Beverly 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.
As 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
My Great Betty Neels read continued with #28, Heaven Is Gentle. I didn’t have too many expectations for this one. There wasn’t much buzz about it as a favourite Betty and consequently, I approached it cavalierly. It surprised me how much I loved it. It opened with a beautifully droll ironic scene. Dr. Christian van Duyl and Professor Wyllie are deciding on hiring a nurse. She must be plain, motherly, large, and eminently spinsterish. Dr. van Duyl is running a special asthma clinic in the Scottish Highlands, of which Professor Wyllie is both patient and participant and said nurse will be on board to aid with patients. Christian and the Prof settle on Miss Eliza Proudfoot, who, when she appears in the Wester Ross clinic, turns out to be beautiful, young, snappy, tiny, and anything but a plain-Jane spinster. At 28, she’s a spinster, but not for lack of offers. What follows holds many Betty delights: Christian and Eliza verbally spar and snap at each other. The more they dislike each other, the greater their attraction. They rescue a cat and kittens, withstand a flood, and Christian rescues Eliza when she’s caught in a dangerous thunder-lightning-torrent storm. Continue reading
Sometimes you need a shot of pure romance and the HP delivers. I went for one of the many TBR ARC HPs I have knocking around, Caitlin Crews’s Untamed Billionaire’s Innocent Bride and got what I was looking for; the HP recipe: eye-rolling premise and plot, standard-fare hero and heroine, and heart-tugging romance experience.
Personal assistant to billionaire Matteo Combe trudges through a Hungarian forest in high heels and red cape to lure a beast out of its lair. Said beast is Matteo’s long-lost half-brother Dominick James, the product of their mother’s foolish youth, abandoned to the miseries of an orphanage, the Italian streets and eventually the army. Though Dominick is wealthy in his own right (the ubiquitous security company having earned him $$$$$$$$), he chooses to keep his own counsel and company in this forest. When Lauren pounds on his cabin door and is granted entry, the inevitable visceral lust-response follows, “lust at first sight”. (Except for the niggling sense that neither Lauren nor Dominick has ever reacted to a man or woman this way before! *gasp*) Lauren tries to convince Dominick to return to England with her to take his place in the Combe family and claim his inheritance. In the interim, she’s going to give his wild, rough, gorgeous ways, a make-over. I must say I did get a kick out of this HP role reversal: it’s usually the heroine who gets the grooming and clothes update.
“And our little life/Is rounded with a sleep.” Shakespeare’s The Tempest
The Bard’s wonderful reference to life and death, rest and completion went through my head reading Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women. Though Pym’s novel is no memento mori, it is about the smallness of its characters’ lives, the “excellent women” of the margins, the spinsters who decorate the church altar, run the jumble sale, brew and serve the tea, and butter the crumpets. They are the world’s unmarried, unloved, plain-Janes. Now I’m of the opinion that the spinster’s life should be lived with élan and that is definitely lacking in Pym’s spinsters, “excellent women” though they be. There is nothing celebratory in the excellent women’s lives she depicts; though, at times, to give credit where it’s due, her women are acerbic, subtly angry, and embracing of their singlehood. The narrator’s voice, Mildred Lathbury’s, the main excellent woman, was too self-deprecating to satisfy this feral spinster. There were some wonderful moments when Mildred kicks against the pricks (pun intended) that were worth the mild annoyance with which I read much of Pym’s novel. Continue reading
While I gallopped through Massey’s Widows and Griffiths’s Galloway #2 and 3, I trotted through Sayers’s Strong Poison, savouring her wit and stopping to chuckle and admire what Sayers did with a sentence. While the Bellona Club had me thinking about Sayers, the Great War, and the memento mori theme, A Strong Poison elicited a more emotional response (with memento mori lurking), fitting for a novel introducing the great love of Peter Wimsey’s life, Harriet Vane. To return to a comment I made in my previous post, about the interweaving of the detecting with the detective’s personal life, Strong Poison perfectly exemplifies this. As a matter of fact, I would say the mystery’s rational aspect, the working out of the crime thanks to the detective’s mind and abilities (except for the post-mo detective story, which I don’t read, which probably owes the crime’s solution/resolution to randomness, or “dumb luck”) is balanced by their personal lives. In Strong Poison, Lord Peter Wimsey falls in love, at first sight, with the accused (of her lover’s murder no less). Wimsey’s detecting powers are at the service and mercy of his heart. A detective, amateur or otherwise, may be a person of honour, integrity, with a thirst for justice, but when these qualities are coupled with a personal, desirable love, then we have as perfect a mystery novel as Sayers’s Strong Poison.
