Category Archives: Fiction

Regency England — The World of Georgette Heyer

I first heard of British writer Georgette Heyer through a librarian I knew who enjoyed reading her books to relax. “Pure escapism,” she would say. She didn’t seem like someone who would enjoy that author. I was intrigued about Georgette Heyer, though. I had never heard of her. In a review in the Guardian, a critic said Heyer took the plot of Jane Eyre and rewrote it one hundred times. Even so, the novels so far seem very lighthearted and enjoyable. I’m not so sure if the author was the same way in real life. I read Barbara Cartland a lot as a teenager, and apparently there was a rivalry between the authors.

I haven’t read a lot of Georgette Heyer, or much about Regency England, but I would read her again. For my first try at exploring her work, I went to my library’s e-collection. I chose Arabella.

No reader can resist Arabella–she’s smart, opinionated, funny, loves her family, and helps out where she can. She tries to see the best in people. For those she catches doing wrong, woe to them!  Although not of noble birth, Arabella has been given the gift of a London season from a school friend of her mother’s. Once there, by being true to her nature, she wins everyone’s hearts and changes lives for the good–including that of an obnoxious marquis, earl, or duke–I forgot his rank, but it doesn’t matter. For some reason, he is much admired by those in his circle.

You guessed it–Arabella turns his life upside down–after they annoy each other no end at their first meeting with their different views. They can’t agree on anything. And it takes him forever to realize that he loves her. It doesn’t take Arabella an eternity to realize that she has romantic feelings for this man; she’s just cautious and wise. The nobleman bordered on oblivious–until almost the very end of the story. Oh, well. Better late than never.

The next book I tried was The Foundling. I strongly identified with Gilly (his full name is too long to remember), a young gentleman of noble birth who has many things expected of him from others. He feels a great responsibility for everyone. The trouble is, he’s never been allowed to make a decision for himself. He’s always had assistance from other people. He also feels that he doesn’t have enough real-world experience. So, one day he decides to leave his ancestral home–and then the adventure begins.

It actually sounded pretty good. However, in the first chapter, where Gilly returns from a local hunting excursion, I knew I was in trouble. It took me a month to get past the pages where he crosses the lawn and enters the house.  Definitely not a good sign. I knew I had to leave it for another time.

My favorite catalog, Bas Bleu, sells many Georgette Heyer titles and a lot of other cool items. I got such a kick out of this entry from August 10, 2016 on their blog. I recommend it for smiles, grins, chuckles, and belly laughs: 16 Lessons We’ve Learned from Georgette Heyer. Enjoy!

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Filed under Fiction, historical fiction, Romance

A Spooky Halloween Read

I guess my motto should be “Better late than never.” I read the young adult novel In the Shadow of Blackbirds, by Cat Winters, last Halloween. I stayed up until the wee hours to finish it, and it was worth the effort. It had been a Big Library Read selection, and appropriately eerie for the holiday. It takes place during the time of World War I, in 1918. This was also the time of the influenza epidemic in the U.S. Also around this time, many people were into spiritualism–communicating with those who had gone before. Mary Shelley Black is the main character. She is mourning her friend Stephen, who had enlisted and was killed.

We see the events of the story through Mary’s experiences, thoughts, and memories, and there are many twists and turns.

The photo below was taken a couple of years ago. There’s a Halloween tradition around here that businesses paint their windows for the holiday. Some of the local school kids participate.  This one was a favorite–appearing in Mad Fox Brewery’s window.

 

Great Mad Pumpkin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Fiction, historical fiction, Mystery, Uncategorized, World War I

The Lake House–An Edge-of-your-seat Tale of a Cold Case

First of all, don’t mix up Kate Morton’s  2015 novel The Lake House with the Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves movie drama of some years ago. They’re not the same at all. But let me tell you–I couldn’t put the book down! At just over 400 pages, it was well worth the late nights I spent enjoying the ups and downs of the book. And the chapters move fast.

If it’s possible to love a place that you’ve never been to in person, that place, for me at least, is Cornwall, England. The setting alone was enough to attract me. I only learned the story as I began reading. For once, I skipped the complete synopsis.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the plot centers on DC Sophie Sparrow, who is on enforced “holiday” in Cornwall, visiting her grandfather. She has gotten too close to a case she is investigating. At the suggestion of Donald, her partner on the force, she is advised to “take her time.”

