MINI-REVIEW: Amara Royce’s ONCE BELOVED

Once_BelovedMs Royce’s Once Beloved opens at London’s 1851 Great Exhibition. Heroine Helena Martin, née Thornton, is overwhelmed by the crowd. Two-years widowed and a recluse, she ventured out for her young sons’ sake. Helena suffers from agoraphobia and panic attacks, her anxieties stemming from the incident that killed her beloved husband. Her unexpected rescuer is Daniel Lanfield, brother to the fiancé she abandoned in Marksby, her native village, to elope with Isaiah Martin. When Daniel recognizes who she is, he expresses disgust and antipathy. But Daniel is too decent to leave Helena in this state. He helps her and, when she receives a summons from her only living Marksby relative, her ailing, possibly dying grandmother, he offers to take her in his cart. Accompanied by Helena’s niece, Vanessa, Daniel and Helena make their way to Marksby  where Helena will confront her youthful actions’ fruits – an economically devastated village and cold, hurtful, insulting reception. Though he still resents her, Daniel becomes Helena’s unlikely ally in this journey of reckoning into the past.
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REVIEW: Arnaldur Indridason’s REYKJAVIK NIGHTS, Darkness In Light

Reykjavik_NightsMiss Bates read Arnaldur Indridason’s Reykjavik Nights as a rom palate-cleanser. (Eons ago, when her genre reading was crimefic, she read Indridason’s Jar City and Silence Of the Grave. They’re fabulous books; Miss Bates highly recommends them.) To return to Indridason’s latest Erlendur mystery, Miss Bates was surprised to find how poignant it was and even more surprised to find herself identifying with the detecting character.

Reykjavik Nights is Indridason’s tenth Erlendur mystery; it serves as a prequel to the previous nine. In it, Indridason explores what made Erlendur the man we met as a seasoned detective in earlier books. Indridason brings Erlendur full circle in this latest, having resolved the childhood incident that plagues him in Strange ShoresReykjavik Nights introduces it. Miss Bates read Reykjavik Nights in two keys: in the major, as a detective’s bildungsroman; and, in the minor, as a study of one of crime fiction’s great introverts. An introvert herself, Miss Bates saw in the youthful Erlendur the signs pointing to a life-long hermetic existence outside the monastic. Like most introverts, Erlendur possesses a tenacious work ethic, tends to melancholy, and reads voraciously.   Continue reading

REVIEW: Emma Barry’s SPECIAL INTERESTS, Or Negotiating Love In a World of Realpolitik

Special InterestsEmma Barry’s Brave In Heart was one of Miss Bates’ favourite 2013 reads. She was happy to see that some were disappointed that Barry wasn’t a Rita mention this year, as she deserved to be. Brave In Heart captured Miss Bates’ love and interest from its opening sentence: ” ‘I wish to release you from our engagement.’ ” Dramatic, succinct, utterly hook-able. Special Interests, set amidst the divisive, acrimonious politics of present-day Washington DC, took longer to win her loyalty, but win it it did. Witness Special Interests‘ opening line: ” ‘Oh good, it’s not too crowded.’ ” Less élan, wouldn’t you say, dear reader? The historical context of Brave In Heart was a winning canvas to hero and heroine, Theo and Margaret: the American Civil Brave In HeartWar, life and death, men leaving, women left behind, a nation rent. The protagonists, Theo and Margaret, were seasoned, a couple taking a second-chance at love and commitment, working out old hurts and antagonisms, separation, loss, anxiety, and … drumroll, please … correspondence.  Beautiful, moving letters, the like of which we listened to on Ken Burns’ The Civil War, enthralled. How can text messages, cell calls, memos, and the cynical shenanigans of contemporary American politics compare? Special Interests had the greater challenge: to build a love story out of the mundane and build it Ms Barry did: with humour and pathos. Continue reading