Saturday, February 7, 2015

What Would Papa Do?

Title: Anne Perry A New York Christmas
Publisher: Ballantine/Penguin Random House (2014, 2015)
Genre: Christmas short story, novella, historical mystery, romantic suspense, English mysteries,
4 Stars ****
Anne Perry is an international bestselling British author of over 60 historical detective novels. She lives in the secluded Scottish Highlands, but her readership is primarily American.  The Times selected her as one of the 20th century's "100 Masters of Crime", and her short story "Heroes (2001)" won an Edgar.
Two of her acclaimed series feature William Monk, a private investigator who has amnesia, and Thomas Pitt, now head of Special Branch after a long illustrious career (and 30 books). Her Christmas stories (12 novellas) involve characters from these series, each with a pleasant, moral theme. They are a gentle reminder of why we celebrate the season. Her WWI series is not to be missed. She has also written YA, fantasy, and stand alone novels. I have read all her books and novellas (since 1980) so am familiar with her characters and writing style.
Story line:
It is 1904 and Jemima, the daughter of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, travels as chaperone to America with Delphinia Cardrew for her high society NY wedding into the wealthy Albright family. Jemima embarks on an adventure trying to find Phinnie's mother Maria, but is then accused of murder. She meets Patrick Flannery, a police officer with an Irish lilt, who believes her innocence. They encounter danger and friendship in NYC society.
This story is a bit simplistic at times, with numerous themes, very predictable, but enjoyable to read especially the luxurious descriptions of elite NYC, winter in Central Park, diverse neighborhoods, family secrets and skeletons. And as our winter extends, it makes for an enjoyable afternoon read. I wonder if the continuing romance will lead to stories on this side of the Atlantic.
Now on sale in most bookstores, with shorter waiting list in the library.
Read on:
To the mysteries of Anne Perry, Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, or William and Hester Monk. To Victoria Thompson's Gaslight series. Or Jane Haddam series.
To short stories of Donna VanLiere.
At twenty you have the face nature has given you; at fifty you have the face you deserve.
Twenty-three, and I'm thinking like a policeman! You would be proud of me Papa...and horrified.
Tact is a priceless virtue.
At least she would not look as foreign as she felt.
She made an instant decision to be charming, complimentary, and unimpressed. She owed it to her national honor not to gawk as if such things were not common at home.
She knows what matter and what doesn't. She remembers what she receives, but not what she gives....she is never unnecessarily unkind.
It is very good to know the rules, even if you did not intend to follow them.
After all, how could you find magic if you did not believe in it?

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

That'd be CRM to you
Title: Esther Freud Mr Mac and Me
Publisher: Bloomsbury (September 2014)
Genre: literature, English novel, historical novel, coming of age
3 Stars ***
Author: Esther Freud is a British novelist, named as one of the 20 "Best young English novelists" by Granta (1993, after her novel Peerless Flats was published). Yes, she is one of those Freuds, great granddaughter of Sigmund, and daughter of the painter Lucien. She caught my attention because of Sea House (2003) which was loosely based on her grandfather Ernst: another Suffolk house with German Jewish refugee after WWII). She bought a cottage some years ago in Walberswick, and here discovered a famous guest (1914, Charles Rennie Mackintosh) and a ghost, a small boy of 10-12.
Mr Mac and Me is her 8th novel. She was shortlisted for the Llewellyn Rhys prize for her first novel Hideous Kinky (1992) which was made into a film starring Kate Winslet. Another novel Gaglow (1998) was shortlisted for the Jewish Quarterly Literary Prize for Fiction.
Story line:
The narrator is this story is young Thomas Maggs, whose family is struggling to make a living. He is the only surviving son of an abusive, alcoholic publican, born with a club foot which denies him his dream of going to sea. He is a curious scamp, I wanted to like him, empathized with his hard life, delighted in some of his antics and appreciated his budding artistry, mentored by the Scottish architect and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh (CRM) and his wife beloved Margaret. But.
Thomas is more than a scamp. He has been befriended by CRM, has seen the contrast of their lives, yet he makes curious choices. Not out of place with his status, but rendering friendship meaningless. The jumbled ending confused me, and seems out of character with the rest of the book. My Margaret? Indeed. This has been the recollection of a dying man on seeing the obituary of Mackintosh, followed by memories of the country awakening to CRMs brilliance?
I really wanted to love this book as it concerns my favourite artist. Her depictions of his craft are poetical. I am not aware of other fictional works concerning his story, but have read /own many biographies. I kept reading because of the thread of CRM's story, an interesting blend of fact and fiction. I loved the sumptuous description of the countryside, the village is a central character. She has a gift for describing the natural world, and is a well crafted, meditative wordsmith. It is a slow, quiet detailed read. The area was known by artists for its light and their paintings capture the ethereal magic.
This is also a good study of the effects of war on everyday life in a small english coastal hamlet. I am delighted she has exposed many people to Mackintosh, as I can't believe the number of Americans who had never heard of him, even with the great fire that nearly destroyed his Art School masterpiece this year. I was pleased to see a recent review in the NYTimes (Elizabeth Graver Jan 25).
I loved the British cover art of CRMs Fritillaria.

