Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Quiet Life in the Country

A Quiet Life in the Country
by T. E. Kinsey


Blurb:
Lady Emily Hardcastle is an eccentric widow with a secret past. Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidante, is an expert in martial arts. The year is 1908 and they’ve just moved from London to the country, hoping for a quiet life.
But it is not long before Lady Hardcastle is forced out of her self-imposed retirement. There’s a dead body in the woods, and the police are on the wrong scent. Lady Hardcastle makes some enquiries of her own, and it seems she knows a surprising amount about crime investigation…
As Lady Hardcastle and Flo delve deeper into rural rivalries and resentment, they uncover a web of intrigue that extends far beyond the village. With almost no one free from suspicion, they can be certain of only one fact: there is no such thing as a quiet life in the country.


My Reaction:
(This was a shared read with Donald, selected mainly because it was a temporary freebie from Amazon.)

While it didn't hit my personal sweet spot, this book might appeal to fans of uncomplicated cozy mysteries set in England-- particularly if they like historical novels and unconventional (some might say anachronistic) heroines.  (It's set a decade or so too early to be a "between-the-wars" cozy mystery, incidentally.)

The humor missed the mark for me, and the whole thing felt in need of editing.  (There were too many things mentioned in passing that didn't really add to the story-- how characters got from point A to point B, etc.)

We're clearly supposed to come to love the two main characters, but I felt completely unengaged, emotionally.  Their quirkiness and unique friendship (bridging the gap between the classes!!) failed to be quite as interesting (to me) as I think it was meant to be-- maybe because we are "told-- not shown" how it came about.  The fact that its very uniqueness is pointed out to us repeatedly doesn't help, either...

The blurb creates the impression that there's something mysterious about Lady Hardcastle's and Flo's own histories-- and yet (in this first book, at least), when it's explained, it's a bit of let-down.  Without venturing into spoiler territory, I felt that the two women must have some interesting (albeit unlikely) stories to tell, but we only get the bare-bones version-- and silly little teasing references to what sounded like more exciting tales than the one I was currently reading!  Maybe their shared background is something that could be fleshed out in subsequent books, but the series didn't get off to a very promising start in this respect (or many others, I'm afraid).

The mysteries and solutions didn't strike me as particularly clever, either, unfortunately...

All in all, lackluster.  For the right reader, this could be the beginning of a pleasant series, but it's not suited to my tastes.

Monday, March 6, 2017

On the Night of the Seventh Moon

On the Night of the Seventh Moon
by Victoria Holt


Blurb:
According to ancient Black Forest legend, on the Night of the Seventh Moon, Loke, the God of Mischief, is at large in the world. It is a night for festivity and joyful celebration. It is a night for singing and dancing. And it is a night for love. 
Helena Trant was enchanted by everything she found in the Black Forest -- especially its legends. But then, on the Night of the Seventh Moon, she started to live one of them, and the enchantment turned suddenly into a terrifying nightmare . . .


My Reaction:
My (admittedly limited) experiences with Victoria Holt have been very uneven.  The first book (The Silk Vendetta) did not impress me, but Mistress of Mellyn and Bride of Pendorric were both enjoyable.  On the Night of the Seventh Moon falls somewhere between the dull Silk Vendetta and the more interesting "Cornish Gothics"--  nothing anywhere near approximating "brilliant", but also not quite as plodding as Silk Vendetta.

Though I suppose I'll award it three out of five stars, the third is rather grudgingly given, as I found myself disliking most of the characters and (more often than not) wishing the book would just hurry up and come to its conclusion.  It felt long, which means it was boring me instead of whisking me away from reality, as a good book should do.

Unfortunately, the romance is very thin, and the "hero" is a handsome, lust-filled cardboard cut-out-- not very interesting.  The heroine, Helena, isn't much better.  You get to know her more as a character than you do Maximilian, I suppose, but-- but-- she's just so darn stupid!  There are so many times that Helena should pick up on things, but she just won't/can't...  Toward the end of the story, the Count says to her, "You are not your usual clever self today."  Well, that was a delicious bit of unintentional comedy!

I'll probably continue to read Holt, as the mood strikes me, but I'm wary.  The quality varies wildly from one book to the next.  This one, for me, was closer to the "dud" end of the scale.


Specifics (with SPOILERS):
--Different times and all that, but it's just so gross when the male characters in a so-called romance are trashy philanderers who have fathered children with multiple women.  When Frau Graben fills Helena in on all the dirty details of the Count's history with women, it's clear that Maximilian has a similarly icky past.  ("My dear Miss Trant, he[the Count]'s only following the tradition.  They've always been for the women.  They see them, they fancy them and there's no holding them back.  If there are results they don't mind and nor do the women.") Maximilian apparently hasn't been quite so cruel or duplicitous in his dealings with women, but it's still not appealing in a hero.

