A Few Comments on Marilynne Robinson’s HOUSEKEEPING

HousekeepingI find it difficult to read a book when I can’t discern the author’s purpose in the writing of it. Reading Robinson’s Housekeeping was reading “through a glass darkly.” It wasn’t so much that it was “purposeless”. I never had that sense, but only of my own reading failure. At times, I glimpsed a phrase of such piercing brilliance that I’d gasp and then it would elude me again.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read literary fiction and it was hard going, especially with prose as dense and elusive as this. I admired it, but I didn’t enjoy it. Like most litfic, there isn’t much plot. Two sisters, Ruthie (really more the main character) and Lucille are left in the town of Fingerbone (creepy name, memento mori-ish) by their mother, who drives her borrowed car over Fingerbone’s bridge and into its lake. The girls are raised by their grandmother, then by their grandmother’s two sisters-in-law, then by their eccentric, dream-ridden maternal aunt, Sylvie. Much of what I have to say will consist of what the novel is not rather than what it is. It’s not a coming-of-age narrative. (You can’t really spoil a novel without much plot, but be warned, I’m not careful about discussing whatever struck me in what follows.)  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Jennifer Ashley’s DEATH IN KEW GARDENS

Death_Kew-GardensDeath In Kew Gardens, number three in Ashley’s Kat Holloway Below Stairs mysteries and, at least in its first half, the best one yet (I’d still recommend you read the first two, I loved’em). As you know, I don’t read mysteries for the “puzzle-mystery-solution”, or for the criminal’s motive or psychology, but the detecting main character and, in Ashley’s series’ case, her marvelous detecting team of “below stairs” maids, butlers, housekeepers, and mysterious policeman/detective/government agent Daniel McAdam (man of many roles and disguises) and his friends. Of all the mystery series I read, I love Ashley’s for her protagonists and friends, who help Kat Holloway, an inspired cook by profession, solve crimes and bring justice. Kat is talented, smart, beautiful, and kind. In Death In Kew Gardens, Kat’s kindness sets off the novel’s mystery. As Kat shops with her mercurial, temperamental, and hilarious cook’s assistant, Tess (I loved her!), she accidentally knocks over a passerby, Mr. Li, whom she then helps up. That night, Mr. Li knocks on the Rankin house kitchen door, where Kat cooks for the Bywaters and their niece and her friend, Lady Cynthia, and gifts Kat with a box of aromatic tea. Continue reading

What Else I’ve Been Reading

Benway_WelshCanada Day has always meant one thing: reading time! As I’m released from professional duties for a good six+ weeks every year that very day, I settle in for hours of daily glorious reading, snatching one book, moving to another, reading several simultaneously. This year, I was sadly foiled in my summer reading plans by a necessary PD excursion, a full week of my hols, folks. Hence, why I’m only getting into the swing of reading all the things when it’s nearly Bastille Day.

Willig’s Summer Country, at a wopping 480 pages, took all my attention and two books I’ve been reading since mid-June fell by the wayside. Now that I’ve finally settled into a routine, I finished them and will make a few comments about them here. One was Robin Benway’s Far From the Tree, a teen novel, which I read for professional reasons, but which I enjoyed immensely. The other was a historical murder mystery I struggled to like, Kaite Welsh’s The Wages of Sin … and sometimes loved. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Donna Alward’s SUMMER ESCAPE WITH THE TYCOON

