The Courtship of Eddie’s Father

By Mark Toby

In the dream, Helen was not dead at all. she was in the bedroom, or the kitchen, out of sight, but within call, if I needed her…Pretty soon she would come to the door of the room, and look at us both, and smile. ad she might say something, or she might not.
So many nights it had been like that. So many little casual moments that I let slide through my fingers because they were so commonplace, so ordinary, so numerous.

This was a very cute if very short book (under 160 pages in the original hardback form.) It almost qualifies as a novella. I had just finished Ron Howard’s autobiography and he talked about the movie which he considers his best work as a child actor. It reminded me that the dramedy, a long-time favorite, was based on a book. It was not easily found for a price I was willing to pay.

It turned out to be as funny and touching as the movie. Sometimes more, sometimes less so. I was disappointed in the length but was surprised and happy that the movie was practically lifted from the book scene by scene. I had just hoped that there would be more to the story in the novel, not less. The movie actually adds some aspects and scenes that are not in the book.

Eddie and his father are recovering from the death of his wife a few weeks earlier and trying to get back to normal. It’s not long before Eddie starts to hint around, that as much as he loved and misses his mother, a new wife for his Dad and a new mother for him would not be unwelcome. After a minor false start, and a serious misstep, by the end of the book, Eddie’s wish is fulfilled.

The story is told mostly through dialogue between Eddie and his father. Their discussions and interactions are sweet, funny, and sometimes very touching. We are treated to many of Eddie’s ruminations and Tom’s reactions and inner thoughts as the plot plays out.

” Dad, you know why I like Elizabeth?”
“Why?”
“Because she doesn’t have skinny eyes.”
“Skinny WHAT?”
“Eyes. Like those ladies in the comic books who’re no good….You can always tell…they always have skinny eyes.”
It did sound very reasonable to me, and I decided to remember it. “No other clues? Just skinny eyes?”
“Well.”…The bad ladies always got big busts. Don’t get mad, Dad. It’s true. Very big. Skinny eyes and big busts is how you tell a bad lady from a good one.”

You will be relieved to know that the woman Eddie settles on very early on and the one Eddie’s father finally realizes is perfect for him has “round eyes” and a “medium bust.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

January 14, 2022

Madam, Will You Talk?

Charity suffereth long and is kind.-1 Corinthians 13:4

“Where’s David?”
“Who’s Johnny?

This is the first published work of Mary Stewart, who is widely credited with inspiring what became a whole genre of fiction: Romantic Suspense. So I guess you could say that this is the book that started it all. Set in the early ’50s this first novel introduced readers to the evocative descriptions of exotic locales that she became so famous and appreciated for. To say the least, her heroines do not suffer from dreary lives. Mary’s exciting adventurous novels must have been a welcome respite from the gloom and hardships of post-war England.

It has been decades since I last read this story but there were a few things that I had never forgotten from the 4 or 5 times I read this previously. This time I listened to it on Audible read by famous actress Emilia Fox. The friendship blossoming between the young English tourist and a haunted but charming young boy in France and his evident fear of his father. She is determined to protect him at all costs. I remembered the tense cat and mouse chase between Charity Selbourne, our heroine, and her very scary “enemy” through the countryside and towns of France. Charity sabotaging his car using a secret trick her late husband Johnny taught her in order to buy her some time to get away from him. The ghost of Johnny, who was a race car driver before he was killed on a mission over France during WWII, is present throughout the novel. The war looms large in this story. Johnny taught Charity how to handle fast powerful cars. That skill saves her life.

“When you let excitement in, Johnny would add, in a lecture-room sort of voice, fear will follow.”

That quote always stuck with me.

The episode that stood out for me more than any other was her car race to rescue her love and the boy David from the hands of their potential murderers. Her use of her considerable driving skills becomes a deadly weapon. Charity’s development from just a nice and very frightened young woman to a formidable adversary is just awe-inspiring.

I remembered how quickly and shockingly the love story flared when I first read it. With my modern sensibilities, It was a little troublesome how firmly trust and long-term commitment between the two were established. But I went with it. I guess it does happen like that sometimes. Two other things that were also difficult for me on this re-read were the constant smoking and the way that Charity was marginalized and kind of infantilized by the hero after her courage and heroics.

But after the darkness and fear, the closure, joy, and hope of the ending were so satisfactory.

