it!) and I couldn’t read but a third of it before giving up. Way, way too bleak. It’s uncomfortable to have to tell people you didn’t enjoy one of their favourite novels for it’s so much a part of them. I’m rarely asked for recommendations though a few people see my reviews an add books to their pile accordingly. You’re right, it’s a subtle art.

    • Jenny says:

      I’ve enjoyed all the Heyer I’ve read so far, but I understand she can be a little hit or miss for some people. And yes, a subtle art is just the right phrase.

  2. Lisa says:

    Your compliment puts me to the blush, ma’am!

    I was just wondering the other day how your group had gotten on with Heyer, and I’m so happy to hear that they enjoyed it. Do you think they’ll go on to read more?

    My favorite book to recommend lately is Jeanne Ray’s Calling Invisible Women, and in fact one of my book groups met yesterday to plan out the year’s reading, and that was one of my choices. My description of it is always met with scepticism and hesitation, but fortunately everyone who has read it has enjoyed it (and her earlier books, particularly Eat Cake). I do most of my recommending via blogs these days, since my RL reading friends are few & far between.

    • Jenny says:

      I’ll take that recommendation! I don’t know when I’ll get to it, but I’ll put it on my list, since you and I have such similar taste. :)

  3. Rebecca H. says:

    I just read this book recently and loved it. The other Heyer’s I’ve read were good, but this one was on another level. I loved the sense of humor most of all. Sarah’s attitude toward Eustacia was great — gently mocking but also kind and understanding at the same time.

    • Jenny says:

      Yes, and I liked the gentle subversion of the idea that Sir Tristram and Eustacia were bound to wind up together just because they were opposites. That’s not the way it works, folks! But it was such a funny book — just what I needed.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Great recommendation! The Talisman Ring is one of my favorites.

  5. There’s nothing quite like the perfect book recommendation — getting one or giving one! It IS hard because all readers are different. Sometimes you can aim at low-hanging fruit, like my friend who likes The Story of Holly and Ivy is obviously going to like Hilary McKay’s books; but most often it’s tricky.

    • Jenny says:

      Yes — I am still forlorn that you didn’t love Elizabeth Goudge! I was sure you were going to. So tricky sometimes!

  6. Karen K. says:

    This summer my two favorite recommendations are Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain, and Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie. They were both books I read for my book group and I loved them — Catherine was nonfiction that read like fiction, and Mildred Pierce was about a really dysfunctional relationship. I really need to write a full blog post about it — I read it more than a month ago and it’s still resonating with me. It’s not really a noir/mystery like his other famous books, but it’s just great.

  7. This is my favourite Heyer, I don’t think she gets better than when she mixes up romance, adventure, and humour. I also think she has some brilliant heroines. She is light but as you say that’s sometimes exactly what you want.

  8. I only read this for the first time this year, which is shameful considering how long I’ve considered myself a Heyer fan, and I absolutely adored it. I think it’s one of her best and I’m so glad it was a successful with your book group!

    • Jenny says:

      I was relieved about my group, but delighted for myself. I am going to read Lisa’s other suggestion (Venetia) next. Such fun.

  9. aartichapati says:

    I LOVE this book. It is possibly my very favorite Heyer, but I often change my mind when I read another one. I just think the play between the characters is so great. They have so much FUN together, and I can see that continuing through their lives together.

    • Jenny says:

      That’s a wonderful observation — their sense of humor seems like it would bear them through any situation, doesn’t it? It was glorious!

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