Summer_Escape_TycoonAs I read Donna Alward’s Summer Escape With the Tycoon, I realized that I enjoy romance where the main characters are at a crossroads, out of their element/comfort zone, or about to embark on a fresh start. This context can make them more open to love, but also more vulnerable and uncertain. Alward is particularly adept at this theme. In Summer Escape, for example, heroine Molly Quinn has bid on and won her first alone-time vacation in years. At 29, she practises family law in her father’s law firm, thus far, her life dedicated to a career that pleases her parents. Eric Chambault, who carried the burden of his family’s welfare when their father abandoned them, has made financial good, so good his now ex-wife has taken 30 meagre millions in their divorce. He doesn’t care about the money, but the failure of his marriage and his ex-wife’s reasons for it (his absence and workaholism) have left him questioning his choices. Like Molly, he bid on the same silent auction holiday at the same charity event. Months later, when he mistakenly ends up in Molly’s hotel room and glimpses her in the tub, well, it’s a priceless meet-cute. The room issue is cleared up, but their vacation-journey through British Columbia’s natural beauty throws them together time and again, especially as they’re the only singles on the luxury trip. Continue reading

REVIEW: Lauren Willig’s THE SUMMER COUNTRY

Summer_CountryLauren Willig’s “summer country” is early nineteenth and Victorian-Era-set Barbados. A young women arrives in Bridgetown in February 1854, Miss Emily Dawson, to claim her inheritance, the ruined sugar-producing estate of Peverills, only to discover a family history that alters everything she has known about who she is.

Since the *sniff* end to the Pink Carnation series and we can see vestiges of this theme there too, Willig’s novels centre around a heroine’s journey of unearthing familial and historical identity. Willig’s specializes in, to nay-say the Bard’s Hamlet, a “discovered country” that alters and then cements a new future for our heroine. The Summer Country‘s Emily Dawson is such a heroine, as she delves into the Barbadian history of slavery, white privilege and exploitation of others, and the personal tragedies and triumphs of parallel stories, one set in 1812-1816, and the heroine’s present, 1854, the 1812-16 narrative bearing on Emily’s present and future.
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REVIEW: Michelle Griep’s THE NOBLE GUARDIAN

Noble_GuardianThough I consider myself a reader of inspirational romance, I do find it cloying at times. My rule is to keep my inspie romance reads on spare occasions … until I read Michelle Griep’s The Noble Guardian. What a refreshing voice and ethos! I want to read ALL the Grieps. (She is to historical inspie what Kara Isaac is to contemporary, breathing new life into the subgenre.) The religious element is present, but more in the characters’ personalities and actions, less in finger-wagging didacticism. In The Noble Guardian, Griep’s protagonists occasionally enjoy ale, travel together chaperoned only by a one-year-old adorable moppet, and share affection, passion, and desire that is more palpably sexy than many an explicit, pages-long love scene. There’s a shared horse ride that is sensually magnificent.

Moreover, Griep’s Regency setting, with its evil, violent highwaymen and the eponymous “noble guardian,” Samuel Thatcher, is beautifully developped. Our heroine, Abigail Gilbert, “Abby”, hires Samuel to act as protective escort on her journey to her fiancé, Sir Jonathan Aberley. They travel Regency England’s dangerous byways, sleeping in inns, deflecting dangerous criminals, braving stormy weather, and caring for a tyke named Emma, the daughter of one of Samuel’s fellow-veterans too grief-stricken over the death of his wife to care for her himself. On this at times joyful, at times sad, at times perilous journey, Abby and Samuel banter, converse, share their lives, and grow to love one another and their charge, Emma.    Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Kate Hewitt’s A VICARAGE HOMECOMING

Vicarage_HomecomingA Vicarage Homecoming is the fourth book in Kate Hewitt’s Holley Sisters of Thornthwaite series. Each book tells the story of one of four daughters to Thornthwaite’s vicar and wife. By book four, the vicar, Roger, and his wife, Ruth, are on mission in China, and three of the four sisters are attached and happy. Then there’s number four, Miriam Holley, 23 and pregnant after one careless night with a stranger while she was on her travels ’round the globe. We meet Miriam, five months along and miserable. She’s considering giving the baby up for adoption, pondering how her life lacks viable work and purpose, and feeling like she’s let her family, church family, and herself down: how hard will it be to make sure she doesn’t drag this baby along in her desultory wake? As it turns out, harder than she thought.