At loose ends, she runs every morning with her grandfather’s dogs. On one jaunt, she discovers Loeanneth, a secluded, abandoned estate of the Edevane family. Without knowing exactly why, Sophie believes something horrible happened there. As always, she asks questions, and they lead her to a tragic cold case. Just before a Midsummer party in 1933, eighteen-month-old Theodore Edevane disappears, and is never seen again. Was he murdered? Kidnapped? There’s only been speculation for years.

As she uncovers the facts of the case, Sophie’s search brings her to famous mystery writer A. C. Edevane. Theo is her youngest brother. But she has no desire to dredge up the past. Has Sophie hit another dead end?

As the story unfolds. time shifts between the years of the two world wars and the early twenty-first century. The characters are richly drawn and real, with many sides, There are many surprises. Don’t assume this is an easy one to figure out. Whatever you, do, don’t read ahead!

And if you like this story, you will enjoy her other books.

Visit the author’s website for gorgeous pictures of Cornwall.  Here are some of my favorite free clip art images of the place:

 

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Image result for Cornwall England free clip art

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Filed under Fiction, Mystery, Uncategorized, World War I, World War II

Life-Affirming Reads

I subscribe to the Copyediting Listserv at Indiana University–a wonderful professional resource. A member recently asked other subscribers for positive, upbeat, and life-affirming reads that are not too heavy and not too light. All readers can use some of this from time to time.. I thought I would record it here. Some authors I know well; others I have yet to read. Here’s the list.

TITLES:
*All the Light We Cannot See* by Anthony Doerr
*Life of Pi* by Yann Martel
*The Art of Racing in the Rain* by Garth Stein
*Minding Frankie* by Maeve Binchy
*The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy* (the first of a series) by Douglas
Adams
*The Martian* by Andy Weir
*The Old Man’s War* by John Scalzi
*Master and Commander* (the first of the Aubrey/Maturin series) by
Patrick O’Brian

SERIES:
The Father Tim Novels series by Jan Karon
Lincoln Rhyme series by Jeffery Deaver
Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout
Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian
44 Scotland Street Books series by Alexander McCall Smith
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith
The Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Sherlock Holmes series by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams
The Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery series by Dorothy L. Sayers
The City Watch Trilogy series by Terry Pratchett
Quick Reads (<http://readingagency.org.uk/adults>)—short books by
“big name authors” designed to be easy to read

AUTHORS:
Zane Grey
Peter Mayle
Tony Hillerman
Maeve Binchy

 

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Filed under Fiction, Love of Reading

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Recent Book Discussion….

This was in early May. I almost forgot to attend–even after finishing the book. And I even mentioned something the day before about the meeting!  But we were all worried about other things. Fortunately, I remembered. I got there at 11:15 a.m., but by then the discussion was over. Apparently, I was one of only two people who liked the book. Everybody hung around afterward, though, chatting, which was also cool. Some people suggested several other mystery writers that I could read later.

The book was The Merlot Murders, by Ellen Crosby. I was so excited that we would eventually get around to this one. It is the first in a series, and sounded interesting. I read it aloud to my aunt, who enjoyed the rhythm of the writing and my attempts to differentiate the voices of the characters. And I behaved well–not once did I look at the end to find out who committed the murder. I was–and am–so proud of myself for that. It wasn’t easy.

The group really liked the Middleburg, Va., setting and the winemaking industry. They also really liked the grit and determination of the main character, Lucie Montgomery, who has quite a few issues. But they really thought that more character development was in order throughout. Also, nobody cared who ultimately committed the murder. That must be a bad sign to a mystery writer. People often read mysteries to solve the puzzles. For myself, I went far away from where the authors ‘s ideas of plot and solution.

Many people were irritated that Lucie deliberately put herself in harm’s way a lot. I was, too. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to shout at her and others: For God’s sake, stay away from the barrel room!! or whatever situation they found themselves in. But I think it was just part of Lucie’s nature that she would go off by herself and mull things over. There is one scene where Lucie’s cane is broken, and her manager (I forget the technical term in the industry) supplies her with a sturdy golf club as a temporary replacement. Sooner or later, she’s going to have to bash someone in the head, I thought. Sure enough….

All criticism aside, this is a series worth reading–and I don’t care a thing about wine or other forms of alcohol. Crosby recently launched a book in her Sophie Medina series at One More Page Books. Although I couldn’t attend the signing, I hope to be a customer at the store in the near future. Other group members seemed excited about the Sophie Medina series.

