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review SPOILER ALERT! 2020-02-02 16:53
To die upon The Summer Tree
The Summer Tree - Guy Gavriel Kay

Starting with a reiteration:

 

Full disclosure here, which may also be on the original 10-page update:

 

I purchased the Kindle edition of this book at full retail price.  I follow the author on Twitter, but he does not follow me. We have had a few brief exchanges, but not many. I was introduced to this writer via the now-defunct Rave Reviews magazine back in 1987 or so, when I was given the third volume of this trilogy, The Darkest Road, to review.  I fudged it, because I never did read the book.  I felt it was unfair to read the third and final volume without having read the first two.  And our schedule with Rave Reviews didn't provide enough time for me to find them.  So I fudged.  I have not revealed that information to the author on Twitter, nor do I have any intention of doing so.

 

And of course, I am an author of historical romances, contemporary gothic romances, and assorted non-fiction.

 

 

 

I finished reading The Summer Tree last night in bed on the Kindle, so there was no question about writing a full review on its tiny keyboard.  Besides, I needed to think about how I was going to frame it.

 

To say I was disappointed is the least of it.  I was shockingly disappointed, and in more ways than one.

 

But the biggest disappointment, I finally decided, came from the constant feeling of being outside the story.

 

There's a reason why movie theaters are dark: The objective is to have you, the viewer, shut out all external influences and ultimately be in the movie.  The sound is loud so you can't talk to anyone else over it.  The screen is huge so the sights fill your entire vision.    The aisles are narrow so you are less inclined to bother your neighbors in the audience to get up for another tub of popcorn.

 

Good writers, and especially good writers of fantasy, know how to create this same sense with nothing more than words on a page.  They don't have surround-sound and Cinerama projection and Smell-o-vision.  They just have words on paper or electronic page.  (If they're lucky, they have a dramatic narrator to read the audio version, but that's only after the words have been written.)

 

Guy Gavriel Kay never once achieved that level of atmospheric immersion.  At least not for me.

 

The premise is simple:  Loren Silvercloak, the mage from the magical world of Fionavar, comes to Toronto and selects five university students to take with him to Fionavar for . . . well, I'm not sure what for.  Something about the celebration for the 50th anniversary of King Ailell's coronation or some such.

 

And they go.

 

But they'll be back within hours, Toronto time, Loren promises.

 

I think the guys, Kevin, Dave, and Paul, made some sort of farewell visit to their fathers.  Were mothers involved?  I don't remember.  None of the visits were particularly memorable.  None of the characters were particularly deep.

 

The girls, Kimberly and Jennifer, were on their own, I think.

 

At the time of their transportation to Fionavar, I had no clue what any of the five looked like.  I got the impression that Loren looked like Gandalf and he had a companion who was a Dwarf, but beyond that I had no impression of any of the characters at all.  Not what they looked like, not what their relationships were, none of their histories, NOTHING.

 

So they get to Fionavar and there are more and more and more and more people dragged onto the stage, and they are just as poorly portrayed as the five Torontans.  (Is that a word?)  Ailell the King, Diarmuid his son and heir, some guards and courtiers. 

 

I felt as if Kay were trying to write Lord of the Rings in a modern Earth setting but with magic and another world.  But he did it badly.

 

Tolkien started with Bilbo and Frodo, so the reader got to know them and know them well before other main characters were brought onto the scene.  We learned about the Shire, about the houses that were holes in the ground and the peacefulness.  There were petty squabbles and jealousies, there were good Hobbits and spiteful Hobbits.  We learned about them as individuals, and Bilbo and Frodo as being somehow set apart.

 

Then we meet Gandalf.  And later we meet Merry and Pippin.  We meet them and know them because we already know what Hobbits are and how they're different from ordinary humans.

 

But we also know that there is more to this whole birthday party thing than just cake and ice cream.  There is The Ring.

 

The ring makes clear several important facts about the world of Middle Earth.  First and foremost is that magic works here.  Second is that there are different languages.  The runes on the inside of the ring might be Elvish, but the words are Black Speech.

 

Tolkien brings in his different races of semi-humans -- elves, half-elves, dwarves, etc. -- at the Council of Elrond.  The objective of the quest is laid out and the reader knows that everything will ultimately focus on the Quest to Destroy The One Ring.

 

I've reached the end of The Summer Tree and I have no idea what the point of the story is.

 

The Five arrive in Fionavar for this celebration, or at least four of them do.  For three fourths of the book the fifth student is just lost in space, and no one seems too worried about it.  Even Loren, whose magic made them transition to his world, doesn't spare much thought for the missing.  Or maybe he does, and that's why he goes off searching for him?  I don't know for sure.  Again, nothing seemed focused.

