Finlay Donovan is Killing It (Finlay Donovan #1)

By Elle Cosimano

“You told me to bring plastic wrap.” “I told you to get plastic sheeting.” “Same thing.” “No, it’s not. Plastic wrap goes around sandwiches. Plastic sheeting goes around dead people. It’s bigger and sturdier. More like a shower curtain.” “You told me not to bring a shower curtain because it would make us look guilty!” “Because nothing screams innocent like a rotting corpse in three thousand feet of Cling Wrap!”

…“She chuckled darkly. “And to think you were worried about a damn shower curtain. Nothing says ‘serial killer’ like a chest freezer in a garage.”

This was a fun comic mystery, based on a really good idea for a fun comic mystery. It kind of reminded me of the Stephanie Plum books and this one is also the first of a who-knows-how-long-it-will-be series of books. Finlay is a recently divorced financially strapped single mother of two pre-school children. Her only source of income is her career as a not very successful writer of romantic suspense novels. While discussing some plot ideas and being pressured by her agent to satisfy her contract, they are overheard and misunderstood. Finley finds herself being hired to kill a strange woman’s husband. Of course, as much as she needs the money, she has no intention of following through, but one thing leads to another, and (you know how it goes) she finds herself burying a Russian mobster’s dead body on her ex-husband’s sod farm. As she tries to cover her tracks and, aided and abetted by the irrepressible Vero, her friend/nanny/accountant/housekeeper she digs herself deeper and deeper (pun intended) into trouble and danger. With both the police and the Russian mob closing in, not to mention her literary agent, I had to keep reading to see how she was going to extricate herself from her predicament(s). It reminded me of a surreal I Love Lucy episode. Or a game of whack a mole.

By the end of the book, thanks to a darkly comic twist, she escapes both arrest or being murdered by the mob. She also figures out the real murderer, ends up being financially solvent, pursued by not one but two very hot suitors, snagging two huge advances for two sure-to-be bestselling mystery series, and secures custody of her two children. I forgot to mention that her douchebag husband was threatening her with taking away her children on top of everything else.

Despite the fun, I probably won’t be reading any more in the series. Elle Cosimano has already written the third book, and I didn’t appreciate the ending of this one which was a cliffhanger and nothing but a setup for book #2. I don’t like that. And I see the handwriting on the wall. This series will never end a la Stephanie Plum, and reading never-ending series featuring a “torn between two lovers” scenario is just not my cup of tea. I like closure. Wake me if she decides between the hot young attorney-to-be and the hot detective.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

June 25, 2022

Act Like It (London Celebrities, #1)

By Lucy Parker

I sunk into this book like a favorite easy chair after a hard day’s work. I don’t know what it is about this series by Lucy Parker. It’s light and funny but in a natural authentic way. The writing is sparkly and clever. And although the setting (the West End theatre scene in London) is glamorous, Lucy makes the reader feel part of it all. Romance is job #1 but everything else: the setting, the writing, the characters, and the journey are so exceptional, nothing else is needed. If you need a break from darkness, tension, family drama, shocking secrets, and angsty love, Lucy Parker is your girl.

Lainie is a likable, nice, and funny woman from a large happy family. Richard Troy is “an intolerable prick” who had a troubled childhood. Not that that’s any excuse for his behavior. Richard is angling for the presidency of the conservative and influential RSPA, but his only press is bad press due to his rude behavior, terrible temper, and lack of tact. In order to soften his sharp edges and create some good buzz for a change, it is arranged for Richard and Lainie, who is popular, wholesome, and scandal-free to fake a relationship while castmates in a play. Because anyone Lainie likes can’t be all bad, can he?

“Do you really think you’re the political type?” [Lainie] ventured, trying to think of a way to put it tactfully.
“Meaning?” the inquiry was frosty.
Screw it. “Meaning you have the diplomatic abilities of a tea bag, and a tendency to go off like a rocket at the slightest provocation.”
“I’m aware I’ll have to work on controlling my temper,” he said even more stiffly.…“I wouldn’t have to lose my temper if people weren’t such morons.”
“I would suggest going with a different quote when you open your campaign speech.”

Together, they navigate a pesky jerk of an ex-boyfriend, red carpets, morning show appearances, and an important dinner with the board of the RSPA which features Richard rescuing Lainie from the clutches of a horny vice-president. Meanwhile, Richard is victimized by village fetes including leaking babies, blue-ribbon pigs, and giant gourds, a 5-k race for charity, and Lainie’s large protective brothers and their unruly children. The inevitable opposites attract thing happens, and the fake relationship turns into the real thing.