Hewitt’s Vicarage Homecoming is not a romance, thought there’s a romantic interest in it. It’s very much the story of Miriam’s growth and awakening to the possibilities of family, friendship, and motherhood. The first half of the novel sees Miriam spend time working for the new vicar, her sister Anna’s fiancé, Simon Truesdell. At first, I thought he was the love interest, but no. Then, she runs into her sister Rachel’s former fiancé, Dan Taylor, and he offers her a place to stay, the annexe he’s renting, in exchange for answering the phone at his veterinary clinic and dealing with his chaotic paperwork.   Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Lucy Gilmore’s PUPPY LOVE

Puppy_LoveWhile Lucy Gilmore is a new-to-me romance author, some of you may know her under the name Tamara Morgan. (I may even have some of “Morgan’s” romances lurking in the TBR.) Though I’m leery of new-to-me romance authors, I succumbed to the cover puppy’s cuteness. If I were to ever have a dog, it would be a Pomeranian, though in truth, I’m a cat-lady. Reading Gilmore’s first volume in the Service Puppies series, I didn’t regret my venture to new-author territory for a moment. Gilmore’s romance may not break new genre ground, but it delighted me. To start, I loved the premise and meet-cute and recounting them will give you a good idea of what you can expect. Harrison Parks is my favourite kind of hero: huge, grumpy, rhetorically monosyllabic, introverted, and a sentimental softie under the bluster and muscle. He’s also a wildfire firefighter and type 1 diabetic, whose workaholism put him into a diabetic coma. Now his boss, Oscar, wants him to get a service dog to detect his blood sugar — before he’ll let him anywhere near a wildfire again. Harrison loves his work and, grumbling and whinging up a storm, he finds himself at the Puppy Promise kennel staring down at a ball of fluff named Bubbles and a bitty woman in a ruffled dress telling him Bubbles is his new lifeline to getting back to the work he loves.
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MINI-REVIEW: Beverly Jenkins’s REBEL

RebelBeverly Jenkins’s Rebel is first in her Women Who Dare series and Jenkins, a new-to-me author. I was keen to try a new historical romance author. In truth, though, I slogged through it, taking two weeks to reach the end. Though its opening was compelling, I never warmed to the protagonists and found the persistently declarative prose, flat.

It opens in 1867 New Orleans as New-Yorker Valinda Lacy teaches her recently freedmen, women, and their children. We get a sense of a society, barely out of war, trying to adjust to new historical realities, some well, and others, clinging to their place as the dominant class and race. They pose a threat to the characters and Jenkins does a excellent job of conveying what it feels like to live under a constant edge of what ought to be a safe, going-about-business existence. For example, Valinda’s school is soon destroyed. Her path then crosses with a powerful, wealthy family, the LeVeqs, who give her a home and protection and help her re-establish the school.
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Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway Mysteries: A ROOM FULL OF BONES, #4

Room_Full_BonesAs I mentioned in a previous post, when I had an Audible account, I listened to Elly Griffiths’s first three Ruth Galloway mysteries. Recently, I read #4, A Room Full of Bones, and it may be my favourite yet. (I have the rest stacked and ready to go all the way to the most recent, #11, The Stone Circle. I’m hooked, yes, and a fan.) Like her standalone mystery, The Stranger Diaries, Griffiths has a winning combination of elements: a likeable, detecting, female lead, literary and genre allusions to make a reader smile fondly, a snappy style, smooth voice, moreover in the third person (my preference), and a great balance between the central mystery (the variable) and the personal lives of her detecting team (the given). That combination of original material with the steady thread of a group of compelling characters can see me follow a detecting series for years (witness my love for and obsession with C. S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr Regency mysteries, all the elements of Griffiths’s within a historical setting). Griffiths’s protagonist, Ruth Galloway, is an academic, a forensic archaeologist professor at North Norfolk University, who’s drawn again and again, thanks to her “bones” expertise, into police cases headed by DCI Harry Nelson of the Norfolk police and his team members. Continue reading