“And so it ended, where it had begun, with the little Jewish painter whose death had been so late, but so amply avenged. And, ten days later, with The Boy David carefully boxed in the back of the Riley, my husband and I set our faces to the South, and the Isles of Gold.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

January 7, 2021

The Fledgling

By Elizabeth Cadell

This is the story of a journey of a most formidable and inscrutable 10-year-old girl. Tory lives a lonely restricted life with her elderly aunts and equally elderly governess in an ancient castle in Lisbon. Her widowed and still grieving father, whom she hardly knows, decides she must go to school in England to gain some balance in her life. On the way to England, she discovers her chaperone is a nasty drunk and a thief. They are together on a train until he “somehow” leaves the train in pursuit of his luggage he “somehow” thinks has been mistakenly off-loaded by the porter. Tory makes her way to London contentedly alone and, safely in her care, is a priceless gold figurine that had been stolen by the man from the chapel of her aunts.

She is to stop over with her father’s cousin, for a day, before making her way north to her boarding school. Phillipa is lively and lovely as well as frank to a fault. She is forthright and open and she wastes no time expressing her justified disapproval of Tory’s father and his failings as a parent. Even though, or maybe because Tory is quiet and prefers to watch and listen, she immediately feels a kinship and rapport with this distant cousin. Because of her trust and confidence, she confides in her about the figurine which she had meant to keep secret until she could get it back to Portugal. This sets off a chain of events that extends her stay with Phillipa and brings her father back from South America. She becomes acquainted with a boy and his dog, a wicked old lady, a nice old lady, and a suspicious but upright highly placed government official. To further add to the mix, both her father and the stern official both used to be engaged to the charming Phillipa. And Phillipa is still in love with one of them.

This is a thoroughly delightful novel starring one of the most intriguing children I have run across in a book. Let’s just say it would not be wise to oppose her. By the end of the book the people Tory likes or loves are happy and the ones she does not like are not happy. Her future is bright with the promise of newfound freedom and a new family.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

November 15, 2021

The Austen Playbook (London Celebrities #4)

By Lucy Parker

Set in the glittering world of London’s West End theatre and a country estate, this is a sparkly, light, and frothy romance between a scary theatre critic and one of his frequent targets, an actress who comes from a long line of theatrical leading lights. Freddy Carlton, our bubbly light-hearted heroine is torn between wanting to please her illustrious father, who wants her to be a “serious” actress like her grandmother, and her own love of musical romantic comedies, the genre in which she shines.

When she accepts a role in a new interactive live TV production called The Austen Playbook behind her father’s back, it throws her together with her nemesis, James Ford-Griffin, because it is to be filmed at a private theatre on his family’s estate. Not only has he been very rude when reviewing her serious dramatic performances but their grandparents had an affair that did not end well and the two families have been enemies since.

Taking an equal stage with the satisfying “opposites attract” romance, are numerous other plots, seamlessly woven together. We have family drama and reconciliation, imminent financial disaster, a plagiarism scandal that threatens to bring down a family and their legacy, professional rivalries, and many more!

This book was just delightful. The romance was solid and well-paced, the dialogue sparkling and witty, and the plotting intriguing and intelligent. The theatre-world setting seemed authentic. There was a lot going on, but each character and story were given their due with plenty of suspense, mystery, and tension as well as romance. Lucy Parker is definitely on my radar. This is my first book by her, and I am quite excited.

I listened to this on audio, read at breakneck speed by Billie Fulford-Brown. Take a tip from me and turn the speed down to 90% so you can keep up.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 24, 2021

The Host

by Stephenie Meyer

“This place was truly the highest and the lowest of all worlds – the most beautiful senses, the most exquisite emotions.. the most malevolent desires, the darkest deeds. Perhaps it was meant to be so. Perhaps without the lows, the highs could not be reached.”

“Eight full lives,” I whispered against his jaw, my voice breaking. “Eight full lives and I never found anyone I would stay on a planet for, anyone I would follow when they left. I never found a partner. Why now? Why you? You’re not of my species. How can you be my partner?”
“It’s a strange universe,” he murmured.

Earthlings have almost been taken over by an alien species who inhabit their minds and bodies, effectively killing them. But when they got to Melanie, one of the last on earth, they picked the wrong girl. The “soul” who is being put in her body is Wanderer. So-called because she has lived on more planets than anyone else of her species. She comes to earth late in their invasion, so, because they are kind, non-violent, and incapable of deceit, Earth, once on the verge of self-destruction, is now a pretty great place to live. But Melanie refuses to die. Eventually, Melanie and Wanda become allies and sisters of the heart in one body. Melanie is determined to find her little brother and her love, Jared, who are in hiding along with the rest of the last remaining humans in a secret commune. But Wanda is being followed by one of the “Seekers” who protect the “souls” and is determined to find and destroy the rebels who pose a danger to their species.

