The Great Betty Read: A SMALL SLICE OF SUMMER, #27

Small_Slice_SummerFor 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

A Few Notes on Dorothy Sayers’s THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT THE BELLONA CLUB

Unpleasantness_Bellona_ClubToday, 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

Adventures In Knitting & How Not to Read a Book

Why_Kill_InnocentAll this week, I thought “How the mighty are fallen” and “pride cometh before a fall” … as I struggled to finish one book, just ONE, C.S. Harris’s thirteenth Sebastian St. Cyr historical murder mystery and part of my favourite series EVER; romance, mystery, history — it has it ALL and you should read it from its glorious beginning, 2005’s What Angels Fear, to its … well, whatever volume Harris is at. (Book 14 is out, Who Slays the Wicked, but I have to await the paperback to afford it. I try not to think about it.)

As I’ve spent the last two posts waxing on and on about the freedom to read whatever I feel like, leaving the ARC TBR behind, blah blah blah … I imagined luxuriating (it would be positively sybaritic, I thought, smirking) in my reading and went on a Amazong ordering frenzy (good thing is, I now have copies of Kate Ross’s Julian Kestrel series, which I’ve wanted to read for years). Sadly, I’d forgotten how work, taking out the garbage, and making my lunch sandwich take time! Also, sleep, many a morning I woke to the alarm bells and ereader screensaver staring at me.

Mit_2More time suck resulted when I revived my love of knitting (the only reason I stayed sane during grad school) and struggled with mastering the art of the fingerless glove and “the horror, the horror” of double-pointed needles. My spare half hour to catch up with the shitstorm found nightly on CNN (I really should stick to the staid CBC and our staid Canadian politics, but I can’t resist that KA-BLAM of *BREAKING NEWS*) was spent contorting fingers and flailing knitting needles to produce one awkward, misshapen Fingerless Thing with Inelegant Protuberance (aka thumb gusset) … (pictured here as I writhe in neo-knitter’s shame). Mit_1

And so, my drib-drab reading of C. S. Harris’s always-magnificent St. Cyr mysteries. Continue reading

REVIEW: Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 LESSONS FOR THE 21st CENTURY

21_Lessons_for_the_21st_CenturyIt has been a long while since I’ve written about my reading. “The world is too much with us,” us poor working folks, or as Harari says in his latest, everyone is too busy to look around and analyze how our world is shifting, changing, transforming, and dangerously so. Hence, why Harari sees his role, the historian’s role, as one providing clarity. Reading 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, certainly “clarifies” what ills beset our world. Moreover, his book is fearless, brilliant, and terrifying.

“All is vanity, saith the preacher” … Harari takes our Western “vanities”, our most closely-held ideals, as illusions, as the fictions of childish adults, and bashes our shibboleths to smithereens. It is a powerful, relentless argument that strips away at every illusion of Western cultural, political, religious, and economic bulwarks. Not that the East escapes: he has less to say about it, but what he does say, stays pretty much in the same vein. No one is exempt and no one escapes from Harari’s frightening intellect. In the end, not even Harari himself. Continue reading

REVIEW: Amber Belldene’s NOT ANOTHER ROCK STAR

Not_Another_Rock_StarRomance narratives are alien to my personal experience and circumstances and I’m perfectly okay with this. It’s not what I look for in my reading and, as far as I’m concerned, “relatable” has always been a dirty-word. The important thing is that my primary fictive reading is “literarily” familiar to me: in other words, I always read Austen, the Brontës, Mrs. Gaskell, and male authors, for the romance. When I started reading romance, I finally realized what they were missing. They left me hungry for more ‘o’ that; I took my romance where I could find it. Amber Belldene’s Not Another Rock Star added a dimension to romance I’ve never experienced. It felt as close and familiar to my theological viewpoint as a romance novel can get. I say this because what I have to say about Not Another Rock Star will be coloured by that sympathetic prejudice. It isn’t part and parcel of the religious tradition in which I worship, but its theological ethos and romance raison d’être are deeply sympathetic and right. I may have lost perspective, in other words, but take the review as you will, with that in mind.