Read on:
Helen Humphreys The Evening Chorus (2015, WWII rural England)
Helen Dunsmore Zennor in Darkness (DH Lawrence in Cornwall)
Flora Thompson Lark Rise to Candleford (daily village life as experienced by a child)
For CRM biographies:
2010 CRM: Life and Work by James Macauley
2001 CRM by Edmund Swinglehurst
2000 CRM: Architect, Artist, Icon by John McKean and Colin Baxter
1995 CRM by Alan Crawford
My name is Thomas Maggs. Although I'm known as Tommy. And Tom's what I tell people if I'm asked.
He's got a gruff voice, low and hard to understand, with rolling Rs and sudden lifts and burrs, and if I close my eye I can hear the chimes and rises in it...
Mac...he looks for all the world like a detective. He's wearing a great black cape as if he's Sherlock Holmes. 
I eat the little triangle of bread, so fast that I have to search myself for what is in it. Honey.
But the ink smudges against my knuckle and my finger and I am so disappointed I want to take the nub of the pen and stab it into my arm.
He's built a school and a church in his home city of Glasgow, and houses, unusual houses, for gentlemen that don't care what anybody thinks. 
The truth about Margaret Macdonald, says Mac slowly, drilling the edges of a lead, is that she has genius. Where I have only talent.
I've made places for poets and now I'm being reprimanded for misplacing the toilet facilities.
I wanted to work in Glasgow. I wanted to work for  Glasgow.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Mistletoe and Second Chances

Title: A Matchmaker's Christmas by Donna Lea Simpson
Publisher: Beyond the Page, Amazon digital services (December 2014)
230 pp
Genre: regency romance, classic romance
3 Stars ***
Author: Donna Lea Simpson is a Canadian bestselling author. She writes romance and mystery novels, some with a paranormal twist (the Awaiting series looks intriguing). This romance was a delightful read, evocative of the rural English countryside in Regency times. I found a few modern attitudes, actions and language but enjoyed the gentle, poignant and satisfying romances.
Story line: Lady Bournaud, an elderly widow, hosts a Holiday party, resolved to do some good before she passes happily on, waiting to be reunited with her beloved late husband. The unsuspecting couples gather, not necessarily in correct social order, but through much character development, introspection and doubt, find love. Second chances for all ages, in changing social times.
Read on:
To Georgette Heyer, Anne Perry
Mark it for next holiday, with the true spirit of Christmas  or enjoy during this winter season.
It's going to be a long cold winter. Been a miserable summer and it is not likely to get any better now. 
But each season had its own sorrows and rewards and she learned a long time ago to take each day as it came....looking ahead was too bleak and looking back was unthinkable.
I hate this present age of music I don't understand, prissy young folk allowed to marry wherever they wish, and a mad old king,
You cannot mean that you intend to match these poor unsuspecting young people? A reverend and a hoyden?
I have outlived disease. I begin to fear I will live forever.....Lady Bournaud did not like closed books.
As the life I live is my own, and the only one I have been given, I think it behooves me to be careful with it ma'am.
I have taken the elegant affectation of staying in bed until luncheon.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Flavia Strikes Again!!   Alan Bradley, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust.
Publisher:  Random House /Bartam Dell (January 6, 2015)
418 pp
4 stars
Genre: YA series, science fantasy, Sherlock Holmes fans
Sequel to The Dead in their Vaulted Arches
Read in one sitting, as all previous books were, often late into the night.