--After all the drama about how Maximilian couldn't just publicly declare his marriage to Helena because it could ignite a war between the principalities (or whatever the heck they were-- forgive my lack of knowledge of or interest in German history)-- after all that, the extremely delicate situation is handled neatly and tidily in a single paragraph.  "The Prince of Klarenbock, to whom Maximilian had told the whole story during his visit there, behaved magnanimously."  ...Well, how convenient.  The supposedly serious threat of the people revolting against Maximilian goes "poof", too.  Everything is hunky-dory, because there was a war with France-- and war heals all wounds (or something).

--Even richer, Maximilian's fancy fake wife gets tossed into a convent to atone for her sins, while her son with Maximilian is raised in the big, happy family Maximilian and Helena create.  Ah yes, I'm sure that was never the least little bit awkward, and I'm positive that the son who had been raised for (eight?) years to believe he was "royalty" was now perfectly fine with his new position as an illegitimate son whose father never really loved his mother-- while said mother is apparently whisked out of his life without so much as a backward glance.  Good times.

Okay, I'll grant you that much of the tension would be washed away by the fact that Maximilian's position is no longer nearly so powerful, by the end of the book.  There's not so much of a grand inheritance or position of power to bicker (or hatch murderous plots) over-- otherwise, I would've predicted trouble from Dagobert, who also becomes a part of Helena's Perfect Family (along with Liesel).

...But still, even in the humblest of homes, wouldn't there be a certain amount of bitterness in such a truly weird "blended family"?  "Mom always liked you best" on steroids!


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Scoop

Scoop
by Evelyn Waugh


Blurb:
Lord Copper, newspaper magnate and proprietor of the Daily Beast, has always prided himself on his intuitive flair for spotting ace reporters. That is not to say he has not made the odd blunder, however, and may in a moment of weakness make another. Acting on a dinner party tip from Mrs. Algernon Stitch, Lord Copper feels convinced that he has hit on just the chap to cover a promising war in the African Republic of Ishmaelia. So begins Scoop, Waugh's exuberant comedy of mistaken identity and brilliantly irreverent satire of the hectic pursuit of hot news.


My Reaction:
(This was a shared read with Donald.)

Though of course I'd come across references to Waugh from time to time, I didn't know much about him, and I'd never read anything of his until this.  We elected to read Scoop because I saw Waugh's name on an "if you like that, try this" list of authors-- and because I just happened to have picked up a copy in a library book sale, sometime.

That list of author suggestions I mentioned before indicated that Waugh would be good reading for fans of P.G. Wodehouse.  I suppose I agree that fans of one of these authors might enjoy the other, but though Waugh feels somewhat more literary than Wodehouse, I never quite warmed to these characters, and the laughs weren't nearly so numerous as I've had from Wodehouse at his best.

This is definitely a "product of its time" novel, with language to match.  Many modern readers will find aspects of the novel unpalatable.  I hesitate to admit it, but there were also times when I felt that certain things were flying right over my head...

In short, I was not exactly captivated.  I'd certainly give Waugh another try, but he's no Wodehouse-- and to be completely honest, I much prefer E.F. Benson's style to what I saw in Scoop, too.  However, maybe some of his other works would be more to my taste.  Brideshead Revisted, perhaps?


Friday, January 27, 2017

Frederica

Frederica 
by Georgette Heyer

(Edited) Blurb:
When Frederica brings her younger siblings to London determined to secure a brilliant marriage for her beautiful sister, she seeks out their distant cousin the Marquis of Alverstoke.
Normally wary of his family, which includes two overbearing sisters and innumerable favor-seekers, Lord Alverstoke does his best to keep his distance.  But with his enterprising-- and altogether entertaining-- country cousins getting into one scrape after another right on his doorstep, before he knows it the Marquis finds himself dangerously embroiled...

My Reaction:
On the whole, this is quite an enjoyable read-- particularly for fans of the Regency period.  I liked it very much, but never quite loved it.  I'm not sure what was lacking for me... I mean, I could nitpick a few things (see section below), but essentially, it's a good, happy-making read.  It just doesn't merit heart-shaped googly-eyes for me...

But on the positive side, it's warm and pleasant and amusing.  This is a cozy, comforting little world where you can rest your weary nerves in safe assurance that nothing truly awful will happen.  *sigh of contentment*  Isn't it nice that such books exist, when you need them?


Specifics (with SPOILERS):
--I don't love it when a book that purports to be a romance (or just any book for adults) is heavily populated with child-characters.  I find it takes too much of the focus off of the parts of the plot that I actually care about, and all too often, the children are written in such a way that they annoy me greatly.  To be fair, the younger characters in this book (Jessamy and Felix) are much better than average; they feel like they are an organic part of the story-- not just characters shoehorned in from ulterior motives.  Still, I did sometimes get bored of them and wish that the book might have spent a little less time on their exploits and scrapes.

(To continue from above...) However, if there had been less time spent on Jessamy and Felix, that would've meant more time with Alverstoke and Frederica, and while I liked them pretty well as a couple, for most of the book I wasn't clamoring for more of their interactions.  It was quite a restrained romance, let's say.  Their occasional banter was... fine... but it didn't set my heart aflutter, unfortunately.

