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review 2019-02-01 08:52
Excellent Women
Excellent women - Barbara Pym

I'm not entirely sure what I just read.  It's beautifully written, but I'd be hard pressed to outline its plot.  Beyond being a social commentary on single women in the 1950's, with a sidebar on the changing morays of post-war Britain, there's not a lot happening.

 

Mildred is a 30-something spinster, the daughter of a clergyman, living on her own in London and living for her local church.  Mildred is quietly wry about her lot in life, while also being something of a doormat; a combination that seems incongruous to me, though that itself might be a reflection of how far we've come: I have the luxury of not only thinking wry thoughts, but expressing them, and choosing not being anybody's doormat.

 

When the flat beneath hers is let to a 'modern' married couple - the kind that were hastily married during WWII - Mildred's life is sucked into the vortex of their melodrama.  Again, something I could not relate to, but this time I couldn't even imagine a set of circumstances where Mildred's experience seems logical.  Except one, and it's the one I think Pym was using, though obliquely (by today's standards): Mildred was in love with, or crushing hard on, Rocky.  There's plenty of evidence that she was - but there's plenty to point to that shows Mildred's misery at doing Rocky and Helena's bidding as well, and again, that seems incongruous to me.  People who are crushing on their neighbours (or whomever) are generally happy to be involved in their crush's life.  Mildred is highly moral, but there's no evidence that her misery stems from the moral quagmire of crushing on a married neighbor, rather is feels like a bone deep fatigue with always being considered an "Excellent Woman".

 

Speaking of "Excellent Women", this sort of feels like Pym's true message; 'Excellent Women' are much admired and relied upon, but rarely loved or appreciated; indeed that being called an Excellent Woman is a rather back-handed compliment. If this was, in fact, Pym's intent, she sort of failed in my opinion.  The message is there, yes, but it's subtle; maybe a little too subtle, as it's drowned out by all the drama happening amongst neighbours and friends.

 

There are a few other things going on during all of this:  Julian, the vicar's, surprise romance with an unsuitable widow, Mildred's friend Dora - a bitter old prune in the making, and possibly the most awkward courtship I've ever read happening between Mildred and another character.  None of which added any depth to the story for me, nor made any of the characters more sympathetic.

 

As I said though, the writing was wonderful, and highlights included learning about the true meaning of being a slut ::grin::, and what might be one of the best character names ever: Everard Bone, couple with one of the most hilarious lines I've read in a while (context: a turned down dinner invitation):

 

Immediately he asked this, I realised that there had been a little nagging worry, an unhappiness, almost, at the back of my mind.  Everard Bone and his meat.

 

Buried amidst the terribly prim and proper setting of this book, this line struck me as inordinately funny, and evidence Pym had a wicked sense of humor.

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review 2018-12-11 09:35
The Ebony Swan
The Ebony Swan - Phyllis A. Whitney

If reviews came with musical accompaniment, you'd be hearing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah as you read this.  I've finally finished this book.

 

There's a combination of factors involved in the blame for my incredibly slow progress: I'm in a slump, and therefore easily distracted by anything right now - it doesn't even have to be shiny; life has been busy and when I did sit down to read, interruptions abounded; this is not Whitney's best work.  By a long shot.

 

Susan's father took her away from her grandmother's home and cut off all contact, after the death of her mother under mysterious circumstances.  Susan was the only witness and at 5, suppressed the memories.  Now her father's dead, she's an adult, and she's returning to her grandmother's home in Virginia to get to know her and figure out why she can't remember her own mother.  But grandma has a trunk-load of secrets she's less than enthusiastic about sharing, and nobody else seems to want Susan to come back at all. 

 

This is one of Whitney's later books, written in the 80's, and she's still got her magic touch when it comes to atmosphere, setting, and characters.  But the story dragged... the pacing was continental drift slow, and there was so much time spent in the heads of the characters, it was a challenge to keep myself engaged.  And when everything came together with a solution/ending that was twisted in that way in which Whitney excelled (this is an author who really understood long-simmering anger and epic grudges), I was so ...exhausted by the slow pacing that I just couldn't feel the punch I should have. 

 

It's good, it's even a bit haunting, but you have to really be patient with it, and in the midst of a slump, patience is thin on the ground.