Unlike many of the reviewers, I reveled in the descriptions and the details that so many felt slowed the “action” down. I loved “Wanda” and the development of the relationships in the commune. This book was just what I needed after finishing the Harry Potter series in a 2-week marathon and in the throws of Harry Potter withdrawal syndrome. I sympathize with some of the criticisms. The love story part was problematic and a bit boring. The relationship with Jamie was a bit overdone. And the ending was…well it just would not end. It’s like she couldn’t decide how to end it so she just threw all her imagined endings into the pot. Finally, when she got to it, it turned out pretty satisfying. I was surprised!

**Spoiler**

The descriptions of “Pet” really turned me off. I wish she had chosen a different type of person for the gentle yet heroic Wanderer to occupy. Let’s not forget, Wanderer also earned iconic status as “Rides the Beast” I’m not sure Pet is worthy of her after Melanie. **End Spoiler**


Stephenie Meyer planned (and still plans, I guess) this to be a trilogy, presumably concentrating on whether the remaining humans would be successful in surviving and triumphing against the invasion. Although we root for the human rebels against the takeover of the remaining humans, I’m not sure I’m anxious to read more. This ended in a very hopeful way, and sometimes hope is better than reality. “Be careful what you wish for…”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

November 21, 2016

The Inn at Lake Divine

by Elinor Lipman

It’s Jewish Natalie Marx v. the restricted to gentiles only Vermont resort in the Catskills. Ms. Lipman is a good writer: engaging and amusing. The book is a light and frothy social comedy tackling the issue of antisemitism in the ’60s and ’70s. It takes some surprising twists and turns that keep one’s interest. I am not one to stick with a book on principle if it is not entertaining. The romance is mild but nice, taking second priority to the character development and cultural exploration of Jewish v. Gentile manners and family ways. I will definitely be giving this author another whirl.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

January 11, 2016

How to Capture a Countess

by Karen Hawkins

“Financial standing, a social position beyond what she has now, and a husband to dote upon her every wish. What more could she ask for?”

“Maybe youth. Vigor. Teeth.”

“Lord Cameron has his own teeth.” Margaret narrowed her eyes at the other candidate. “I’m not so certain about Munro. They seemed somewhat clacky at dinner, so I’m suspicious.”

Tolerable. Karen Hawkins is a better writer than most of the historical romance writers I have found these days. She writes like she enjoys writing. This is the first book I have read by her, and I will give her another chance with next in the series. Humorous situations, though not laugh out loud funny. Doesn’t have the wit or the voice of some of my favorites, but she is one of the better writers in a genre I have grown weary of. Unfortunately, she follows the same hackneyed romance formula as most of her sister writers do. By page 30, X has to happen; by page 75 xx has to happen etc., etc. I had to skip through the last third of the book. This book was flawed by a silly and immature hero who was also kind of a jerk. When he threw our heroine in a lake because she dared best him in a contest and then accused her of cheating, I almost quit the thing. Still, she is engaging.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

July 31, 2015

Doctor, Soldier, Daddy

By Caro Carson

I took a chance on this author because it came highly recommended by one of my favorite authors who reads Ms. Carson herself when she wants some super light reading. This is still another time I was disappointed by a favorite author’s recommendation. Yes, it was light. Boy, was it light. As far as sentence structure, vocabulary, and complexity, and depth of feeling, it was on the level of maybe 5th grade. But I can’t really even say that, because the first 3 Harry Potters are 5th grade. There were some other promising signs that this might be worth reading: the publisher was a real one, Harlequin, which has published some really good books and given many a talented author their start. My library had a number of titles of Caro Carson available, she has decent ratings on Goodreads, and of course, words of praise by a beloved author. She must have some talent and a loyal following, right? Obviously, it’s me. Wow, what a disconnect.

But I finished it, so the writing was at least good enough not to make me mad. I just kept telling myself to give it a few more minutes, but by that time, I was so close to the end, that it would have been a shame to quit. And it was a very fast read because I could speed read or skip without missing a thing. The characters were cardboard; I didn’t care about them in the least; there was no humor, the prose was not entertaining, Let me count the ways.

Simply, (“spoilers” ahead! )a nice hot doctor needs a mother for his son he brought home from Afghanistan. He settles on a nursery helper who seems to have a special connection to his son, who has health problems (they both have health problems-she has allergies, his are more serious). She is poverty-stricken and plain and is treated unkindly, sometimes, by the nurses who work with her. She (finally) accepts his proposal, and the rest is just them getting together and making a real marriage of it. There is a little bit of suspense as he learns that the Afghan woman might have already been pregnant before our hero met her. So he takes a genetic test. I won’t include the result of the test, but does it really matter?