 

Kevin, one of the five, gets drunk right away, and I think he cavorts with some Fionavarian wenches.  He becomes pals with Prince Diarmuid, who is drunk most of the time and is always after one wench or another.

 

The celebration festival happens right in the middle of a terrible drought that has fallen over the land of Brennin, where Ailell is High King.  There doesn't seem to be much concern over what caused the drought or what should be done about it.  It just is.

 

For one reason or another, Diarmuid and some of his crew, including Kevin and maybe Paul, another of the Torontans, head off to the kingdom of Cathal, which is on the other side of a river from Brennin.  There's no way to cross the river, and apparently there's little to no communication between the two kingdoms, but I'm not sure about that.  Diarmuid figures out a sneaky way to get across the river and into Cathal without alerting anyone, and then he seduces/rapes the king of Cathal's daughter.  I'm not sure why.  Because he can?  Because he wants to?  Because because?

 

More or less at the same time, Kimberly gets taken off by Ysanne, the Seer of Brennin, to her little cottage by the lake.  I'm not sure why this happens either, because so many things are going on with no explanation or context.  Ysanne conjures up some creature/spirit from the lake, and he makes Kim the new Seer and erases Ysanne. It's not like Ysanne dies.  She's gone entirely.  She doesn't even get any kind of afterlife or anything.  So Kim is now the Seer, the lake spirit imparted all knowledge to her, and she has a couple of magic talismans.  One is a ring, I think it's called the Baelrath (but not the Balrog), and then I think there's also a bracelet but maybe not.  Oh, and then there's a dagger, too, that she uses to kill Ysanne.  Maybe.  I'm not sure about that either.  Things happen very quickly in this book, so it's not as if anything has time to sink in.  There's more text devoted to the lake spirit imparting all this knowledge than there is to why.

 

Now, we know that Diarmuid is the king's younger son, that there was an older son but he got exiled and His Name Must Not Be Spoken.

 

There's something to do with the Summer Tree, which is in some forbidden forest or something.  The older prince offered to sacrifice himself on the Summer Tree in place of his father, but this was some kind of insult, so the older prince got banished.  I think it has something to do with ending the drought but I'm not sure.  That part wasn't made too clear.

 

There doesn't seem to be any drought in Cathal, where Diarmuid is boinking Sharra, the king's daughter.  I don't know why Cathal is spared -- it's called the Garden Country, I think -- but it is.

 

For some reason or other, Paul Schaefer, one of the Canadians, volunteers to die on the Summer Tree in place of Ailell, in place of The Unnamed Prince, in place of Diarmuid.  I'm not sure what he hopes to accomplish by doing this.  Will it end the drought?  Is that the whole point of it?  Is that why they were brought to Fionavar by Loren? 

 

So Paul gets "bound" to the Summer Tree, I think by Matt Soren, who is the Dwarf who gives Loren all his magic power.  Loren is off somewhere else, and without his Dwarf as source for his magic, Loren is sort of helpless.  Why would he do this?  I don't know.

 

It was about at this point that I started feeling really icky about the whole book.  I saw the Tree as a metaphor for the Christian cross, and Paul, with his saintly name, standing in as the heroic sacrifice.  Especially since he has to be "bound" to the Tree for three days.  I'm not sure what was supposed to happen at the end of those three days, but that's the way the story goes.

 

The whole religious aspect is very muddled.  There's a Goddess, Dana, and there's a God, Mornir.  I think that's right.  They're sort of in competition with each other, but sort of not.  And then there's a Weaver who's above all that.  And there are lesser gods, too?  I don't know.  It's all very confusing.

 

Because there's also Rakoth Maugrim, the evil Sauron-like thing.  He's also called Sathain, and he's been bound under a mountain for a thousand years (which really isn't very long at all) and there are five wardstones that will let everyone know if Rakoth is going to get out.  So, are these wardstones like Silmaril or Palantir stones?  Or like the Seals in Wheel of Time, which are like the Biblical seals?

 

So then all of a sudden, after all this has been going on for several days in Fionavar, the third of the male Canadians suddenly shows up.  But he's in a different place from the others, apparently because he tried to break free when Loren was transporting them.  He lands (literally) in a different place and is rescued (?) by some people who herd eltor.  There's a whole lot of discussion about the sacredness of the eltor and so on, but no clue as to what they actually are.

 

When Dave, the last student, shows up, he admits to expecting the eltor were something like American bison.  I never thought that, but it made sense, especially when one of the guys where he lands is described as

 

He never wore a shirt, or moccasins; only his eltor skin leggings, dyed black to be unseen at night.