Back to reading my latest–a ghost story.

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Filed under Fiction, Mystery, Series

First Impressions–A Must for Austen Fans!

The moment I saw Charlie Lovett’s latest title, First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen, I had to read it. I know this author through his first novel, The Bookman’s Tale, which I will begin soon. That one’s about Shakespeare. Learn more about his background–including being a bookseller and collector of rare titles–at his website.

First Impressions was the original title Jane Austen gave to Pride and Prejudice. Just as Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy have to get past their original negative impressions of each other, the heroine of First Impressions is torn between two men. Sophie Collingwood can’t decide whom she likes better–Eric, an irritating American grad student, or an urbane bookseller. Sophie is also at loose ends about what to do, now that she’s graduated from college. She’s’s earned a degree in English, Even though she’s worked for four years in the library of St. John’s College, Oxford, she doesn’t know what her calling should be or the direction she should take in life. Her beloved Uncle Betram, has always helped to guide her. Through him she adopted a love for literature and rare books. Along with him, she has always been a familiar figure in the London bookshops.

Alas, her uncle dies suddenly. For some reason, Sophie can’t accept what happened to him, and she decides to do some sleuthing on her own. Along the way, she gets a job with a bookshop, and pleases the customers and the owner with her tenacious ability to track books down. One day, two requests come in for the same book–an original edition of Pride and Prejudice. Time for Sophie to do more detective work.

The novel grabs readers immediately. The plot alternates between Sophie’s time in the modern day and Jane Austen’s time. Here, we find Jane and her family on holiday. One day, while out on a walk, she meets an older gentleman–Rev. Mansfield. They quickly bond over literature and writing. Fortunately for readers, the story moves fast and equal time is spent in each century.

The novel is also a love song to books, literature, and favorite works. I found these passages on page 191 very moving:

On the lower corner of the first page of the first edition of Pride and Prejudice housed at St. John’s College, Oxford, is a small circular water stain. It does not affect the text, nor is it significant enough to reduce the value of the book. But, like every mark in a book, it tells a story, and like so many marks in so many books, it is a story known only to one person and doomed to be lost forever when that person is no more. It is the mark of a single tear that dropped from the cheek of Sophie Collingwood as she stared at those words, and is a testament to the power of literature.

Sophie wiped her cheek, but could not put the book down. Lost in the words, she read on, embracing both the familiar story and the unfamiliar way it appeared on the page. She felt herself somehow at one with the first men and women who read the novel; she felt especially connected to the person–she imagined her a lady of some wealth living in Bath–who first read this very copy.

This is a lovely. imaginative, and engaging read. Not to be missed.

 

Image result for jane austen clip art free

 

 

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Filed under Classics, Fiction, Jane Austen, Mystery, New Titles

A Long-Awaited Return to Mitford

September 14th isn’t a particularly significant date, but in 2014 I put it on the calendar:  “DON’T forget! New Jan Karon book out!” If memory serves, it was still the dead of winter, 2013. Anyway, there was still some wait time. I counted the days…

Since the release of In the Company of Others and Home to Holly Springs, there had not been a full-length novel about Mitford, the fictional North Carolina town where Tim Kavanagh, retired Episcopalian priest, his wife, Cynthia, and their friends and neighbors live. My aunt, other family members, and friends were probably so tired of me saying, “I wish Jan Karon would write another book!” It had been a while since I’d seen anything new. I would check the website as well every now and then. Of course, there was lots to read in the meantime, but still…

Finally, it was my turn at the library. I was delighted to see how long it is–over 400 pages. Don’t be intimidated; the story moves fast. Since my aunt and I had read all the others to each other, I wanted us to read Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good together. Since my aunt doesn’t enjoy reading aloud anymore, I would be reading to her. Once we got started, she remembered the major characters. The first chapter moved along at a leisurely, down-home pace. All readers can get reacquainted with the townspeople they know and love, and meet those new to town. If you’ve read other titles in this series. you know the background on many of the characters, and you want things to work out for them.

The only problem? Somewhere along in Chapter 2, I was laughing so hard I could barely get the words out. My aunt laughed a lot, too. She was pleased that I had gotten so tickled, and she laughed at the situation.