Let me start off by saying that Belldene, an Episcopal priest herself, does not write what the romance genre defines as inspirational romance. She includes religious and theological content, her heroine is a priest, but Not Another Rock Star doesn’t use a conversion narrative, or posit the idea that evangelical Christianity is the matrix of everyone’s “Come to Jesus” moment. Belldene also includes elements, pun intended, anathema to inspie romance: explicit love scenes of the premarital variety, an atheist hero and remains so, and quite a bit of spirit-imbibing, of the bottled variety. Continue reading

REVIEW/READING/RESPONSE: Kate Hewitt’s THE FORCED BRIDE OF ALAZAR

Forced_Bride_of_AlazarWhen Miss Bates started reading Hewitt’s Forced Bride Of Alazar, she was not pleased. Alazar‘s title, premise, and set-up left much to be desired, but HPs are Miss Bates reading-snack of choice, she loves Hewitt, and she persisted. There isn’t much to recommend Alazar‘s opening. Johara Behar’s arranged marriage to Malik al Bahjat was dissolved when Malik’s long-lost love, secret baby, and kidnapped older brother showed up. For a few days, Johara enjoys the possibility of steering her life her way. To date, she’s lived quietly in Provence with her mother. She reads, tends her garden, and creates plant-based cures for a variety of ailments. Hewitt’s Johara is a classic introvert. Her hopes and dreams of a free life are shattered, however, when her father informs her that the broken engagement has been reinstated with the new Sultan, the long-lost brother Azim. You’re probably thinking, this is standard HP fare, what got Miss Bates’s goat? Patience, dear reader.
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TENTATIVE NON-FIC REVIEW/RESPONSE: Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A TIME TO KEEP SILENCE, Or “When the hurly-burly’s done … “

A_Time_To_Keep_SilenceMiss Bates puts out a tentative tentacle in writing about her “other” reading: non-fiction. She doesn’t know if this is something she’ll continue, or if it’ll prove of any interest to her readers. But it’s her way of opening up her blog to all her reading and testing the waters of writing about things other than romance. As she abandoned the solipsistic, self-conscious writing of litfit a long while ago, she will endeavour to write about, in this case, a hybrid form she’s long loved that’ll have to be satisfied with the vague name of “travel literature.” Travel literature, enjoying greater popularity in the twentieth century, is on the wane. Miss Bates has a silly theory that its decline coincides with the physical bookstore’s loss and reliance on all things Internet. Though not too long ago from this age of barely-recordable change, travel literature, for want of a better name, looks back at a time when the armchair traveller and bookstore browser, as opposed to Internet surfer and social media lurker, were present in Western culture as intellectual participants and cultural consumers. 

One of travel literature’s greatest practitioners was a larger-than-life, dilettante-ish figure, WWII hero and one of the the twentieth century’s greatest prose writers, Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011), whose literary output can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Travel literature is a strange, hybrid form. It is part travel log, part history, part autobiography, part reportage, part memoir; above all however, it is distinguished by its first-person narrator’s unique tone and perspective, a narrator both himself and a chronicler of time and place, participant and observer, observed and observing, in time and out, whose presence (as anthropology posits) changes the alien culture he enters even as he is changed by it. He is a stranger in a strange land and culture-clash places him uniquely in a space where he can reflect on his own time and place “back home” in contrast to the place, time, and people in which he finds himself by will, or chance, or both. Continue reading

REVIEW/READING of Caitlin Crews’s BRIDE BY ROYAL DECREE

Bride_By_Royal_DecreeMiss Bates hasn’t read a Crews HP in a while. There can be something overwrought about Crews’s work, but all was toned down, as toned down as an HP can be, in Bride By Royal Decree. Crews’s romance roots are deeply embedded, maybe deliberately so, in fairy tale. Miss Bates enjoyed it all the more for that reason. Let’s face it: realism, nay plausibility, is not the HP’s companion. We read it as fairy-tale-wish-fulfillment-fantasy and Bride By Royal Decree has this in spades.