Kay, Guy Gavriel. The Summer Tree (Fionavar Tapestry Book 1) (p. 245). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Moccasins?  Really?  In Fionavar?

 

I had thought maybe deer or cattle, or whatever, but in fact they're kind of like antelope.  Eland?  And then the Dalrei -- that's the name of the people who herd the eltor -- go on a bloody massacre of their sacred eland, er, eltor and Dave participates.  Or, at least I think he does.

 

The problem here was that I didn't know if Dave came through the transporter magic at the same time as the others but just was in a different part of Fionavar, or if there had been some kind of time warp.  Rakoth had already escaped from his mountain fortress of Starkadh before Dave showed up, but when Dave arrived, Rakoth hadn't escaped yet.  It wasn't until much later in the text that a time frame is hinted at, and it's implied that Dave came through at the same time.  So Rakoth Maugrim, aka Sathain, aka Sauron, gets to explode again.

 

And Paul completes his sacrifice and learns he wasn't responsible for the death (in Toronto) of the young woman he loved who was going to marry someone else.  And it starts to rain.  (One whole book of this book is titled "The Song of Rachel," even though Rachel isn't a character in the book; she's the one who died.)

 

In the meantime, something happens to Jennifer and she gets carried off by some bad guys and strapped to the back of an evil black swan who flies her to Starkadh where she's going to be raped and tortured by Rakoth and then killed.

 

While all this is going on, King Ailell dies.  So Diarmuid should be the new king, but it turns out that Ysanne the Seer had a loyal servant with a limp who then becomes Kim's servant because she's the new Seer.  But he doesn't really have a limp, and he's really the exiled older son of Ailell.  His name is Aileron.

 

That's when I laughed out loud.

 

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aileron

a movable airfoil at the trailing edge of an airplane wing that is used for imparting a rolling motion especially in banking for turns

 

 

So the king is dead, Prince Drink-and-Diddle is supposed to get crowned, but Prince Propeller shows up and claims the thrown.  Er, throne.  At the coronation, there's a scuffle, threats are made to kill one or the other or both of the princes, someone throws a dagger that lands in Diarmuid's shoulder instead of his heart, but only because the dagger thrower's aim is thrown off because someone threw the actual crown at her.  Yes, her.  The dagger thrower is none other than Sharra, daughter of the king of Cathal.

 

I'm not sure why she wanted to kill Diarmuid, other than because he loved her and left her?  The sex stuff in this book isn't done very well.

 

So then at the tail end of the book, we learn that Rakoth escaped because Matt Soren -- remember, he's the Dwarf who gives all the power to Loren Silvercloak who started all this -- used to be the King of the Dwarves but he stepped down because some of the dwarves were doing bad magic things and he wasn't going to be part of that shit, but now the bad magic they did has led to allowing Rakoth to escape.  It has something to do with a Cauldron.

 

Oh, yeah, and even though I haven't read any of The Chronicles of Prydain, the very mention of a cauldron would have set my eyes to rolling.  You just can't have a serious background in high fantasy or children's literature of the later 20th century without having at least encountered Lloyd Alexander's The Black Cauldron by title and/or reputation. (I own it and one other of the five books of the series; maybe now I'll be motivated to get the other three and read them.)  The books were published in the late 1960s, roughly the same time as LOTR was coming out in (authorized) paperback from Ballantine.  And well before Kay was writing The Fionavar Tapestry.

 

So, where does this book end?  Well, Kim the Seer has powers, so she's gathering everything she has and I think she just transported everyone back to Toronto, but I'm not sure. 

 

But there was also a spar of light. A dying spar, so nearly gone, but it was there, and Kim reached with everything she had, with all she was, to the lost island of that light and she found Jennifer.

 

“Oh, love,” she said, inside and aloud. “Oh, love, I’m here. Come!”

 

The Baelrath was unleashed, it was so bright they had to close their eyes against the blazing of that wildest magic as Kimberly pulled them out, and out, all the way out, with Jennifer held to the circle only by her mind, the spar, pride, last dying light, and love.

 

Then as the shimmering grew in the Great Hall, and the humming before the crossing time, as they started to go, and the cold of the space between worlds entered the five of them, Kim drew one breath again and cried the last desperate warning, not knowing, oh not, if she was heard:

 

“Aileron, don’t attack! He’s waiting in Starkadh!”

 

And then it was cold, cold, and completely dark, as she took them through alone.

Kay, Guy Gavriel. The Summer Tree (Fionavar Tapestry Book 1) (pp. 382-383). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 


(Italics in the original.)