Well, we made it through about a third of the book when I had to return it. By the time I got it back, we had moved on to mysteries, and she didn’t want to start again, so I finished alone. I started from the beginning, and enjoyed it just as much. The plot isn’t straightforward. In fact, it meanders through several story threads. Then it occurred to me: Isn’t that how everyday life is? You have your ups, downs, times when everything sucks big time, and everyday activities. You try to help people along the way if you can, cheering them on. You may be very concerned about what will happen, but you can’t always predict the outcome accurately. Faith is important to help you through challenges.

The main theme of Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good centers on the fact that Father Tim doesn’t know what to do with himself in retirement. He’s grateful for his family and friends, that he’s been able to travel, and that he has a brother he never knew he had. Countless blessings abound. But what to do now? Eventually, he is offered the chance to serve as a priest again. But does he really want it? So begins his journey. Another big mystery is the identity of the person driving through town in a limo. And, where has one of the neighbors gone? It’s a joy seeing how everything develops.

I have loved these novels ever since I discovered the first one in the series, A Light in the Window. I was hooked when a big, black dog followed Fr. Tim home. He eventually named him Barnabas. The dog would only mind him when he recited scripture at the top of his lungs. I eventually read all the books, though not in order. And that’s okay. I own many of them now.

Jan Karon gave readers a wonderful gift, when, as someone who worked in the advertising field, created on her down time the character of Father Tim. In her mind, she saw a priest walking down the road, and she wanted to know his story. And the people and the town grew from there. In 2005, my aunt and I went to her book signing at The Falls Church. Every seat was filled. She is a warm and engaging speaker. I bought a signed copy of In This Mountain, a book we were both touched by. An added bonus was meeting her as we all entered the church at the same time. She introduced herself, and we introduced ourselves. I’m so glad we got the chance to tell her how much we love all of her books.

So, once I finished the new book, I reread In the Company of Others. It’s really great on audio, too. It’s the one where Father tim and Cynthia travel yo Ireland.

Everybody needs a Mitford. By that I mean a real or imagined place where everybody’s got your back, and where there’s still hope and possibility

Ms. Karon, please don’t wait too long to write the next in the series!

 

 

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Filed under Christian fiction, Fiction, Helping People, inspiration

“Perfect” isn’t necessarily so.

Before sitting down to read Rachel Joyce’s second novel, Perfect, make sure you have a box of Kleenex within reach just in case. This story is much darker than The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and taken in its entirety, Fry isn’t all that happy,either. But even in Perfect, there’s some light, some good things. The past and the present alternate, forward and backward in time, and we are finally able to piece the story together by the end. It is extremely hard to put down once you start, as my several late-night binge-read sessions will attest to. Rachel Joyce has said in interviews that she is most drawn to those on the outside looking in. Each character struggles with this in different ways.

The dust jacket provides an excellent plot outline, so I won’t reproduce it here. I was frustrated that some things were very confusing to interpret. Was it because the events of the early parts were seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy who doesn’t yet have full adult understanding? Or is to because life has so many gray areas? Perhaps readers also bring their own experiences into what’s happening with the characters. The author, as well as readers, have tremendous compassion and empathy for the people in the story. That gives the story its strength. After I finished, I read several reviews in major papers to see if I was right. Reviewers liked it and thought it would be a good discussion selection, but they all had different interpretations and saw different things.

I was most drawn to Jim’s story. He’s been in and out of mental hospitals since he was 16. A supermarket clerk, he struggles to make sense of the world and to fit in and be with other people. He lives in his van because there’s no place else to go. He likes being outside better anyway, and he tends his garden when not working. On top of his other challenges, he has severe OCD. The rituals are the way he copes–an attempt to put things right in his world.

People often struggle to obtain perfection, but what does that actually mean? What yardstick do you measure it by? Sometimes it’s too much of a strain to be perfect. How do you let go of perfection in healthy ways? In Perfect, there are no answers.

 

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Filed under Disability, Fiction

Olive Kitteridge: The Novel/Short Story Collection that Always Inspires Mixed Feelings

I watched the HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge last weekend on video. Or I did once I settled down and came back into the living room once the opening that showed Olive walking in the woods was over. Once I saw the gun, I fled. Other scenes later on were equally difficult.

As events in the story unfolded and resolved themselves, i was pleased that the producers stuck as closely as possible to the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Elizabeth Strout–actually an interwoven, previously published short story collection about the people in a small town in Maine. Olive appears in each story, either as a critical character or a minor one. Strout’s roots are in Maine, and I believe that all her books are set there.