Also inevitable is the break-up before the (inevitable) happy ending. I really liked Lucy Parker’s fresh approach to the big crisis. Lainie forthrightly admits her mistake and apologizes while explaining how it happened. When Richard (being the temperamental diva he is) does not choose to forgive her, instead of getting all depressed and taking to her bed with a carton of ice cream (as any self-respecting romantic heroine would do), she rolls her sleeves up and goes on a mission to get him back.

The woman she was now knew what she wanted-and she intended to have him. She would pit her personality against his any day. But he had a right to be seriously pissed. And she knew him. Even on his best day Richard couldn’t be described as charitably forgiving. He wasn’t going to make it easy for her.

He actually turns out to be no match for Lainie or his own tender if reluctant feelings for her. But fair warning: Blood and a Hospital are involved before we get to the happily ever after. And we know it is “ever after” because the happy couple makes appearances in at least 3 more of the series.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

June 1, 2022

One-Hit Wonder

by Lisa Jewell

I wanted to give Lisa Jewell another try after the first book I read by her. Like the previous novel, I was intrigued by the concept behind this one.

Ana, a bonafide card-carrying ugly duckling is 25 years old. She is repressed and bullied by everyone around her, especially her abusive psycho mother. She thinks she is ugly because she is tall, thin, and has a big nose. Her beautiful and dynamic half-sister, whom she barely knew, has died suddenly and she must go to New York to put her affairs in order. Bee was a wild child and ex-pop star whose celebrity faded quickly. A One-Hit wonder in fact.

When Ana gets to New York she is saddened and disturbed to see how Bee lived and died. She falls in with her two best and apparently only friends, Lol and Flint. Together, they are determined to get to the bottom of what happened to Bee. It is soon apparent that Bee had been living a double life with many secrets. In the course of her investigations, and away from her mother, Ana blossoms into a swan, finds inner strength, confidence, and self-esteem, and falls in love. By the end, there is plenty of redemption, happiness, and hope for the future for our main character, Ana, and others we meet along the way. But the happiness and hope that is found are in the ashes of Bee’s tragedy.

I liked Ana but didn’t love her. She was kind and good. I guess I can’t blame her for being a doormat to her mother and others, because the primary focus of the book is how she gets herself up off the floor. However, her constant poormouthing herself and failing to see her striking beauty that is obvious to everyone else was irritating. I listened to this on audio, and I liked the reader’s characterizations of everyone except two other main characters: Lol (short for Lolita, we are finally told) and Flint. The accent and voice tone was over the top with these two, and actually gave me a bad impression of them throughout most of the book. Flint’s character really turned me off and his voice just exacerbated my initial dislike. I just didn’t see how he could be the love interest but there wasn’t anyone else. As the book went on, and we learn more about him, my feelings did change, but it was slow going.

The gradual solving of the mystery and anticipation of closure on several fronts were what kept me going with this one. There were some interesting characters, particularly the difficult mystery boy and the cruel neurotic mother. The final outcomes with these two came too easily and were too pat for me.  As welcome as they were. The author had to put a pin in an ugly problem looming on the horizon to get to a satisfactory conclusion. Not that I didn’t appreciate it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 19, 2022

Katherine’s Marriage

by D. E. Stevenson

Katherine’s Marriage was a good and worthy sequel to Katherine Wentworth, picking right up with Katherine and Alec on their honeymoon. In a cave. A very nice cave, but still. I really wouldn’t recommend this book if you haven’t read the first one and loved it as I did. The first couple of chapters kind of got on my last nerve with Alec and “the brownie.” When all was said and done, the only interest for me was continuing my acquaintance with characters that had so engaged me. And unfortunately, Katherine, at times, is a bit of a wet noodle here in contrast to the first book.

