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Search tags: MbDHistoricalFiction
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review 2018-01-19 07:44
Pomfret Towers
Pomfret Towers - Angela Thirkell

This is the 3rd Angela Thirkell I've read so far (and finished - I DNF'd one last year), and it is, by far, the most biting, painfully hilarious of the lot yet.  I say painfully because all those moments you wish would happen in books, when the evil/nasty/rude character is at work, happen in this book.  But I almost dnf'd this one too, because it doesn't start off well at all.

 

At the opening, it appears that the narrative (3rd person omniscient, btw) is going to focus primarily on Alice Barton, a character so Mary Sue that the Mary Sue trope should have been named Alice Barton.  She is ridiculous; frankly, she's barely functioning.  As I write this, it occurs to me that in current times, she might have been thought to be agoraphobic; she isn't, she's just terrified of everything beyond belief.  

 

Fortunately the biting humor was making me laugh or giggle too often, so I kept on and discovered the story rapidly becomes an ensemble, and even though Alice continues to get more page time than the rest, her growing confidence makes her a tiny bit more bearable.  Tiny bit.  Fair warning, by the end of the book she's still pretty ridiculous. 

 

But along the way, Thirkell does something interesting with Alice; something very unexpected from what I know of her Barsetshire books.  She uses Alice's character to sniff around the edges of masochism and emotional abuse.  Just the edges, mind you; events that would seem inconsequential or pathetic on their own start to add up to a disturbing pattern, and Thirkell writes a scene or two where her friends discuss her pattern of behaviour quite frankly.  This doesn't go anywhere, of course; this book's destiny was to be a frivolous, entertainment, so of course everything works out in the end.  But given the time it takes place (~1930), I found it to be an unexpected and interesting thread and raised the story's merit in my estimation.

 

The end was a tad trite, and could only be expected, but my rating stands because, man, this book was funny.

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review 2017-11-14 09:45
A Burnable Book
A Burnable Book - Bruce Holsinger

This book was both everything I love and everything I loathe about historical fiction. 

 

Everything I love includes characters pulled straight out of history: Chaucer, Gower, Richard the II, Hawkswood, and plots that involve books and codes and secret symbols.  

 

Everything I loathe is, ironically, everything that makes this a more or less accurate work of historical fiction.  Told from different points of view throughout the book, two of the perspectives are those of prostitutes and there's no sugar coating the language or the profession.  It's raw and graphic and just not what I enjoy reading no matter the setting or the time period.  There are also POVs from mercenaries and the acts they threaten to carry out and ultimately do carry out are disgustingly graphic and inhumane.  Verisimilitude can go too far for my tastes and does so here.

 

But, by far, the things I loved kept me glued to this book, even when the things I loathed would have me DNF it.  It was so well written, I wanted to know what was going to happen to John Gower, and Simon, and Millicent.  And of course, I wanted to know more about the Burnable Book.

 

So, if your tastes are more tolerant than mine, I highly recommend this book.  I'm not at all sorry I read it - it was a great story, I couldn't put down - even when it offended my delicate sensibilities.

 ;-)

 

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review 2017-08-21 03:58
The Foundling
The Foundling - Georgette Heyer

I don't really know what to say about this book.  The writing is superb; really just near perfect.  The dialog is crafted so well it just trips off the tongue, even though it's a speech pattern that's hardly common today.

 

And I genuinely liked Lord Sale and his cousin Gideon (him best of all, I think); I even didn't mind the pompous uncle and Tom was moderately amusing.  I should give Heyer a fourth star just for that story about the two donkeys, a horse and a cow.  But as for the rest... 

 

Lord Sale's staff were insufferable.  Heyer meant them to be, of course; that's a big point of the plot from the beginning, but she did her job so well it was tedious to endure the reading of it.

 

Liversedge was probably brilliant and towards the end even I thought the situation was hilarious, but the first half of the book his character was just smarmy.

 

But the character I save most of my ire for is Belinda.  It was coincidence that I was reading this book the same time I was reading Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth, but it was also perhaps karma having a go at me:  I claimed nobody could be as stupid as Margot in Grey Mask and so the fates brought Belinda into my reading life.  Belinda makes Margot look like a genius; Belinda makes air look literate.  Belinda, in short, should have been institutionalised.  Nobody – nobody – could be that vacuous and still show signs of life.

 

If this book failed at all it was with Heyer's decision to make Belinda too stupid to be believed.  I could not be sympathetic to her story at any point because she was not even believable as an automaton.  And because she played such a huge part in the middle of the book, the story dragged dangerously midway through and at one point, I just didn't want to finish it.  Fortunately, the POV shifted to Gideon, and the story picked up pace considerably.  The last half of the book was great, in fact: even though Belinda got to let her stupid shine to the very end, there was a lot less of her and the story focused on the characters that were interesting - the sentient ones.

 

The moral of this story:  stupid people can ruin even the best story.

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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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