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

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

The Great Betty Read: HEAVEN IS GENTLE, #28

Heaven_Is_GentleMy 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

Barbara Pym’s “Little Lives” of EXCELLENT WOMEN (1952)

“And our little life/Is rounded with a sleep.” Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Excellent_WomenThe 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

Part Two of An Abundance of Mysteries: Dorothy Sayers’s STRONG POISON

Strong_PoisonWhile 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.
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