Decree‘s premise lies in one of Miss Bates’s favourite fairy-tale elements: the revelation of the heroine’s identity and mysterious past. In Deanville, Connecticut, Maggie Strafford scrubs the floor of her barista-job café when Reza Argos, His Royal Majesty, King and Supreme Ruler of Constantines, walks in with the revelation that Maggy is his long-thought-to-be-dead-and-lost fiancée, Princess Magdalena of Santa Domini. At eight, Maggy had “been found by the side of the road as a feral child with no memory of where she’d come from.” Since then, her “unfortunate childhood in foster care” and subsequent adult poverty made her the snarly, mouthy woman she is. Reza is controlled, proper, and duty-bound, “not a sentimental man” writes Crews. He reveals Maggie’s identity and, despite her lippy disbelief, whisks her away to a private island for princess-grooming where the novel’s main action takes place, soon thereafter to be put in her queenly place in his kingdom. Like many an HP-hero, Reza is a “beast,” not in appearance, but emotionally. He’s coiled inward, with a backstory that makes him balk at emotional entanglement.  Continue reading

TBR Challenge Review: Judith Arnold’s BAREFOOT IN THE GRASS

Barefoot_In-Grass_2This summer, Miss Bates listened to a Brene Brown series of lectures called “The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage.” (It’s a wonderful series, especially if you’re given to self-protection and perfectionism, as Miss Bates is. Austen’s Miss Bates is beautifully vulnerable, which leads Emma to take that nasty shot at her at the picnic.) One interesting point Brown made was that vulnerability does not mean oversharing, or as Miss Bates less elegantly puts it, TMI. In reference to the same, Brown said you have to really think about who deserves your story. Reading Judith Arnold’s seminal romance about breast-cancer survivor Beth Pendleton and Ryan Walker, the builder-rogue who falls in love with her, Miss Bates thought about Brown’s words a lot. Too often, in romance, the heroine keeps secrets, secrets that result in an annoying Big Mis (I’m looking at you, secret babies) and a sure-fire way to  being dumped onto the DNF pile. Barefoot In the Grass, on the other hand, is about a private woman, not a secretive one, whose story earned its privacy. Beth is a charming, intelligent, sympathetic heroine who confronted physical and psychic pain and fought a hard battle to embrace life, as echoed by the novel’s title and Beth’s oft-declared promise-to-self to find joy in “walking barefoot in the grass.”  Continue reading

Review/Response/Appreciation: Jo Beverley’s EMILY AND THE DARK ANGEL, Seeing Lucifer, Finding Michael

Emily_2Jo Beverley’s 1991 Emily and the Dark Angel restores your faith in the genre. That was Miss Bates’s thought as she turned the last page with a satisfied reader’s affection-sigh. Miss Bates is glad she read Emily Grantwich and Piers Verderan’s wooing on paper: a traditional format for a traditional Regency, which never loses its freshness, elegance, or emotional power. What brings about that lift, the reader’s spirit-rise, the recognition of “I’m in the presence of one of the genre’s greats”? It’s difficult to pinpoint, as elusive as catching a sunbeam. It’s trope-manipulation, or gentle tinkering; it’s psychological acumen. It’s the bringing-to-life of time and place; it’s secondary characters who breathe. It’s turn of phrase the reader recalls long after the last page is turned. It’s banter and confession and the fulfilled promises of desire and being understood.

Emily and the Dark Angel contains one of Miss Bates’s favourite romance pairings, opposites-attract: Emily is sensible to Ver’s imprudence, countryside respectability to Ver’s citified worldliness, propriety to his flouting of social conventions, innocent to his debauchery, staid to his temperament, plain to his gorgeousness, and Miss Bates’s absolute favourite, her diminutive stature to his gargantuan. When this yin-yang romance combination is handled as cleverly and sensitively as Beverley’s, the HEA is about the couple’s integrating the best of each other in themselves. Core identity is preserved for tension and interest, but tempered to show us how they will live in harmony.
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