 

I haven't decided yet if I want to read on.  Curiosity about how they figure out what to do about Rakoth Maugrim Sauron Satan is a motive, because I think I have more curiosity about their story than they do.  But this book was a monstrous frustration.  I've read the whole thing and I still don't know what's really going on.  Do I want to read two more books of this malarkey?

 

I don't know.

 

With a good editor, maybe it would have been better.  I can't believe that any editor worth two nickels wouldn't recognize aileron as a real word in the 1980s.  I think I learned it from Mickey Mouse Club when Darlene Gillespie was training to be an airline stewardess (sic) and had to learn about planes.  That was in the 1950s, for crying out loud!

 

Using Celtic mythology as a base isn't necessarily bad, but Kay's is so clumsy.  The god with horns is Cernan, which seems an obvious play on Cernunnos, the Horned God of the Celts.  (Of course, it's also the last name of the last human to walk on the moon, Eugene Cernan.)  There's also an animal called a cerne, which maybe is a deer? Or maybe its a priapic giant human?

 

Kay has a nasty habit of dropping things into the story without letting the reader know what they are.  As I wrote in another status update, he did this with the eltor/antelope that the Dalrei people herd.  What happens is that the reader -- unless she happens to be just mindlessly reading and not paying any attention at all -- feels as if she's missed something.  She backs up, looking for missed clues.  She's completely pulled out of the story, and when she discovers that she has not, in fact, missed anything, she feels cheated and less inclined to go back and pick up where she left off.

 

For instance, here's a passage from page 286:

 

With an effort, then, a very great effort, he stretched himself out, mind and soul, to the impossible creature that had come for him. It did not exist, this exquisite thing that stood gazing calmly back at him in the strangely hued night. It did not exist, but it would,

Kay, Guy Gavriel. The Summer Tree (Fionavar Tapestry Book 1) (p. 286). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

So what is this "impossible creature"? An angel?  A fairy?  A dragon?

 

We don't learn until page 315 the answer to that question!

 

Then she was there and he was there before her, waiting, a welcome in those eyes, and a final acceptance of what she was, all of her, both edges of the gift. She felt his mind in hers like a caress, and nudged him back as if with her horn.

Kay, Guy Gavriel. The Summer Tree (Fionavar Tapestry Book 1) (p. 315). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

Ah, so she's a unicorn!  And then she's a unicorn with wings!

 

Why couldn't we know that on page 286?  What's the sense in teasing readers?

 

I think that's what pissed me off the most, even more than Prince Propeller.  Author Kay treats me like a Reader, not like someone he really wants to join him and his characters on this quest.  If I'm not welcome, why should I go?

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review 2019-03-03 03:29
The King's Grave -- Buried in history
The King's Grave: The Discovery of Richard III's Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds - Philippa Langley,Michael Jones

Disclosure:  I purchased the Kindle edition of this book at the then-current retail price.  I do not know the authors, nor have I communicated with either of them regarding this book or any other matter.  I am an author of contemporary and historical romance along with various (nefarious) non-fiction.

 

I was introduced to the mystery of Richard III in the early 1980s, through one of my snail-mail pen-pals Cheryl, who was at that time an active member of the U.S. branch of the Richard III Society.  Though I knew the outlines of the history, I did not know the debate over the last Plantagenet king of England had endured literally for centuries.

 

My background was superficial, gained through a slim volume that gave brief biographies of all the kings and queens of England and through a skimmed reading of the fourth volume of Thomas B. Costain's history of the Plantagenets. But had you asked me then to tell you all I knew of Richard III, I could only have told you that he was the last Plantagenet, that he died in battle, and his successor Henry Tudor was Henry VIII's father and Elizabeth I's grandfather.

 

I actually learned more about the mystery of the Princes in the Tower from reading Jan Westcott's The Hepburn, because one of the subplots involved Perkin Warbeck, the imposter who claimed to be the surviving younger son of Edward IV.

 

Cheryl knew a lot more.  She told me to see if I could find a very rare book by Josephine Tey, titled The Daughter of Time.  Some larger libraries might have it, she suggested, and maybe I could get it on interlibrary loan.

 

I knew Tey, of course, through Brat Farrar, but I'd never heard of this other book.  As luck -- or fate -- would have it, within days of receiving her letter with that recommendation, I found a paperback copy of Tey's book in a little used bookstore in our little town in Indiana.  I read it immediately, and was just as immediately hooked on the mystery.

 

I continued to research, to pick up odd little bits here and there.