After their blissful honeymoon, in which we meet the laird, MacAslan, and his daughter, Phil, which apparently feature in one or two other books by D.E. Stevenson, the newlyweds are confronted with a few challenges. First of All, Alec’s neurotic and manipulative sister, who they thought had been neatly dispatched to Europe and then Australia, returns like Carrie from the Grave. She is horrified that her brother is married when she expected to return to her place in his house dominating his life. Unlike Katherine, who seems to have lost some of her charm and personality, Zilla hasn’t changed a bit. She returns in all her dark and hateful glory. How she is dealt with yields some entertaining chapters and tense moments. No sooner than that is solved than Simon, Katherine’s usually lovely 16-year-old stepson suffers a personality transplant similar to what happened in the first book. When we get to the bottom of that, the third and last crisis rears its head: Sir Mortimer Wentworth, Simon’s tyrannical grandfather with an anger management problem, summons Simon to scary Limbourne. He is not on his deathbed, but has had a health scare, which has caused him to re-evaluate his relationships for ill or good. There are some shenanigans with a new will, which is always good value in a rich English aristocratic family story.

The book ends on a happy hopeful note albeit a bit abruptly with a bit of an interesting drama left on the horizon. We also wonder what the future holds for Simon and Phil. And what about the Limoge jug in the first chapters? And what about Lance and Anthea? I would have read a third book. At the end of the story, Katherine is pillow-talking with Alec, “We’ve been married for sixteen weeks; I wonder what we shall feel like when we’ve been married for sixteen years.” It’s a rhetorical question. With a couple this nice, sensible, and devoted to each other, there is no doubt whatsoever. **3 1/2 stars**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 4, 2022

Again, Rachel

by Marian Keyes

‘ “The truth must dazzle gradually, Or every man be blind.” Emily Dickinson.’

I loved much of this book. First, The Walsh family is a main character here, with each of the sisters maintaining the personalities that we have come to know and love or not love as the case may be. I hate it when an author does a sequel or a series and personalities that were interesting and intriguing, that made you want to come back for more, have vanished and we have reconstituted versions. The people we were introduced to and came to know throughout the Walsh family chronicles are the same people, yet some have been allowed to grow and mature. And some haven’t.

Confidence was usually seen as a positive. But Mum was from that generation of Irishwomen who prided themselves on raising children with rock-bottom self-esteem. Nothing galled them as much as an offspring with confidence.

 I definitely need to re-read Watermelon and Angels. And maybe skip through Anna’s story to find references to Angelo. After the last book, my favorite sister is Helen and I loved her role in this.

Rachel is back. She is 20 years sober and the head counselor at The Cloisters, the rehab center that saved her life back in the late 90s. Marian Brings back the patients and their heartbreaking yet entertaining stories that I found so involving in Rachel’s Holiday.

In here, clients gave only the most sanitized, tragic version of themselves. To get the full picture, you had to talk to everyone who knew them. It was a little like investigating a crime.

Readers of previous books know that Rachel and Luke got married, and now we find out they have now been divorced for 6 years and he lives in Denver, Colorado. She is in a happy relationship with another man, Quin, who is not easy, but he is interesting and complex.  In the beginning, Rachel is told that Luke’s mother has died and of course, Luke will be back for the funeral and to take care of his Dad’s affairs. Told largely in flashbacks we learn that, according to Rachel, Luke deserted her (but how can that be?) and we are taken through their heartbreaking story that led to that surprising circumstance. Meanwhile, we explore Rachel’s present life, her relationships, her work, and catch up with the Walsh family. And of course, Rachel and Luke are in the same country again. Rachel wants an explanation and apology from Luke but he is distant. It can’t be over for them, can it? But what about Quin? And what’s up with Luke’s long-time partner who came with him to Ireland?

In all of Marian Keyes’ books, The heroines go through horrendous times before getting to the happy and uplifting. Sometimes through no fault of their own, sometimes of their own making, or circumstances out of their control but exacerbated by bad decisions and self-delusion. Rachel part II was more heartbreaking than usual. I had some problems with some aspects of Rachel’s story and some of it was a little hard to swallow. Yes, it was long and drawn out, but in order for everything to come right, it had to be. Could Rachel have had her epiphany a little sooner? Maybe. could there have been a little more fair play with the reader? Hmmm. Not sure. But the book was as insightful, involving, and hilarious as usual. Marian is a master at balancing tragedy and comedy. And with a writer this good, the more words we are given, the better. So not too long for me.

