It’s too bad I started reading Allison Montclair’s The Right Sort of Man when I returned to work after the holidays because I wanted the luxury of inhaling it in hours instead of days. First, it came recommended by MissB’s reader, Barb, always spot-on; second, it held much tropish goodness: historical, check; mystery, check; women forging paths in post-war-England, check; engaging voice, check; witty, rapid-sharp dialogue, check; glimmers of love interests, check. And, I cannot say this enough: it’s moving without being lugubrious and the characters grow in believable, positive ways. (More than anything, my ugh with litfic is the latter. If you have any recs about this, they’d be welcome.)
Montclair creates a pair of female amateur sleuths who start a marriage bureau agency in post-WWII London. They’re an unlikely, contrapuntal pair whose professional relationship grows into a friendship. If you’re keen on romance tropes, they’re an opposites-attract version of female friendship. Montclair opens her novel, cleverly-like, with the victim, one Tillie LaSalle, seeking a match from Gwen Bainbridge and Iris Sparks’s Mayfair matchmaking establishment, The Right Sort Marriage Bureau. We soon realize Iris and Gwen are as unlike in personality as they are in height. Gwen is the willowy, still-grieving widow of would-have-inherited-a-title Ronald Bainbridge and mother to six-year-old Ronnie. Iris, on the other hand, a former ton-ish wild girl about town, did some secret service work during the war and has derring-do recklessness to Gwen’s methodical care. Continue reading
I wanted to read Laura Lippman’s Lady In the Lake after I heard an NPR interview with the author. Lippman was knowledgeable and personable about her city’s fractured history, the state of American politics and journalism, its ills and its profound necessity for examining the state of the nation and ensuring free, open democracy. Certainly, her standalone novel contains threads of these ideas. It is, however, unlike Lippman’s expansive personality and openness, a cramped book. The premise held promise: a recently separated late-thirties beauty, Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz (née Morgenstern) has left marriage and middle-class comfort behind to pursue a reporter’s beat. In 1966, there was a ceiling still so thick for women that not even Maddie’s sledgehammer beauty and persistence can break it. Living in one of Baltimore’s seedier neighbourhoods, Maddie pursues an affair with a black policeman, whose nightly visits, an inter-racial “romance” still illicit and dangerous to both, are vigorous and all-consuming. Maddie revels in her freedom for sex and solitude. There’s a mild regret at leaving her son Seth with his father. Seth proves a snivelling, whiny character and I never warmed to him. If at first Maddie’s pursuit of a journalistic career seems random and half-hearted, once she gets a clerical job at a local paper, she begins a relentless pursuit to find the killer of the “lady in the lake”, Cleo Sherwood, make her mark, and get a beat of her own.
Though I’m no fan of the new stylized covers, Freeman’s Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder WAS pink and I love pink as much as a murder mystery set in late Victorian times among the aristocratic and privileged. If only there’d been a murder at Downton … (well, there was, but it was in a hotel room). I thought Freeman’s plot convoluted, but I wanted to find another historical murder mystery series to follow, as if I didn’t already have quite a few.
Ah, the complicated plotting: young, widowed, single mother, Lady Harleigh, American Frances Price by birth, aristocratic British by marriage of convenience, much like Lady Grantham, is our amateur sleuth. When the novel opens, we learn Frances has refused marriage to her charming neighbour and partner in sleuthing (does he work for the Home Office?), George Hazelton. Frances lives with Rose, her seven-year-old daughter; recently affianced sister, Lily; Aunt Hetty, and the comic-relief, klutzy, American heiress, Charlotte Deaver (left to Frances’s care by her globe-trotting, toy-boy-collecting mother). Frances has a lively social life, now she’s out of mourning, and a wide circle of friends, one of whom is Charles Evingdon, a harmless, handsome, air-headed aristocrat. Frances has tried to set Charles up with one of her friends, Mary Archer. Sadly, Mary is murdered and Charles is implicated. With George’s help, Frances extricates Charles from the police. However, as she, George, and their coterie of friends, including Charles, learn more about Mary Archer, things are curiouser and curiouser. Continue reading
Death 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
Canada 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
All 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.
More 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).