 

When word got out in 2010 and 2011 that a serious search for Richard's grave was being undertaken, I began following the news reports.  I was still in occasional contact with Cheryl -- I have since lost touch with her, however -- and she provided me with links to updates through the R3 Society.  And then came the announcement in 2012 confirming the discovery.

 

I read the news reports and that was enough for the time being.  I'd been warned that Philippa Langley was a bit of a spotlight grabber; her book about the discovery was more about her and less about anything else.  But when a few weeks ago the book showed up on my Amazon "home" page at a reasonable price and at a time when I had a little bit of extra Amazon money, I decided to treat myself.

 

I've now read it, more or less, and the warnings were justified.

 

The book covers three main issues: The biography of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester and King of England; Philippa Langley's dream of finding his burial site; and the actual search in the city of Leicester in 2012.

 

The biography, broken into sections inserted between the various stages of the search, takes up at least 60 percent of the book.  This is great for someone who knows nothing of English history, especially the intricacies of the Wars of the Roses, and the complexities surrounding the legitimacy and/or illegitimacy of various claims to the throne.  But the fact that all of this detailed history broke up the actual search was annoying as hell for someone who actually knew the history.  Even if I didn't know every single detail, I knew enough that I finally ended up skipping the last few sections with a mental, "Yeah, yeah, I know all that, now get back to the digging!"

 

Langley played up her intuition and the dramatic feeling she had when standing in a certain spot in the car park.  Yes, there was research, and yes, there was scientific evidence, but her emotional reactions seemed overdone.  "Yeah, yeah, you got shivers down your spine, now get back to the digging!"

 

The digging got short shrift, and that really disappointed me.

 

Another major disappointment was the actual presentation of the Kindle edition, and I'm not sure whether that's because I was reading on the K4PC app or what.  The maps and diagrams were very small, too small to read easily. 

 

 

Many were at 90-degree angles to the page, making them even more difficult to read.  The photos reproduced were nice, but they were way too small and had very little narrative to explain them.

 

 

The notes at the end were just a listing of sources, not with any reference to the text.  Maybe most readers don't care, but I did.

 

I ended up giving it three stars, because the information was good, but it was too little.  If you're really interested, I recommended getting this from the library before you buy.

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review 2019-01-31 00:07
The View from Under the Flyover
The View from Flyover Country - Sarah Kendzior

I gave a lot of thought to the rating on this book.  I'm still not happy with three and a half stars, so I may change it.  Or I may not.

 

Though published in 2016, The View from Flyover Country is a collection of essays written in 2013 and 2014.  There's an update for the original collection at the end, and a 2017 update after that.

 

I wish the original update had been the introduction to the essays rather than the "Coda."  It would have given them a more contemporary relevance and a coherence with the title.

 

It's not really the view from flyover country so much as it one individual's take on a variety of national and international crises.  Reading the first few essays, I felt a sense of frustration that Kendzior wasn't either voicing the views of other Midwesterners or explaining them.  Her analyses were good, and the one about unpaid employment hit home personally.

 

As I wrote at the 82% mark last night, her essay on the Iraq war and the death of truth was very powerful, so powerful that it merited a full book of its own.

 

The value of the ideas in the essays begged me to put at least four stars on this.  They're well written, certainly, and the ideas need to be given more exposure.

 

But even in 2016, they were outdated.  I felt the collection was all about the money.  That's not all bad, of course, but it seemed like an easy out, an easy way to make some money off old work.  Had that "Coda" been at the beginning, it would have made a big difference.

 

Updates on each of the essays would also have made a difference.  If the unpaid employment economy was bad in 2013, what's changed since then?  What other examples could she have come up with?

 

So I settled on three and a half stars but I'm not happy with it.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-12-29 20:58
Window on the Square -- Don't look too closely. There are too many holes
Window on the Square - Phyllis A. Whitney

I started out rating this 2.5 stars, then dropped it back to 2.0.  As a book to while away a few hours, it's fine.  It's a good page-turner, with multiple entwined mysteries, and I didn't see any obvious give-aways in terms of the ultimate revelation.

 

The ultimate revelation itself, however, is a bit of a let-down.  While not unexpected, it doesn't really mesh with the characters as they're presented.  So the following is going to be filled with spoilers.  If you want to pick this up, the Open Road Media edition for Kindle is currently $2.99, and there's a 3-book set with Thunder Heights and The Golden Unicorn for $3.99.

 

The rest of this very long review is pretty much spoilers, so consider yourself warned!

 

It's important to have a detailed summary of the action in order to see how all the tropes work as well as how the ending is set up.

 

Setting is 1870s New York City, Washington Square to be precise.  There's a bit of local description and a few bits and pieces of contemporary history, but not much.  Certainly not enough to make anyone running to Google to check out the accuracy.