After Anna’s story, Is Anybody Out There and Helen’s, the last sister’s, story there was an over 5-year gap.  Right before Marian came out with The Mystery of Mercy Close, she wrote a refresher to catch everybody up with the Walshes and kind of get them up to speed. If like me,  you have read Mammy Walsh’s A-Z of the Walsh Family,  you can forget about what she told us about Luke and Rachel. This book completely retconns what we thought we knew about them. This is by way of fair warning. I wish I had had one.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 27, 2022

Katherine Wentworth

by D. E. Stevenson

I realised that I was worn out in body and spirit with the strain of struggling along by myself, coping with the children and trying to make ends meet on an inadequate income. I had prided myself upon my independence and somehow or other I had managed . . . but now I began to wonder whether independence was so important. Perhaps one could pay too highly for it. Here, in this peaceful spot, with Mrs. MacRam to provide a firm cushion to lean upon, I gradually began to feel like a different creature. I felt years younger, with a returning zest for life—as one sometimes does when convalescent after a long illness. Colours looked brighter, food tasted delicious and every day was a pleasure.

Well, it’s a tie. This book is tied for my favorite D. E. Stevenson so far with Miss Buncle’s Book or the 4th in the Miss Buncle series, The Four Graces. But this is very different from the Buncle books. While those were clever and gentle satires of English country life and just funny, there wasn’t much funny or quirky about this one. It is a lovely family drama reminiscent of Rosamunde Pilcher’s best. It is about both the consequences of freedom and independence versus being “chained up” and, sort of conversely, the importance love and sharing one’s burdens.

Katherine Wentworth is a 27-year-old widow raising her 16-year-old stepson, Simon, and her two own young twins. Although a very happy “whole family” they struggle financially. We learn that her beloved late husband, Gerald, was from a very wealthy titled family but was cast off when he refused to fall in with his father’s plans for his future and made his own way after going to Oxford and later becoming a professor. To add to those sins, as a young man, he married an Italian girl who later died in childbirth. Katherine has had nothing to do with his family and vice versa. Meanwhile, she meets a former school acquaintance, the neurotic shallow Zilla who has a very nice and attractive brother. Despite being independently wealthy, Alec works as a successful lawyer much to his sister’s frustration. She is very possessive and manipulative and wants him constantly at her beck and call. In spite of Zilla, Alec and Katherine become good friends. At the end of Part One, Zilla offers Katherine, who sorely needs a care-free vacation, her remote cottage in the highlands of Scotland for the summer. And much to my wonderment, as I went into this book cold, Simon is contacted by his grandfather and summoned to his father’s family’s estate, Limbourne. It seems the heir is dead, and the estate and title will eventually pass to Simon. As Simon says, He wants to make sure I “don’t eat peas with my knife.”

**Some Spoilers**

Part two takes place at Limbourne. Simon refuses to go without his “Mums,” Katharine. Although they are welcomed courteously and treated well on the surface, Katherine and Simon know it is not for their own sakes, but because they have no other choice. The estate is entailed and Simon will inherit it no matter how the family feels about it. Yet, because Simon is an awesome kid, the tyrannical and intimidating grandfather genuinely likes and approves of Simon. Katharine is afraid. There is something not quite right with the family at Limbourne. There is something vaguely sinister and uncomfortable about the place.

Like everything else at Limbourne, the rose-garden was a model of tidiness. There were grass paths between the beds—paths of velvet smoothness—and there was not a weed to be seen. I thought suddenly of my daughter and her remark: ‘Funny sort of garden with no daisies!’ She would think this a very funny sort of garden, there was no doubt of that. The roses grew in orderly array, each little bush perfect in shape, bearing perfect blooms. I asked Medlam how he managed to attain such perfection and he explained that there was a nursery behind the beech hedge so that any bush which was not perfect could be replaced. ‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it, ma’am?’ said Medlam, looking round with complacency. ‘It’s the best rose-garden in the county.’ It was beautiful of course—roses are always beautiful—but to my mind it was too tidy and neat. The roses did not look happy; perhaps they were aware that if they failed in their duty to their owner they would be rooted out, thrown on the rubbish heap, and replaced by another rose-bush from the nursery garden behind the tall beech hedge…. He escorted me through a gate in the hedge. Here there were more roses, dozens and dozens of little bushes, their exquisite flowers filling the air with fragrance. There were red and white and pink and yellow roses in prodigal confusion. ‘I’m afraid it isn’t very tidy, ma’am,’ said Medlam apologetically. ‘It isn’t really for show, you see. We just plants them here temporary until they’re wanted.’ ‘I like it,’ I said. ‘The roses here look natural and happy and their scent is far sweeter.’ Medlam did not deign to reply to this piece of nonsense.