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review 2018-12-05 01:04
The Copenhagen Connection
The Copenhagen Connection - Elizabeth Peters

I'm not at all sure what to say about this book.  It's ... not great.  Definitely not one of Peters' best by a long shot, but it's oddly readable.  

 

The MC, Elizabeth, is on the plane, on her way to Denmark for a long awaited vacation, when she spots her literary idol on the plane too.  In an effort to meet her, Elizabeth contrives to make an idiot of herself (sorry, I don't understand fandom), but she does get to meet her.  Upon dis-embarking the flight, the author's secretary suffers an 'accident' that breaks her arm, and Elizabeth is there to offer her temporary services.  Did I mention the author's son is traveling with her?  The tall, good-looking, yet taciturn son?

 

This whole setup is the most improbable part of the story.  From here it devolves into the author going missing - did she leave on her own or was she kidnapped? - being spotted in various disguises around Copenhagen, threatening notes, ransom demands, kidnapping and, of course, romance.  With the tall, taciturn, jackass of a son.  What Elizabeth sees in him I haven't a clue, because even when he's saving her (just the once, and not really), he's a pompous braggart.  This one definitely falls into the 'ludicrous' category of romantic adventure.

 

Still, Peters' has a way about her writing, so that even when it's bad, it's not DNF bad.  In this particular example I can't guess what that way is, because really, the characters weren't that great, and got knows the plot was ... dumb.  Yet I kept reading it, and I wasn't yelling at it, or even complaining.  Smirking ... there was an above average amount of smirking.  Think of it as an entertaining read in the way old 'B' movies are entertaining. No value, but not the worst way you could waste a few hours.

 

 

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review 2018-11-23 10:11
The Tea-Olive Bird Watching Society
The Tea-Olive Bird-Watching Society - Augusta Trobaugh

I bought this book from a Friends of the Library shop in Florida, because the title grabbed me, and the synopsis said it was a blackly hilarious take on Arsenic and Old Lace.

 

It probably is (a take on Arsenic and Old Lace).  And it's not bad.  But it's not great either.  It's a story that plays on, and exaggerates in small ways, the eccentricity that is often found in small towns in the Deep South (USA).  These are all Good Christian Women (though the book isn't at all oriented toward 'being Christian') who have all been graced with names straight out of the Bible (Zion, Beulah and Sweet - from the hymn Sweet by and by) and have all grown up together.  Sweet finds herself in a late-in-life marriage to a man that turns out to be a violent abuser, and Beulah and Zion take it upon themselves to graciously and politely do away with him before he does away with Sweet.

 

The elements are all there for a great story, but I found it a tad tedious.  It felt like it took forever to get going, though as I look at it know, it was only 60 pages in that Sweet finds herself suffering the consequences of a hasty marriage and Zion and Beulah start plotting. If the domestic violence isn't a trigger warning, there is the aftermath of a horrible incident involving a pet canary that the main character Beulah kept bring up again and again.  The first telling of it was bad enough but I almost DNF'd the book because she just kept bringing it up again and again. 

 

The ending is ambiguous, which is fine, but the author stressed the ambiguousness of the ending too strongly so that by the last page I was muttering 'yeah, yeah, I get it - we'll never know' to myself.  

 

It wasn't a bad book; I wasn't scrambling to read it, but I wasn't avoiding it either.  It's very readable.  It just isn't as gripping a story as it could have been had the characters and pacing been a bit more balanced.

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review 2018-11-23 09:56
The Compleat Ankh-Morpork City Guide; Comprising the New Street Map, Trade Directory & Gazetteer Along with a Glorious Artist's Impression of this Great City in Its Entirety
The Compleat Ankh-Morpork - Terry Pratchett

My fellow Discworld fans:  If you see this book, buy this book.

 

It's awesome; it's hilarious; it's not lying or exaggerating when it says it is "Compleat".

 

The amount of thought and attention to detail is astounding, especially in the trade directory.

 

And the piece de la resistance is the giant-size, pull out map at the back.  I took pictures, which do not adequately illustrate the awesomeness.  Mostly because it's almost 9pm and my home lighting is lacking.

 

 

 

I am here.  And here.  And here.  

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