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review 2017-03-07 06:15
The Curse of the Kings
The Curse of the Kings - Victoria Holt

This was another difficult read to rate properly.  I couldn't put it down, but there was so much eye-rolling too.

 

The description on the book record is terribly simplistic, but it's as close or closer to anything I could come up with.  Honestly, Holt packed a lot into this book.  The first half is taken up with Judith's background and childhood; it isn't until page 174 that we even get to Egypt.

 

Judith's ridiculous obsession with Tybalt got on my nerves; I'd say someone should have smacked some sense into her, but she never let on to anyone in her world just how insanely besotted she was, she saved all those confidences for the reader.  But the rest of the book was compelling and incredibly readable.

 

The story itself is pretty trope-tastic; it's got the imaginary love triangle, mistaken for cheating, lack of communication, rags to royalty... not to mention the whole Egyptian theme; likely quite a few more I haven't even thought of, but it was first written in the 70's when some of these things weren't tropes yet, or were all the rage.  That somehow made it easier to roll with.

 

The writing kept me coming back.  It had all the qualities of a mid-century gothic that appeals to me, in spite of some the silliness coming from Judith.

 

I'll definitely check out more of Holt's work.

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review 2017-03-04 05:15
Maggie's Kitchen
Maggie's Kitchen - Caroline Beecham

I wasn't sure how to rate this one.  I bought it on a whim, thinking it would be a typical British historical/chick-lit type read; the kind I really enjoy once in awhile when I need a break from my regularly scheduled genres.

 

It's exactly what I expected, except it's written by an Aussie author.  Aussie authors and I tend to have an on-again-off-again kind of relationship and my last fling with The Dressmaker left me, frankly, bitter and jaded.  So I went into this one feeling defensive and ready for confrontation, which might have coloured my perceptions a little.

 

This is a lovely story about a woman who applies to run one of the British Restaurants, created during WWII to offer hot, nutritious, and affordable meals to Londoners struggling under food rationing.  Maggie's struggle to keep her restaurant going in spite of food shortages and diverted allotments runs parallel to her attempts to help a young boy find his father and her very slowly developing relationship with a Polish refugee.

 

The author really brought home a tiny glimpse of what life must have been like living in London during the axis air raids of WWII; she didn't shy away from scenes of Maggie and her neighbours huddled underground during a bombing; the alternate neighbourhoods that sprung up in the Underground stations, or the way homes and business disappeared overnight after a bombing raid.

 

What she didn't get quite right, I don't think, is the gap-tooth style of the narrative overall:  unknown quantities of time pass unexpectedly without acknowledgement and relatively significant events are never fleshed out.  

 

From the beginning the reader is told that one of Maggie's brothers died when they were kids.  A tragedy; hints that Maggie was involved and that her mother abandoned them in large part because of this tragedy...and then nothing.  

 

Janek belongs to some Polish resistance organisation that may or may not be spying, but has the need to hide mysterious shipments of something at Maggie's restaurant without her knowledge.  We never find out if Janek is a bad guy or a good guy, nor whether or not that shipment was ever hidden at the restaurant; the whole thing just gets dismissed near the end with a vague line or two.  As Janek is the romantic interest in the book, a reader can't really be blamed for expecting a bit more information about him and his possible shenanigans.

 

Small things too, like details about the British Restaurant scheme, are never explained.  Does Maggie own the restaurant?  Is she leasing it from the government?  We're told Maggie received grants for renovations and equipment, but then she's put on probation with the possibility of being removed and replaced... so is she an owner or an employee?  Information was spotty and vague and at least some of it was central to the plot's crisis.

 

I don't know if I'm being hypercritical or not, but I can't help but think that even though I enjoyed the story as-is - and I really did - it could have been utterly fabulous with a more insightful editor and some restructuring.  There is a lot here that could have been removed and never missed, and plenty that wasn't here, but very much missed.

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review 2017-03-01 07:27
Wild Strawberries
Wild Strawberries - Angela Thirkell

This was really good!  I'd read High Rising last year and enjoyed it; enough to buy the next couple of books, obviously.  But then they languished on the pile for awhile, because High Rising wasn't that good.

 

But this was great!  If you like family pandemonium (the kind where you sit back and wonder at the chaos as each member lives in their own orbit, occasionally bumping up against each other, while all somehow working as one eccentric unit), a smattering of light romance, a lot of tongue-in-cheek stereotyping and a story line that really meanders and goes nowhere in particular, this is a book worth checking out.

 

It's a historical piece, so there is at least one cringe worthy use of language, but in the context of the time it was written it, it doesn't come across as painful or nasty.

 

Mostly, it's just a wonderfully silly book.  I closed it thinking "that was fun!". 

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review 2017-01-29 06:56
The Bookshop on the Corner
The Bookshop on the Corner - Jenny Colgan

Stupid pedantic complaint:  as it says on the back of the book, Nina opens a mobile bookshop.  So the title is driving me a little nuts.  It's not on the corner; it's a bookshop in a van.  It would, in fact, be hard for it to be on the corner without blocking a street.

 

Anyway, moving on, it's a pretty fantastic book.  About loving books.  Loving them so much you collect them all and bring them home until they start to exceed the limits of what your home's structure was engineered to put up with.  It's about friends, and small towns in the highlands of Scotland, and more books and eventually, there's a romance, but mostly it's about chucking everything and reinventing your life.  With books.

 

I've seen some comparisons to Sarah Addison Allen, and ... maybe I can see this, if you take away all the magical realism that's such a huge part of Allen's books.  The comparison that came to my mind while I was reading it was, truthfully, just as much of a stretch: Jennifer Crusie.  Colgan doesn't have that snarky overtone of humor, but the style of story - the slower buildup and pacing - is not dissimilar.  I don't read much in this genre so I don't have a lot of comparisons at hand.

 

There were a few areas where I felt like she skipped over pertinent details, and what happened to Alasdair?  He was an awfully significant cog in the machinery that got Nina her new life, and yet we never see him again - not even to say "thanks".  But I did love it, and I'll read it again someday.

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review 2016-10-25 06:37
Pistols for Two
Pistols For Two - Georgette Heyer

I never knew Georgette Heyer wrote short stories on top of the prodigious number of full length novels she wrote over her career, until after I bought this book at a used book shop.

 

11 short stories, all entertaining, but average, with Gretna Green and comedic misunderstandings playing heavily through most of them.  Short stories are not Heyer's strength, if this collection is anything to go by, as most of them have romances in them that skip right over the wooing part and go from introductions to betrothals.  Still, they're light and entertaining, with Heyer's trademark cheekiness.  

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