A Metaphor for Limbourne and its denizens

His grandfather wants to keep Simon at Limbourne and under his power. Simon has a good head on his shoulders and is devoted to Katharine and his half-siblings but will he be seduced by the wealth and advantages his Grandfather offers?


Part 3 takes place at the rustic cottage in Scotland where Katherine is spending the summer with her 2 young children. She has reluctantly left Simon on his own to spend another week with his newfound family. He is happy and excited to do so. Much to her surprise, Alec has come to stay nearby as well, and she is not sure how she feels about that. One night, without warning, Simon shows up ahead of time and he is behaving strangely and disturbingly. He claims everything is fine but Katherine knows better. What the hell happened? **End Spoilers**


This was so good. I loved the lovely Katherine and her family with their strength and wholesomeness matched up against their wealthy and outwardly nice but inwardly corrupted relatives. The inevitable romance turned surprisingly tender and touching. I sighed. I am just starting the sequel now and am anxious to read if we visit Limbourne again. Can this family be saved? This book ends on a hopeful note. Maybe?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

April 22, 2022

Frederica

by Georgette Heyer

The Marquis believed himself to be hardened against flattery. He thought that he had experienced every variety, but he discovered that he was mistaken: the blatantly worshipful look in the eyes of a twelve-year-old, anxiously raised to his, was new to him, and it pierced his defences. He was capable of giving the coolest of set-downs to any gushing female; and the advances of toadeaters he met with the most blistering of snubs; but even as he realised how intolerably bored he would be in Soho he found himself quite unable to snub his latest and most youthful admirer. It would be like kicking a confiding puppy.

In rereading Frederica (on audio) I did something I don’t often do which is read two books by the same author in a row. But, since my experience with the narration of These Old Shades was less than the best, when I saw The unabridged Frederica in my audible library, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take another whack at one of my most beloved authors. Besides, this book always reminds me of springtime with its settings and outdoor adventures: a family dog harassing cows in the park unaware of proper canine London manners, a runaway bicycle, scientific excursions, balls and parties, and of course a runaway hot-air balloon. Thankfully the narration of Clifford Norgate was “bang up to the mark” with even his female characters escaping the affected tones too many male readers give their females.

Although no longer available on audible, I had downloaded this to my phone at one time so I still had access to it. Hopefully, the unabridged versions will be available again eventually in the United States as they are in the U.K. This one was an excellent interpretation. Mr. Norgate’s voicing of the Marquis of Alverstoke had nuance and subtlety and lived up to my imagination of his tone and expression. His inner dialogue trying to suss out his true feelings for the redoubtable Frederica gave a fresh insight into Heyer’s words. Some of the most amusing and memorable scenes (The Baluchistan Hound Incident and the dampening effect of “Restorative Pork Jelly” on incipient declarations of love) were “complete to a shade.”

Frederica Merriville has come to London so her beautiful and impossibly sweet and gentle younger sister can have her season and hopefully find an eligible match so she can be comfortably settled. She has audaciously reached out to her very distant cousin Alverstoke whom she has never met for assistance in getting her launched into society. He has no intention of doing any such thing, but once he meets the unusually frank and unaffected Frederica, her two young brothers, and Charis, a “diamond of first water” he thinks it might be an amusing joke on his two tiresome sisters, who have been needling him to give balls for their unimpressive daughters. He will do so but only if Charis is introduced at their sides. They are surprised but thrilled at his change of mind as their brother Vernon is a very rich and important figure in the topmost ranks of society. The Marquis has served them the lesson they deserve when they meet the lovely Charis, who totally outshines every girl in London and certainly her two plain cousins. But he’s not shot of the little family yet.

Charis soon becomes the darling of society, and her 24 year old “on the shelf” sister Frederica is well-received as well. Meanwhile, Felix and Jeremy, Frederica’s young brothers, take a liking to “Cousin Alverstoke” and he starts to become much more involved with the lively family than he ever intended. As he is drawn into their escapades, the perpetually bored Alverstoke is for once, not bored. Of course, Charis falls in love with a totally unsuitable but handsome blockhead, and Frederica struggles mightily to not be a bother to the formidable Marquis. But far from being intimidated, she finds herself constantly in need of his help and advice. The marquis, meanwhile, is falling deeply in love with this girl who treats him like an indulgent and kind uncle much to his bemusement.