If I’m not reading romance, then my genre fiction of choice is the murder mystery, not too gory, or too puzzle-y. For the past few weeks, in tandem with the Bowen romance I reviewed, I read Dorothy Sayers’s Strong Poison, Sujata Massey’s The Widows of Malabar Hill and, in audio, the second and third Ruth Galloway mysteries, Elly Griffiths’s The Janus Stone and The House at Sea’s End. I enjoyed the three, four really, and recommend them to any reader who, like me, likes to torment herself by following series, awaiting, anticipating each volume (at least the Sayers are, um, finite). The slower the writer, the greater the agony. Of the three, Sayers’s Strong Poison is sheer wit and genius; the Massey took a while to get into, but once I gave it a “second chance”, I was engrossed. The Galloways are catnip: I adore the main character, Ruth, an archaeologist who lends her “bone” expertise to the police and ends up working with Norfolk police’s dour and sexy DCI Harry Nelson. In the course of reading and listening, I thought about what I find compelling about crime fiction: it isn’t the mystery, its inception, progression, or resolution. As I’ve said before, I cannot for the life of me recall who died, why, or whodunnit. What I remember and enjoy is the inter-play and inter-weaving of the central crime/mystery and the detecting figures’ personal lives, the messier the better. Continue reading
I have come ’round to being a Kelly Bowen fan-girl. I think her romances are among the best in the historical subgenre. They are elegantly executed; the characters are sympathetically idealized without being insipid. Her plots clip along at an excellent pace and, thematically, she is the nonpareil, with a feminist twist to her heroines, taking nothing away from the rich historical context. I’ve enjoyed two Bowen romances to date, with reservations, but I think this third in her Devils of Dover series is her best. I had been intrigued by glimpses of the hero in previous books: the mysterious Dr. Harland Hayward, Baron Strathmore, healer and comforter, ever on some mysterious, not-quite-legal coastal “operation.” (Sadly, the strangely somnambulistic figure on the cover doesn’t do him justice.) Everything comes home to roost for him in A Rogue By Night, when he finally meets his doctoring and smuggling match, “Dr” Katherine Wright, beauty, healer, veteran, and daughter and sister to two of Dover’s greatest smugglers, Paul and Matthew Wright. Though Katherine is of humble beginnings and Harland a noble, they have more in common than their social status suggests.
For those of you who may have followed along on GR, or Twitter, you know I’ve set out to read the Betty Neels oeuvre, all 134 romances. I’ve alternated between posting short reviews on GR, or commenting #greatbettyread on Twitter. Henceforth, I’ll be posting tiny reviews on the blog, keeping a record of my reading in one place. Plus I prefer its freedom of babbling as I see fit without Twitter constraints, or the fuss of keeping one set of reading thoughts in one place and others in another.
And so, my reading of #27, A Small Slice Of Summer (1975), mainly done in the tub, as most of these are: a good soak and Betty, there’s nothing like it. I enjoyed Slice of Summer, finding nothing atypical about its Betty-fare (why one reads them, no?), but it didn’t rock my world as others have. Nurse Letitia Marsden ends up in Dr. Jason Mourik van Nie’s world by association: her older sister is friend’s with the wife of a doctor-colleague of Jason’s. Their paths cross socially and professionally and proximity is further ensured when Georgina asks Letitia to take their absent nanny’s place when she, husband Julius, toddler Polly, and baby Ivo, visit Holland. BTW, the subtly match-making Georgina and Julius, are the fantabulous Damsel In Green (1971)’s hero and heroine. Continue reading
Today, alternating reading with work tasks and making full-use of a quiet lunch hour, I finished Dorothy Sayers’s The Unpleasantness At the Bellona Club (1928). BTW, I’m rereading Sayers’s murder mystery series. Because I never read for plot and promptly forget it when I’m done, I might as well have never read it. What I did and do retain is Lord Peter Wimsey, Sayers’s acerbic writing, and the feeling that everything is precariously tottering on the edge of tragedy. This post is by way of expressing some of my random thoughts while I read. I don’t spoil, so feel free to keep reading. I don’t summarize or review, therefore, these comments may only be of interest to someone who’s read and/or is interested in Sayers. Or not.
The Unpleasantness At the Bellona Club centres around the murder of elderly General Fentiman, found deprived of his mortal coil when he spent too long snoozing in his usual chair at the Bellona Club, a London gentleman’s club. The first thing that struck me, and I don’t remember thinking about this when I first read the Wimsey mysteries, was the noise of The Great War in the background. Though the war has been long over, most of the characters, including Wimsey, live in its shadow, are yet haunted by the mud of the Somme so to speak, and carry the bitter, cavalier and frightening knowledge of witnessing death, feeling his breath on their napes. They are marked and Sayers’s novel is in turn marked by a macabre memento mori. The War, as Wimsey refers to it, is the great dividing line of before and after, what we were and what we’ve become because of it: “Wimsey said that nothing was what it had been; he thought it must be due to the War.” Wimsey’s diffidence marks all the characters; euphemism stands in for death, horror, evil, masked, out of fear, out of not-to-be-borne. Continue reading