The plot summary of the book appealed to me. I like a fake-marriage story. I like a good Cinderella/make-over story. But that angle was wasted. There was no comeuppance for the mean nurses, no shock and awe over the plain little mouse becoming a cool chick. (Her make-over consisted of a new haircut and her nose stops running constantly because she can now afford allergy medicine.) But because of the simplistic writing and lack of character development, the book generated as much emotion and caring about these people in me as my paragraph summarizing the book did just now.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

December 13, 2018

The Enchanted April

By Elizabeth Von Arnim

“And the more he treated her as though she were really very nice, the more Lotty expanded and became really very nice, and the more he, affected in his turn, became really very nice himself; so that they went round and round, not in a vicious but in a highly virtuous circle.”

This was a lovely book narrated beautifully by Nadia May. The story is already well known, I think, if not from the book then by the multiple award-winning and Oscar-nominated movie, directed by Mike Newell. I saw the movie again a couple of months ago, was inspired to (finally) read the book, and now I want to see the movie again!

Four very different women disappointed by life and love, strangers to each other, decide to rent a beautiful villa in Italy together. Two are married and two are not. The two married ones, Lottie Wilkins and Rose Arbuthnot were once in love with their husbands and vice versa but time and temperament have estranged them. Lotty is shy and spiritless and her husband squashes her. She has very little filter and is sometimes awkward and imprudent. She has not been an asset to his career. Rose has driven her husband away by her devotion to her church and doing good works for the poor. She coldly disapproves of him. He leaves her to herself and to her religion. She is confused by her unhappiness. Rose and Lotty are getting away from their husbands as much as they are attracted by the prospect of escaping London for beautiful Italy. Mrs. Fisher is a dried-up selfish old snob who lives in the past. Beautiful wealthy Lady Caroline is trying to escape men altogether. They all inevitably fall in love with her at first sight, much to her dismay, and won’t leave her alone. She calls them “Grabbers”. She was the most interesting of the four women, to me. Improbably nicknamed “Scrap,” She is self-absorbed, but I loved her. All she wants is solitude, but people won’t stop bothering her. Her lovely countenance hides inner bitterness, boredom, and disillusionment.

“…but it was her fate that however coldly she sent forth her words they came out sounding quite warm and agreeable. That was because she had a sympathetic and delightful voice…. Nobody in consequence ever believed they were being snubbed. It was most tiresome. And if she stared icily it did not look icy at all, because her eyes, lovely to begin with, had the added loveliness of very long, soft, dark eyelashes. No icy stare could come out of eyes like that… it got caught and lost in the soft eyelashes, and the persons stared at merely thought they were being regarded with a flattering and exquisite attentiveness. And if ever she was out of humour or definitely cross— and who would not be sometimes in such a world?—-she only looked so pathetic that people all rushed to comfort her, if possible by means of kissing. It was more than tiresome, it was maddening. Nature was determined that she should look and sound angelic. She could never be disagreeable or rude without being completely misunderstood.”

Poor lady!

One by one, by the end, all four of the unhappy women, have their lives transformed by the enchanted beauty of San Salvatore. Two marriages are restored when their husbands visit and see their wives transformed. Lady Caroline learns gratitude and sees herself with clear eyes, and finally realizes that love is a blessing, not a curse, and, perhaps, lets it into her life. Mrs. Fisher, who was thoroughly unlikeable and badly behaved for almost the whole book, learns life still holds love and value for her despite her age, starts to look ahead and not back. As they walk away from San Salvatore and the (enchanted?) villa, we hope and pray they take the enchantment with them permanently. We think they do.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 11, 2021

Juliet

By Anne Fortier

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said, “at nine o’clock. Don’t open your door to anyone else.”
“Not even my balcony door?”
“Especially not your balcony door.”

This was well written with an intriguing premise. I love books that educate one painlessly. I learned lots about Siena, Italy, and Romeo and Juliet. Of course, I spent some time on Google Earth exploring Siena. It’s bound to come in handy sometime, I hope. I was much more interested in the contemporary story rather than the concurrently running medieval story of R & J (The true story). I confess I kind of skipped through that part of the novel. Because we know that did not end well.

Dashes of humor and an engaging voice kept me going to the end, which featured several twists and revelations I didn’t see coming. Good stuff for those who like good old-fashioned romantic suspense, with family drama included. I’m always a sucker for good twin/evil twin tropes and with a little redemption thrown in… well, what’s not to like?

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 26, 2014