This is a bright and delightful book. Georgette Heyer was at the height of her powers and Frederica is one of her most charming and likable heroines. Alverstoke is one of her most well-drawn and witty romantic leads and their interactions are high points. Felix and Jeremy are two very different brothers but are both irrepressible and fun. Even Alverstoke’s quiet and efficient secretary, Charles Trevor, shines and even plays a surprising heroic role during a final crisis. My favorite Heyer novels take place in London during the season where conversation, descriptions, and settings sparkle, and the ability to navigate the tricky conventions and manners of society put futures on the line. And you might even meet real historical figures like the Prince Regent, Beau Brummel, Gentleman Jackson, or Sally Jersey and her cohorts. This one has the extra attraction of a warm and happy family at its center.

Frederica, The Marquis of Alverstoke, and the Beautiful Charis

Rating: 5 out of 5.

March 21, 2022

These Old Shades

“Dear Edward has given Fanny a chocolate-coloured coach with pale blue cushions. The wheat is picked out in blue.” He held the sheet at arm’s length. “It seems strange, but no doubt Fanny is right. I have not been in England for such a time…Ah, I beg her pardon. You will be relieved to hear, my dear Hugh, that the wheat still grows as it ever did. The wheels are picked out in blue.”

–The Duke of Avon, reading a letter aloud from his sister Fanny

This was a reread on Audible of a book I’ve read so many times I know a lot of it by heart, even though it’s probably been more than 2 decades since my last reading. The quote above, I remember, was when I read the book for the first time, my emotions went from enjoyment and anticipation to sheer delight. Although the incurably romantic and fun story still holds up, it suffers from the narration. Cornelius Garrett does not do well interpreting the suave, omniscient, and mordant Duke of Avon. Justin Alistair is an iconic character in the romance world, upon which many many subsequent romantic heroes by many other authors has been based over the years. I don’t think Mr. Garrett understood his character. He plays him in a voice that is too high-pitched and is sometimes bombastic and querulous. There is little nuance and little comic timing. In my own mind, I hear Avon’s voice as somewhat affected but not effeminate. I hear the unhurried, dry, and quiet tones of the late great Alan Rickman. Cornelius Garrett is no Alan Rickman.

That off my chest, although I was entertained, and enjoyed revisiting one of my old-time favorites, I wasn’t as charmed and admiring of Leonie this time around. Her devotion to “Monseigneur” and her impish spirited antics (“Egad, you wildcat!”) after restored to her true female self were a little much. But the plot, the dialogue, and all of the other characters, including Justin Alastair, as written, if not played, were as entertaining as always. It is no wonder that so many aspects of the book have been so copied, even to this day, almost 100 years later.

Two oft-criticized aspects of the book are the age gap between Justin and Leonie (40 vs. 20) and the other is the emphasis of birth over breeding in the determination of character. As far as the age gap, I do not have a problem with it. It is not all that much more than Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, or Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. Bogie was 45 and Bacall was 20 when they met. Cary Grant was 59 and Audrey Hepburn was 25 years younger when they starred together in Charade. As far as the importance of genetics in the determination of character, the criticism hits home a bit more strongly. Genetics is certainly a factor, but it doesn’t trump everything. Despite 20 years of being raised as a peasant, we are told Leonie never exhibits any coarseness. And conversely, in regards to the peasant with whom she was exchanged at birth, despite being raised as an aristocrat, he is awkward in society and wants nothing more than to be a farmer. Of course in my early readings of this book, I didn’t think a thing about it. And you know, some difference between the two can be explained by the behavior of both sets of parents who knew the truth. But I mustn’t digress.

These Old Shades is a most entertaining read. It has it all: romance, wit, comedy, adventure, suspense, cheer-worthy moments, triumph, and emotion. I love the descriptions of the fashions and toilettes, the glitterati, both fictional and real, and the settings. Although it’s too much to ask any book to recapture the joy it may have first brought once upon a time, it’s good to revisit books that once brought that joy. **5 stars, of course.**

Rating: 5 out of 5.