 

Young Megan Kincaid has recently lost her mother and younger brother in an accident.  Her father, a professor at Princeton in New Jersey, was killed in the Civil War,  Her brother Richard was apparently developmentally disabled.  The book was published in 1962, so there isn't a whole lot of emphasis placed on Richard's condition.

 

Megan is the classic impoverished, innocent, idealistic young woman, the archetypal gothic heroine.

 

Megan's mother was a successful seamstress, and now Megan proposes to make her own living the same way, though she's not nearly as skilled.  She receives a summons to the home of Brandon and Leslie Reid, ostensibly to sew a frock for Leslie's daughter Selina.  But her other job, and the real reason she was hired, is to care for Selina's brother, Jeremy.  They are respectively eight and nine -- or seven and eight -- years of age.  I forget precisely how old they are.

 

Jeremy is withdrawn and moody, the result of having accidentally killed his father, Daniel Reid, two years before.  Selina is boisterous and spoiled.  Jeremy is blamed for everything; Selina gets away with everything.

 

Jeremy and Selina are the classic vulnerable orphans, for whom the heroine will sacrifice anything and everything, including her reputation and her life, if necessary.

 

Leslie Reid is the gorgeous widow who married her late husband's older brother within a year of Daniel's death.  She is fragile, often in poor health, but always beautiful.  She dotes on Selina, but seems to have no feeling for Jeremy at all.  She appears, however, to be devoted to the memory of her late husband.  Daniel was some kind of crusader in the days of political corruption.

 

Leslie is the archetype of the beautiful "other woman" who stands between the innocent heroine and at least one of the men put forward as her Happy Ever After.

 

Brandon Reid is Leslie's second husband, older brother of her first.  He is dark, handsome, worldly, powerful.  He explains to Megan that she is not just a seamstress; she is a kind of supra-governess, who will be living in the Reid home to try to bring Jeremy out of his emotional lockdown.

 

Brandon Reid is the classic gothic "hero."

 

Thora Garth was Leslie's childhood nurse, and is now governess to Selina and Jeremy.  She is devoted to Leslie and, by extension to Selina, but she hates Jeremy, considers him evil and wicked.  She makes no attempt to hide her hatred and calls him out frequently.

 

But Thora has another side.  Fairly early on, Megan discovers that Garth (as she is most often called) has a habit of sneaking into Leslie's room when the mistress of the house is out.  Garth dons Leslie's gowns, bathes herself in Leslie's perfumes, and gazes with deep longing at the miniature portraits of both Daniel and Brandon Reid.  Garth quickly develops an open animosity toward Megan.

 

Thora Garth is the classic nurse/governess protector of the delicate "other woman," who manifests symptoms of irrationality and/or insanity as a threat to the innocent heroine.

 

Andrew Beach is the children's tutor.  He comes to the house in the mornings to teach Selina and Jeremy.  He is also something of an artist, who sketches portraits of important people,which are then published in the newspapers.  Leslie Reid has noticed his talent and has asked him to paint a portrait of her with Selina. 

 

As a relatively well-educated, working-class man, Andrew is the classic counter to the wealthy Brandon Reid and a challenger for Megan's affections.

 

Kate, Henry, and Fuller are three of the Reid family servants, respectively the maid, butler, and coachman.  Kate quickly befriends Megan, though Henry remains aloof.

 

More important than the servants, however, are a couple of inanimate objects that are introduced early in the book with that kind of ominous foreshadowing of dark events to come.

 

One is a music box carrousel -- Whitney's misspelling drove me nuts through the whole book -- that Megan had given to her brother Richard as a gift.  This is her Most Precious Possession, given much more emotional value even than the few pieces of nice jewelry she has inherited from her mother.

 

The second is a carved head of the Egyptian god Osiris which occupies a place of some honor in Brandon Reid's library.  Prior to his brother Daniel's death Brandon was an (amateur?) archaeologist in Egypt.

 

Slowly, Megan works her way into Jeremy's affections and begins to break through his shell.  At first she is told he accidentally shot his father, but then she's told he did it deliberately.  But Jeremy doesn't completely remember what happened.  He insists there was another gun involved, that he did indeed have a gun, but it was unloaded and it disappeared after the shooting, to be replaced by the one that actually killed his father.

 

She also becomes more and more friendly with Andrew Beach, who warns her to get away from the Reid family.  This is the classic gothic romance trope of the kind, attractive, but slightly less desirable potential love interest.  Megan even goes on a "date" with him, to a cute little Italian restaurant.

