“Hello, Betty, my old friend … ” It’s been a while, folks, since I did an update on my Great Betty Read. Not that I wasn’t enjoying Henrietta and Marnix, but with a hot summer, I tend to cool showers rather than hot baths (which is where I like to do my Betty reading). With the weather cooling off (thanks be to the weather gods), back to Bets I went and a quick conclusion to the lingering Henrietta, her castle, and her cat in a tea cosy (truly delightful!).
Sister Henrietta Brodie, after ten years as a nurse, inherits a small home in Holland, leaves her job, and moves in. I loved that work, for Henrietta, for Betty really, is a financial necessity, duty, and responsibility, but not a virtue. The important thing to Bets is to be of service to others: how you do that, as a wife, mother, neighbour, friend, nurse, volunteer, doesn’t matter as long as its the ethos you live by. Because work isn’t a virtue, Henrietta gives notice, takes her rumbly old Renault, Charlie, and herself to her neat little Dutch cottage … Continue reading
Lauren 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.
Though 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
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
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
Lucy Parker writes one of my favourite contemporary romance series, “London Celebrities,” with heroes and heroines as denizens of London’s West End theatre scene. In the series’ fourth volume, however, the West End is in the background. Heroine-actress Freddy Carlton (for Frederica, a nod to Heyer?) joins the cast of a “digital mash-up of characters from different Jane Austen books, transplanted into a murder-mystery, house-party scenario. Outcome guided by the choice of the player,” that is, the televison and app audience. All taking take place on a estate, à la Downton Abbey. The estate, 16th-century Highbrook Wells, magnificent and crumbling, is the mortgaged-to-the-gills family home of acerbic theatre critic and Freddy nemesis, James “Griff” Ford-Griffin. Griff can’t afford to say no to the “digital mash-up” and the company of actors, Freddy too, arrives at Highbrook as if it’s Elsinore. Put Griff and Freddy together in this enforced intimacy and let sparks fly: antagonists to lovers, opposites-attract denying their attraction. Not really. This isn’t a criticism. Parker hasn’t written what at first appears to be your romance trope of antagonists-to-lovers. No matter how witty and thick the banter ( it is fabulous), Parker juggles three simultaneous narratives, of which the romance between Freddy and Griff is the gentlest, the most assured of a positive outcome.
Sonali Dev’s Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors was everything I wanted in Sharma’s The Takeover Effect. Though it’s distasteful to praise one author at the cost of another, Sharma’s ugh-failure was fresh in my mind as I read Dev’s latest and revelled in it. In all fairness, Dev herself came under my miffed-reader scrutiny as my one foray into her books wasn’t positive. I found The Bollywood Bride overblown, melodramatic, and humorless. Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors is none of those things. Dev bleached the Bride‘s flaws and created a novel that is rich in humor, deeply felt, tender, and moving. Moreover, I’m leery of Austen-homages, finding them derivative (I guess they’re meant to be, so schoolmarm picky of me to say so) and never as good as the original. Dev convinced me otherwise. Her Austen-love comes through as sheer delight and joy in the frothy glory that is Pride and Prejudice. But Dev has wrought something uniquely her own: twisting and turning in Austen’s wake, leaping like a joyful dolphin by taking the familiar, beloved Austen tropes and making them hers. This constitutes Dev’s “other flavors”: coming from teasing out of Austen a remarkable POC-hero-heroine, American politics and the “dream”, class struc-and-stric-tures, family dynamics, and Austen-up-ending gender stereotypes, the most brilliant stroke of which is Dev’s rendering of smarmy Wickham.
After using every moment of my meagre work-week-reading-time to finish James’s I Want You Back, I turned the final page, exclaiming “I loved this book!” Because I prefer to have a measured response, I “slept on it”, woke up and thought, “Still love it.” And yet, had I not requested this ARC “blind”, had someone described it to me with detail, it would’ve been the kiss of death. Firstly, it’s written in alternating first-person POV, which I hate. Secondly, and this is not a spoiler because we know this from the get-go, the hero was a cheater. But that’s not all: when the heroine was pregnant, he didn’t support her, even though he was rich as Croesus, and he dragged her through the courts for custody for years, AND he didn’t give her sufficient financial support when he was making a mint as a star Blackhawks defenceman and was independently wealthy thanks to being a Lund. How can this be borne, much less forgiven by a romance reader? … and let’s not say anything about the heroine. I did that frustrated hair-tugging thing every reader knows when they embark on a book, knowing that the DNF-fairy is only pages away from sprinkling her special brand of lip-curling fairy dust. Continue reading
Though I appreciate a medieval-set romance, I’m aware of its challenges. It is difficult for a romance author to capture the strangeness of the medieval world and still make the romance familiar. Thus far, only two romance authors I’ve read achieve this successfully (mind you, I haven’t read much medieval romance, these are the ones who work for me): Blythe Gifford (Secrets At Court is my favourite) and Elizabeth Kingston. But, like Kingston’s mentor’s books, Laura Kinsale’s, it took me a long time to warm to Desire Lines.
To look to the novel’s opening, “It began in beauty and in blood.” A beautiful, knife-laden young woman, Nan, rescues a Welshman, originally sent to the English King Edward I as obeisance from the young Welshman’s father, Welsh royalty.
(England’s 13th-century conquest of Wales is the historical context of Kingston’s novel.) Gruffydd ab Iorwerth has been knight, prisoner, and captive. He’s lived in the luxury of the English court, then hid for years in a monastery, made friends and enemies, tamed and hunted with his beloved falcons (his marketable skill, important to English lords) and been chained, starved, and beaten.
Readers may be familiar with Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway and Stephens/Mephisto mysteries. I listened to the first Galloway, The Crossing Places, and enjoyed it. I have the next two queued, but you know, too many books, so little time: a reader’s lament. I did make time, on the other hand, for Griffiths’s latest, a stand-alone murder mystery and homage to gothic lit. There’s a sly nod to Georgette Heyer: all the wins. The darn thing kept me reading in waiting rooms (nose stuffed while Kindle pressed to it), through half-hearted lunch-time sandwich-eating, and curled up in my reading chair till late. The Stranger Diaries is a heck of a engrossing read; even when the mystery faltered, Griffiths’s love of gothic lit, uncanny knowledge of teacherly ways, especially English teacherly ways, and insight into love-gone-mad-and-bad obsession saw me hitting those Kindle pages furiously.
Giving you a sense of what The Stranger Diaries is about makes for convoluted retelling, but spoilers will be avoided. Divorcée Clare Cassidy lives in West Sussex with her 15-year-old daughter Georgia. She teaches English at Talgarth High and works on her book about Talgarth High’s founder, the fictional Victorian writer, R. H. Holland, whose short story, “The Stranger,” frames Griffiths’s narrative. Continue reading