That said, this romance feels more realistic and likely than most I've come across.  (That may be why it's not quite so thrilling to read about!)  I do like that in the proposal scene, Frederica is not initially completely sure if what she feels for Alverstoke is love.  It's not the fantastical, over-the-top emotion she has witnessed in her younger sister's attachments, but she realizes that this calmer affection and deep comfort with one another is love-- a more mature, steady, reliable connection than the flash-whiz-bang, sometimes crazed infatuation of youth.

--Alverstoke is another hero who can't for the life of him stop referring to the heroine (his romantic interest) as a "child".  Even "my child", sometimes.  That is one of my pet peeves.  Yuck.  Authors, just don't do it.

--The language of Heyer's Regencies is so often amusing!  Moonling, for instance.

--If you want to laugh, look up some period illustrations of the "Pedestrian Curricle" (of the type that Jessamy uses).  The fancy gentlemen with their legs stretched out, toes pointed--!  A "Pedestrian Curricle" was basically an early, inferior version of the bicycle.  Lacking a chain and pedals, it was powered by the rider pushing along the ground/pavement with his feet.  Kind of like a Flintstone's version of a bicycle.

--I recall being confused when, reading another book, I came across a character who reacted to a genuine, appreciated compliment by "bridling".  At the time, I thought perhaps it was an error on the part of the author, because I'd only ever seen the word used to describe someone reacting with annoyance or anger.  However, this book provides another instance of that usage-- "bridling with pleasure".  Apparently that is indeed "a thing", though I persist in the opinion that it sounds wrong.

--Restorative Pork Jelly!  It made me laugh, as intended, but I also found it interesting, in light of the modern trendiness (in certain circles, at least) of bone broth.  Not that bone broth and pork jelly are the same, but they definitely have some qualities in common.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Dark New World

Dark New World
by Henry Gene Foster and J.J. Holden


Blurb:
Society crumbles after an EMP attack, and the terrifying nightmare has only just begun…

Three people from different walks of life each experience the end of America. Cassy is a 33-year-old prepper and single mother, away on business. Ethan is a hacker and conspiracy nut living underground. Frank is a family man out camping with friends and family. When a devastating EMP attack in the middle of the night destroys America’s infrastructure, they are propelled on an unforgettable journey across an ocean of chaos to reach safety… Safety from an unknown invader and from once-fellow Americans now hungry and desperate. Dark New World is a prepper story of survival and the fight to retain humanity in the face of an apocalyptic event.


My Reaction:
(I listened to the audiobook version of this title.)

Hm... I found myself rolling my eyes and scoffing far too often, while listening to this short novel.  I can't do more than round it up to three stars, unfortunately.

The blurb describes this as a "prepper story of survival", and that's about right.  The heroes/heroines are preppers, and the whole thing feels like it's very strongly aimed at preppers-- which is fine.  I mean, if you're writing a book for preppers, I suppose this is what you get.  It does feel a little cartoonish at times, though... It's like someone took a long list of things a prepper might think about when planning for a disaster scenario, then went down it and checked them off, one by one.  (...And yet this book doesn't go into great detail about how to be a prepper.  In my opinion, that doesn't really belong in a work of fiction, anyway.  This is more of a prepper-themed adventure.)

At first, it's refreshing to have characters who are prepared (for once) for the disaster at hand.  I enjoy the "planning and taking calculated action" portions of post-apocalypse/doomsday stories, myself, and this has a lot of that.  However, planning can get dull after a while-- and to keep the drama high, our primary heroine, Cassy, has to find herself in some bad situations, some of which she (as a prepper/survivalist) should probably have been able to avoid.  

Cassy-- well, pretty much all of the characters, to be honest, started to get on my nerves after a while.  Too many of them were stereotyped, for one thing.  Yes, sometimes stereotypes exist for a reason, but I can only handle so many of them in one dose.  (Oh my gosh, that teenage girl!  So annoying!)

There were times when I felt I was almost being lectured or preached at-- or at least bombarded with heavy-handed "lessons", which is unpalatable.

I also have some issues with the timeline and pacing.

First: Maybe it's naive, but I don't think that society would break down quite so quickly as it seems to do in this book-- or at least not so completely in such a short space of time.  I do think it would/could happen at some point, but friendly next-door neighbors threatening to shoot one another in only one or two days?  ...I find it doubtful.

Second:  (Spoilers to follow!)  The story sped up at the end to the point that I had a hard time keeping track of what was happening to whom, because the perspective shifted so frequently.  I'm still not entirely sure what happened to injure Cassy and how she ended up in the bunker.  Of course, part of the problem is that I was doing yard work while I listened and may have been distracted for a few moments-- but I still think the pacing was a bit off in the last section of the book.

Readers may be disappointed that there's not a completely satisfying conclusion at the end of this first installment of the series.  At least all the main characters have come together, but there's still a long way to go before they reach relative safety-- and you have to continue with the next book to see if/how they make it to Cassy's farm.  Based on a little peeking, the series will have at least four books-- maybe more-- and it sounds like each one leads directly into the next.  Very serialized.  At the moment, I doubt I'll bother with the second book.  The premise of the series still interests me, but I found too many of the characters too annoying to want to spend much more time listening to or about them...