 

She also goes on a "date" with Brandon Reid, taking the children to a theatre matinee.  It ends badly, because Brandon is moody and can't seem to control his emotions.

 

Later, they have another "date," of sorts, taking the children skating.  Now the relationship between Megan and Brandon is becoming more romantic, more threatening.

 

A series of events around the Christmas holidays starts to bring issues to a head.  Jeremy begins to make an elaborate gift for his uncle/stepfather, a beaded collar in an Egyptian style to decorate the Osiris head in Brandon's library.  Megan provides the beads; Andrew Beach obtains some fine wire for stringing the beads.

 

This co-operative effort strengthens the connection between Megan and Andrew over the issue of Jeremy, and reinforces the rivalry between Brandon Reid and Andrew for Megan's affections.

 

Leslie, Selina, and Garth takea trip up the Hudson River to visit Leslie's parents for several days.  While they are gone, Megan and Jeremy have a "date" of their own, a dinner party at the Reid house jsut for the two of them.  They dress up, have all the servants participate in preparing the dinner, and it's all going to be fun.  Then Brandon comes home, and things get messy.  There's now a sort of declaration of love, and then threats are made.

 

Megan must leave.  Leslie fires her, Garth threatens her, but Brandon insists she stay.  Her affection for Jeremy, and her sense of responsibility toward him, now override her better judgment.  She agrees to stay.

 

Christmas arrives, and Brandon gives Megan an Egyptian scarab brooch as a token of his affection.  Their romance is doomed, of course.  Megan gives Jeremy the precious carrousel music box, which is also doomed, of course.  Jeremy gives Brandon the beaded collar for the Osiris statue, and Brandon is delighted with it.  This means the Osiris is also doomed.

 

While all this is going on, Selina keeps chirping up with declarations of having a secret that she's not going to share with anyone.

 

But then there's a confrontation between Jeremy and Brandon over the music box, and Brandon in a fit of temper sweeps the toy aside and breaks it.  Jeremy is heartbroken, but also blames himself.  Surprisingly, though, Megan doesn't seem to be terribly affected by the damage.  And that's where things really began to fall apart for me.

 

A few days later, a gunshot in the house sort of wakens everyone.  But no one is hurt; the victim is the Osiris statue.  So another Precious Possession is destroyed.

 

Someone is out to get Brandon and Megan, and possibly Jeremy, too.  Garth insists the boy be put away, blaming him for shooting the statue, even though he remembers nothing of it.  Brandon believes, too, that Jeremy can no longer be allowed in the house, and though he intends to find a better place for the boy, he agrees that makinghim an inmate of some asylum is the only option.

 

Megan, with no evidence to the contrary, believes something else is going on.  She alone has faith in Jeremy.

 

The exact order of events leading up to the conclusion isn't entirely important, but it reveals the weakness in how Whitney resolves all the little mysteries.

 

Selina reveals her secret: She knows where the other gun from her father's killing is, the gun her brother insisted he had checked to make sure it wasn't loaded and therefore he couldn't have killed his father.  I just didn't buy that Selina, at age seven or eight, would think this was a fun secret to tease everyone with.  Though very different in temperament, she and Jeremy did have a close relationship.  And the fact that this gun was hidden meant something nefarious was going on.

 

The gun is hidden in a heavy candlestick belonging to Leslie,  That Selina, who was very close to her mother, would have bragged about knowing this also didn't seem to make sense.

 

And then Leslie is murdered, beaten to death with the aforementioned candlestick.  Evidence emerges implicating Brandon, even though he is out of the house at the time of the murder.

 

SPOILER WITHIN SPOILER

 

Well, of course, Brandon didn't kill her.  Neither did the children.  Neither did Thora Garth.  Neither did the servants.  Neither did Megan.  Neither did Andrew Beach.

 

As Andrew reveals to the police, Leslie killed herself.

 

NO WAY. 

 

Not only did I not buy Leslie's suicide-by-overdose-of-laudanum, but I didn't buy the rest of her scenario.  Yes, it's somewhat similar to the conclusion of DuMaurier's Rebecca, but the character of Rebecca de Winter was entirely different.

 

According to Andrew Beach's version, Leslie took the overdose and then told him what to do so her death would be blamed on Brandon.  After she died, Andrew proceeded to bludgeon her corpse with the candlestick, while wearing one of Brandon's shirts so there would be blood on it.  Then he was to wash in Brandon's basin, to make sure there were traces of blood there, too.