March 2, 2022

Summerhills

by D. E. Stevenson

**Spoilers for Amberwell**

I still love Clare. I haven’t forgotten her. For years I was utterly and absolutely miserable, but now it seems as if it had all happened in another life—or as if it had happened in a dream.” Dennis nodded. “I think I . . . can understand. But life is real, isn’t it? We can’t go on living in dreams. Look here, Roger, supposing you’d been killed in the war would you have wanted Clare to go on being miserable all her life?” “Goodness, no! What a horrible idea!” exclaimed Roger. Then he saw what Dennis had in mind. “Oh, I see,” he said slowly. “I never thought of it that way.”

I can’t imagine that this book would have much of an appeal unless one had read Amberwell. I think the Ayrton family would probably only be interesting in the context of the earlier book. Of course, having seen the Ayrton children through their troubles and triumphs in Amberwell, I was very interested indeed. The fact that Roger, Nell, and Anne, the characters we are most concerned with in this book grew up to be so happy and healthy is a major accomplishment considering their disturbing upbringing, and, in the case of Anne, her horrific marriage. It is a testament to the resiliency of children.

We meet all of our old friends to a greater and lesser degree and meet some new characters as well. Most are friends, but some are not. The book centers around Roger and Nell mostly. Roger is home from the war but still in the service. He has decided to set up a school for boys primarily so his son Stephen, so beloved by his beloved sister Nell does not have to be far from home, but can be toughened up, make friends, and cease being the center of the universe. His ambition is to include the scions of the privileged who can pay well to send their sons there but also to include the sons of less well-off servicemen. Much of the book concerns how the school takes shape. While Roger comes and goes, we meet Arnold who lost a foot in the war and will become the headmaster of the school, and re-meet Mary who sells Roger her old estate that she and her elderly parents can no longer take care of.

Intertwined with the building of the school are the love stories of Nell and Roger. There are also parties, an emergency trip to Italy, and an accident that puts a key member of the household out of commission. We see that Anne is happily and determinedly unmarried and ensconced with her Mr. Orme, the elderly vicar. Will she remain that way? One man is hopelessly in love with her. Poor guy. Along the way, we are treated to entertaining and thoughtful characterizations of everyone we meet. I was impressed with the author’s treatment of Roger, for example. He is somewhat of a stick in the mud and very traditional and somewhat stuffy. But though he may start off wrongheaded and mistaken in his opinions, when presented with evidence that contradicts his first instincts, he sees his way clear to wisdom and change. Another interesting character is Georgina, Stephen’s governess. She starts out to be a breath of fresh air and is certainly good for Stephen. But she changes into a manipulative and very foolish woman who is inadvertently responsible for bringing about the happiness of two couples. Poor Georgina. She was born a couple of decades too early. Poppet Lambert is back and is a delight. But I couldn’t help but think of a shocking interlude that took place in the first book. It is obliquely kind of explained in this book, but I always thought it was a very strange incident for the author to include in the first place.

So many deft sketches of so many characters I haven’t even mentioned. Not every loose end is tied up neatly and happily, but this is a dear gentle book with no darkness in it. And so it is a fitting and satisfying sequel to Amberwell. I confess I’ve become a little addicted to D. E. Stevenson.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

February 13, 2022

Garden Spells

By Sarah Addison Allen

“Business was doing well, because all the locals knew that dishes made from the flowers that grew around the apple tree in the Waverley garden could affect the eater in curious ways. The biscuits with lilac jelly, the lavender tea cookies, and the tea cakes made with nasturtium mayonnaise… The fried dandelion buds over marigold-petal rice, stuffed pumpkin blossoms, and rose-hip soup …Anise hyssop honey butter on toast, angelica candy, and cupcakes with crystallized pansies… dip made from hyacinth bulbs… the salads made with chicory and mint.

At the 60% mark, I decided I was done. I quickly skipped through to the end. I’m just a nacho and pizza type of gal at heart.

I guess magical realism just isn’t for me. Neither is self-consciously lush simile-laden prose. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I wasn’t that interested in the characters and there really wasn’t much of a plot. The concept was intriguing, but in the end, it was all about the magic, and it just wasn’t enough for me. Too much form and too little substance, maybe? The one aspect I was kind of anticipating and why I wanted to skip through and not just quit was a big dramatic showdown between the two Clark women, Sydney, and Hunter, and some conflict resolution. But after all the buildup and time spent on that aspect, it just didn’t materialize. After Emma had a breakthrough did the right thing it was by an answering machine message that was not even listened to. So that just spluttered to an end. Like the dreaded arrival of Sydney’s abusive ex.
Gorgeous cover though.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

January 21, 2022