Frances McDormand was the perfect choice for the lead, and the rest of the cast was equally strong. I thought the landscape pretty. The overall mood, however, matches how I feel about the book–extremely somber and painful, with terrible struggles. That’s life, I know. Even though there was some light to balance the darkness, I didn’t feel there was enough. I have read the book twice, and I probably will not do so again. I read it once on my own after reading a newspaper review. The second time, I read it for book group.

Overall, I like Olive. For some strange reason, I liked that she was a math teacher. But she can be very prickly even as she is extremely caring. It’s easy to see that her life experiences made her the way she is. Some of her attitudes are generational. And family life can be very tough and messy. You don’t always know the right things to say and do.

My favorite story from both readings is “Incoming Tide,” because ultimately, the message there is hope. Here, as with the stories where she is caring for her husband Henry after his stroke also show the different facets of her personality.

Hopefully, each of us has an effect on the people around us, and in the wider world. Some of them are big; others, not so much. Maybe sometimes you don’t realize how you are memorable to others. Certainly Olive has no idea that she has inspired several students that she isn’t close to.

Before anyone reading this thinks Maine is depressing, here’s proof that it is not. I used to follow another writer’s blog. Olivia Tejeda spent childhood summers in Maine with her family. She wrote about it here. I kept this entry for a long time just because I love the pictures.

A friend of mine also enjoys Maine vacations, and has been back several times. She has graciously allowed me to share some pictures from a trip taken in the fall of 2010. Aren’t they gorgeous?

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This one reminds me of a painting one of my former co-workers completed. It hung in his office for several years.

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This picture was the local library, We both agreed that it would be a great place to work. I like the one of the boat, below:

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Filed under Fiction, Film, Hope, journeys, Libraries, Marriage and family, Short Stories

What the Cat Saw

People often ask how I find books to read. Eighty percent or so come from recommendations from other people. For the other twenty percent, I browse, which gets me into trouble every time. I’ll often go into an unfamiliar library sections to see what’s there.

This latest selection came about because I wanted to read a story about cats. I’ve been missing our cat, and having a pet in general. So, I searched Overdrive, putting in the term “cat.” The mystery What the Cat Saw came up. I had never heard of the author, Carolyn Hart. But I decided to give the audiobook a try.

But did I really want to know what the cat saw? All sorts of pictures came to mind. It made me rather nervous. But I dove in anyway.

Nela Farley has been hit with a double whammy. Her fiancé, Bill, has been killed serving in Afghanistan, and she has been grieving for a while. She has also been laid off from her job as an investigative reporter at a California newspaper. When her sister Chloe calls and asks Nela to fill in for her at the Haklo Foundation while she is on vacation, Nela accepts. Maybe the change of scene to Craddock, Okla., will do her good. Besides, how difficult would it be to serve as an administrative assistant? Besides, she would be housesitting and taking care of Jugs, the cat who lives there.

From Chloe’s letters and calls, Nela learns of a recent tragedy in Craddock. The vice president of the foundation, Marian Webster, Jugs’ owner and the owner of the house where Nela will stay, has died in a fall.

But here’s where things get more than a little weird. Almost as soon as she arrives, Nela realizes that she can actually hear and understand cats’ thoughts–and they think in English! This phenomenon is never truly explained. One assumes it is from her trauma, but fortunately the author doesn’t dwell on this too long or too much, though there is the particularly sticky problem of explaining just why she thinks that Marian has been murdered. She can’t very well blurt out that it was something Jugs told her.

Those of us who have been around cats know that cats do talk through their meows. And it does seem that they really do understand English. But come on. Also, the Haklo Foundation might as well post signs saying, “Don’t work here!” Or “Go Away If You Know What’s Good For You!” Wait until you meet the staff. Office politics is definitely not typical here.

Happily, the rest of the story returns to traditional mystery conventions as Marian’s death is investigated. And yes, Nela meets a man who intrigues her. To me, a worthwhile mystery is one where you don’t guess the murderer in the first chapter. The author kept me guessing, so the story satisfied in spite of its weaknesses. It was also a pleasure hearing the reader–I don’t remember her name–performs the voices of all the characters.

I will read Carolyn Hart again. From her website, I understand that she has written multiple series, so next time I’ll try something different.

 

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Filed under Animals, Cats, Fiction, Mystery