And so, my drib-drab reading of C. S. Harris’s always-magnificent St. Cyr mysteries. Continue reading
Since my last post, I’ve been giddy with reading possibilities. I picked up one book and set it down, swiped e-reader “cloud” pages, and flitted from book to book like a bee unable to settle on a flower. Now that I was free of my ARC schedule, I was going to read all the things. Except I didn’t. Work was fraught and till about mid-week, I was preoccupied with an important meeting I’d been pulled into. Without my steady ARC reviewing schedule, I was gleeful, but book-fickle.
*big breath* I thought about what I loved about reading, and it turned out to be somewhat like the comments I made in my previous post about being in church and experiencing Paschal services. What I love about it is I get to carry the book around in my head, characters, world, and concerns, while going about my everyday business of work, a sandwich for lunch, and traffic-ridden commutes. The bee-me settled on several flowers; it may not be the way forward, but bee-me is in a happy place. I thought about what worlds I wanted taking up space in my head and what worlds I could anticipate spending time in when I settle on the couch to read, post-workday. Continue reading
Mariah Fredericks’s second Jane Prescott mystery, Death Of A New American, has a rich, layered, vivid backdrop: 1912 New York. Indeed, Fredericks’s vibrantly-rendered historical detail may be as immersive and compelling as her mystery and characters. Of the latter, her amateur sleuth, lady’s maid Jane Prescott, is eminently sympathetic: intelligent, observant, and compassionate. Jane’s lowly social status allows her the freedom to fade into the background and take in the details of the wealthy, privileged, and as aristocratic as Americans can be, families she serves. Fredericks may write about the rich and powerful, but the moral core of her mystery lies with the people of the “downstairs”. Their lives, thanks to the historical context in which Fredericks situates them, will change as social, economic, and political tides sweep over early twentieth century New York.
Fredericks has penned a novel as richly conceived historically as it is domestically. When it opens, the papers are crying the news of the Titanic‘s sinking. On the domestic front, Jane is preparing a trip to the Long Island home of the Tylers, as her mistress, Louise Benchley, prepares to marry their nephew, William. Charles, William’s uncle, is the powerful, influential, and famous-for-fighting-the-emerging-Italian-NY mafia, police commissioner. But, who is the “new American” and how and why does she die?
I came to this lauded series late. Have the first two on audio and once again, I’ve had to relearn that my ability to listen to audiobooks is severely limited. It took me days and days to read Hollow, buffeted as I was by day-job issues. It never offered that romance punch of happiness and rightness, but it was a worthy read nonetheless.
For those unfamiliar with Thomas’s series, she sets up her Victorian female detective as a sly critique of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Thomas imagines Sherlock Holmes as Charlotte, a cross-dressing, fallen woman amidst the puritanical strictures of Victorian England, who uses her troubling powers of detection and frighteningly incisive intellect to solve convoluted mysteries full of dastardly nemeses and plots within plots. In this third book in the series, Charlotte solves the murder of dear friend and eventual lover’s, Lord Ashburton Ingram’s, estranged wife, Lady Ingram. An ice queen if there ever was one, found murdered in the Ash’s estate’s ice house. Continue reading
One of the many things I love about Susanna Kearsley’s, Lauren Willig’s, Karen White’s, and now Beatriz Williams’s writing is their fidelity to the HEA. They hybridise various forms, historical novel, romance, gothic novel, mystery, murder or otherwise, social novel, they mash it up and produce novels that never fail to end up among my year’s favourites. Like their closest predecessor, Mary Stewart, they write in the first person (which used to be a romance-rarity but not so these days), creating a young, female protagonist who moves from innocence to experience during the narrative’s course. All this can well describe Beatriz Williams’s The Summer Wives, a novel that had me in its thrall over two days, waking up at dawn today to finish it. Initially, the novel impressed me as convoluted, with a plethora of characters and three historical narrative strands, but the voice of its central character and first-person narrator, Miranda née Schuyler Thomas, offered an Ariadne ball as I made my way through Williams’s labyrinth of love, hate, revenge, and betrayal. Underlying it was the susurration of Shakespeare’s Tempest, not only thanks to the eponymous heroine, but an island with native and visiting denizens, the sea’s ever-present beauty and danger, and a mystical, outside-of-time atmosphere. I would read it, stopping for a cup of tea and a biscuit, and whisper to myself, “Full fathom five thy father lies … ” Continue reading