Alan Bradley was born in Toronto, Canada and grew up in the lakeside town of Cobourg, Ont. After a career in television broadcasting, he retired from the University of Saskatchewan to write full-time. He publications include children’s stories, lifestyle and arts columns in Canadian newspapers and screenplays. His adult stories have been broadcast on CBC radio and published in various literary journals. He was the recipient of the first Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for Children’s Literature.

The first in the series, “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” won the 2007 Debut Dagger Award of the Crime Writers Association in the UK; the 2009 Agatha Award for Best First Novel; the 2010 Dilys, awarded by the International Mystery Booksellers Association; the Spotted Owl Award, given by the Friends of Mystery, and the 2010 Arthur Ellis Award, given by the Crime Writers of Canada for Best First Novel. It was also nominated for an Anthony Award, a Barry Award, and a Macavity Award. Sweetness made numerous lists and awards including the New York Times, as a Favorite Mystery of 2009, an American Library Association nominee as Best Book For Young Adults; a Barnes and Noble Bestseller. The audiobook version of “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” was voted Best AudioBook by iTunes. The books are all NYTimes best sellers. Don't miss the audio books narrated by Jayne Entwistle- she is absolutely perfect, and recently (11/14) won Outstanding Audiobook Narration for The Dead in their Vaulted Arches.
Academy Award-winning producer/director Sam Mendes, of “Skyfall” and “American Beauty” fame has optioned for Flavia for television movies (2012).

Story line:
This is book 7 in what I hope is a long series of sleuthing for our intrepid youngster Flavia De Luce. Please read these in order as there is a good progression of character, friendships, sleuthing techniques and 'in jokes'. My favourites are volumes 1,6 and now 7. If you love the Flavia stories you will definitely enjoy this installment although it is not set in England.
Flavia has been banished from her Beloved Buckshaw, transported to the wilds of Canada (Toronto, 1951). Flavia is to study at Miss Bodycote's Female Academy, her mother's alma mater, and take part in a secret society NIDE. (Now run by her Aunt Felicity, and which we suspect Flavia will excel in). This is a boarding school with a secret mission, but also a mystery as there is always a body for Flavia to inspect. She has become more than a precocious preteen; while she has her trademark sarcastic wit and refreshing observations, she is growing up, becoming more analytical and thoughtful. She was terribly homesick. But felt the excitement and discovery of new places. She was grieving for her mother (whose body was just returned home), missing Dogger and scones, but successfully dealing with new girls (not her sisters) and making  adjustments. She remains a very strong, original female lead and roll model.
I loved the literary quotes. I loved her anticipation and recognition of the science lab, her exposure to new, interesting adult teachers. The mystery was a minor component for me in comparison to her experiences in the new environment. While it is a satisfactory clever conclusion, it was rather sudden, although predictable, there are a number of interesting questions/themes remaining for several more books. I thought the emotional swings and roundabouts were realistic and help ground the character development of Flavia.  There is a  pitch perfect description of the convent and many academics. I hope and suspect we will see more of them.
I would have liked more information on the school and Harriet when she was a student here. And more on the teachers, especially as Flavia was all too suddenly whisked away.   I suspect Bradley knows we are reading this series for Flavia and that we will see more adventures, in time and place as she grows up.
Meanwhile, Buckshaw looms on the horizon.
And I must find Bradley's memoir The Shoebox Bible.

Read on:
If you like Harriet the Spy or Lemony Snickett's  Violet Baudeleaire.
Or listen to Jayne Entwistle narrate Julie Berry's Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place.
Also note there is a Flavia short story recently epublished "The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse"

First sentence:
"Banished! The wind shrieked as it tore at my face."

The maggots were nothing new: I had thought of them often while dwelling on the delights of decomposition. Daffy had even read out to me at the breakfast table -- "Knowing your proclivities," she had said, smirking -- that wonderful passage from Love's Labour's Lost, where one of the characters says, "These summer-flies have blown me full of maggot ostentation." It had caused Father to put aside his sausages, get up, and leave the room, but had given me a whole new appreciation of Shakespeare.

“And this must be our little Flavia!"
On paper the man was already dead.

Magic doesn't work when you're sad.

Desperation is capable of wonderful things.

Received as an ARC ebook through Netgalley, purchased hardback for my collection.
(Just delighted to read this early, and now impatiently waiting for the next installment)