 

Andrew did all this because he was in love with Leslie.  Somehow or other I just couldn't see him bludgeoning the dead body of the woman he loved in order to frame someone else.  Andrew didn't come across as that kind of person.  He may have been jealous of Brandon for having been Lesllie's husband, and for having won Megan's heart as well, but Andrew was never portrayed as being a bad person.

 

But why would Leslie kill herself anyway?  Well, apparently it was because she was going to be found out to be her first husband's real killer.  Jeremy hadn't been believed at the time of the killing that there was another weapon, bu now Selina had found it and Jeremy's version would be believed.

 

At which point in the telling, Jeremy remembers -- I think he remembers -- that the person who fired the gun that killed Daniel Reid was in fact Jeremy's mother.  I'm not sure why Jeremy didn't remember this at the time, or why no one believed him, or how the other gun got removed from the scene.

 

Why did all this go down?  Oh, because Lesllie's parents were in financial trouble so she married wealthy Daniel even though she was already really in love with Brandon.  But then Daniel got mixed up in dirty politics and she didn't want to see her posh future destroyed, so she killed him. 

 

And Brandon married her to keep her quiet about the political scandal to save his family's reputation.  I didn't buy that, either.  He was an archaeologist, for crying out loud.  He would have been obsessed with the truth.  He would have wanted to know, at all costs, not just hush it up and forget about it.

 

Plus, he was willing to let Jeremy take the blame.

 

At the beginning of the book, I had some sympathy for Brandon, but it didn't last long.  He gave in to his lust for Megan even though he had married Leslie to save the family reputation.  That kind of man wouldn't easily set aside his scruples.  Nor would he, as the book went on, contemplate ending the marriage dishonorably.  His mood swings weren't suitable for heroism either.

 

At the end, when it's all been sorted out, Megan and Brandon are going to go to Egypt, and leave the children with their maternal grandparents. No.  No way.  After all the children have been through after all that Megan has been through fighting for Jeremy, there is no way I can accept Megan and Brandon abandoning them to the parents of the woman who killed their father and his brother.

 

Besides, how did Leslie's parents recoup their supposed financial losses?  How are they going to be able to take care of two small children?  Selina liked her grandparents, but I'm not sure about Jeremy. 

 

Overall, I thought it was a really crappy ending, partly for just being crappy but also for not being particularly believable.  Andrew Beach wouldn't have done that to Leslie and to Brandon, and by extension to Megan.  Andrew wasn't a bad guy.  But I also didn't see Leslie as the kind to take the suicide route and beg to be mutilated after death.  Just didn't make sense.

 

The worst, though, was Megan walking off to Egypt and abandoning the boy she had worked so hard to save.  That alone made Window on the Square just a tiny bit shy of wallbanger status.

 

The writing was fine, and most of what led up to the ending was fine but that ending pretty much ruined it all.  Not as bad as The Thorn Birds, but bad.  Down to 1.5 stars.

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review 2018-12-21 17:25
Borrower of the Night -- a disappointment
Borrower of the Night - Elizabeth Peters

Disclaimer:  I purchased the Kindle edition of this book in December 2018.  I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with her regarding this book or any other matter.  I am an author of contemporary and historical romance.

 

 

This was a re-read, after many, many years.  I'm guessing I first read Borrower of the Night in the late 1980s, though it was apparently first published in 1973.  This is the first book in Peters's Vicky Bliss series.  I already own books 3, 4, and 5, but I'm not sure I want to pay for book 2.

 

For some reason or other, I remembered Borrower of the Night as being more mysterious and less slapstick. Frankly, I don't enjoy slapstick comedy at all, and I really don't enjoy it when mixed with mystery and romance.  So the silly humor in this book rubbed me the wrong way every time it occurred.

 

Vicky's romance with Tony also rubbed me the wrong way, and that may have been because I knew that in subsequent books, her affections got directed elsewhere.  I knew, therefore, that Tony was not going to be a lasting romantic partner.

 

The plot is fairly straightforward: Vicky and Tony discover clues to a missing 16th century German art treasure and they set off to find it.  They are joined/pursued by George Nolan, a famous art collector.  The three end up in an ancient German Schloss that has been converted to a hotel.  The other main members of the cast are a German physician, a German historian, the Countess who runs the hotel, her English companion, and the

countess's niece Irma who is the actual heir to the title and the castle and the treasure, if it can be found.  There are various adventures and threats and accidents and injuries.

 

What there wasn't was atmosphere and intrigue of anything resembling a serious nature.  The characters were all cardboard -- intrepid Vicky, macho Tony, presumed-evil-villain George, menacing Countess, beautiful victim Irma.  I couldn't make a mental connection to any of them, and that's the main thing I read fiction for -- the characters.

 

 

 

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