Tag Archives: romance

“Arsenic with Austen” by Katherine Bolger Hyde

I finally found fiction to relax with! Wait, I shouldn’t say it that way… The heroine is a Professor of English (at Reed College in Oregon, no less) and she would disapprove of a preposition at the end of a sentence.

Emily Cavanaugh is an appealing protagonist, and the frequent literary references (ranging from the Old Testament to JK Rowling) in this mystery amused me. When stressed, Emily retreats into the worlds of Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope. When confronted with murder, she relies on Dorothy Sayers. Emily is a bibliophile who suffers from a level of technophobia even worse than my own. She would never condescend to blog. Horrors! Such an ugly neologism!

Two of the themes of this book are old grudges and land development. It works. There’s romance, too.

This is Ms. Bolger’s first novel and I look forward to more. She is calling her series “Crime with the Classics”. I don’t think she can go wrong.

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“Audrey Hepburn’s Neck – A Novel” by Alan Brown.

Pocket Books, 1996. 290 pages.

This novel was way ahead of its time – everyone’s into “diversity” and “global awareness” these days. This lively cross cultural romance is too good to miss! It has the added attraction of being a “coming of age” story, likely to appeal to young adults. I plan to nominate it as a “common reading” at the University where I work. (Not that my nominations have gone anywhere…)

Toshi, our hero, is a young manga artist with a passion for American women. He studies English and dates any American woman he manages to meet. His long term best friend is a gay American who reluctantly accepts Toshi’s heterosexuality and coaches him in the nuances of the American psyche.

Toshi has left his remote childhood home for the bright lights of Tokyo, but suddenly his family’s past catches up with him. He has never understood his mother’s sadness, his father’s silence, and their divorce. After his father’s death, his mother reveals her shatteringly traumatic past and the nature of the bond between her and Toshi’s father. So unexpected and profound are her revelations that Toshi must reconstruct his entire identity. By good fortune, his most recent American GF is an ideal partner in this undertaking.

This novel, which received numerous awards, fell through a crack at some point and has been so forgotten that it is not available for e-reader! I trust that will soon be remedied. Wikipedia states that a movie version is pending. I think it will be great! Alan Brown has been more active as a filmmaker than a writer. I look forward to his future work in both of these media.

“Tea with the Black Dragon” by R A MacAvoy – an old favorite of mine!

I don’t know when the term “chick lit” was first used. This book, published in 1983, might predate it. I consider it a gem of the genre! Another description would be romantic adventure.

Tea with the Black Dragon is just plain fun, the kind of book you would take along for a train ride or get lost in some rainy day. The heroine is flakey but loveable. Martha Macnamara travels to California at her daughter’s request, knowing that something is wrong but having no idea what it is. She is shocked to be unable to find her daughter at all. Before she can start to look for her, she meets a man who offers to help. Mayland Long is mysterious! He appears to be rich, old, very well educated and eccentric. That’s eccentric as in “not quite human”.

Martha and Mayland face off with dangerous criminals and save Martha’s daughter.

I was afraid, given the publication date, that this book might be unavailable, but, according to Amazon, it has been reprinted several times and they have it in e-format as well as new and used copies. So grab it, and enjoy!

“Persuasion” by Jane Austen

I re-read Persuasion because it was selected by a book group. We were asked to read the first ten chapters (out of 24), but I couldn’t stop and finished the book. One of the major plot twists (a dire injury) comes after Chapter 10, so our discussion was somewhat limited. And confused, since we kept wandering past Chapter 10.

As a comedy of manners, this book rates 100%. Jane Austen is, as always, observant and very witty.

Thinking back to Mansfield Park (see blog entry May 25, 2013), I have asked myself whether this is also a book about morals. Yes, to some extent. The moral question being explored is the value of “constancy” or “firmness” in a person’s character. Austen’s characters seem to value it, but at a crucial moment in the plot (the “dire injury” referenced above), firmness becomes stubbornness, with a disastrous outcome. Austen makes note of this, but it is not analyzed in any depth.

Jane Austen will always be a “go to” author when I want to soothe myself by reading.

“Stern Men: A Novel” by Elizabeth Gilbert

I read this book because Gilbert’s Signature of All Things was such a delight. Stern Men was another truly great read. For starters, there’s the title pun – stern as in the back of a boat, stern as in taciturn and disapproving. And the stern man is number two on a boat, after the captain. Often the secondary characters in this book are unexpectedly interesting and important. That’s a lot to pack into a short title!

A quick plot synopsis would be: Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending.

Stern Men takes place off the coast of Maine, on a pair of imaginary islands occupied by lobstermen, their families and a few odd hangers on. In the past, the granite industry had temporarily brought prosperity and “summer people” to the islands. The ancient heir to that industry connives and manipulates to bring the island communities into modern times and save them from economic ruin, but we don’t learn this until the very end of the book.

The setting dominates Stern Men more than is the case in Signature of All Things.

The story is told from the from the point of view of Ruth Thomas, who returns to her island home after attending an exclusive boarding school in Delaware. Ruth is the granddaughter of an orphan adopted by the granite magnate’s family. She does not “belong” anywhere, but chooses island life. The time frame is the 1960s and 1970s. Most of what happens in the US bypasses the isolated islands. There is ONE reference to marijuana and a passing allusion to the Viet Nam war.

I was, of course, reminded of Linda Greenlaw, who wrote three nonfiction books about fishing off the coast of Maine before trying her hand at fiction with the murder mystery Slipknot. I liked Greenlaw’s lively and amusing nonfiction, but Slipknot lacked depth. I think she was trying to emulate Janet Evanovich. AND she was pushing a message. I’m getting tired of fiction with a message. Greenlaw’s message is explicated in an “Author’s Note” at the very end of the book. Please! Tell me a story or send me a message – but don’t do both!

There is, in fact, a message in Stern Men, but it’s tucked into a rant by a minor character, the stiff necked local pastor, who understands too well what damage greed and stubbornness can do to a community. He’s one of the minor characters that makes me wish for MORE – another chapter, another book, more of this wonderful fictional world Gilbert has created.

Stern Men qualifies as literary fiction, a term I still don’t entirely understand, but from me it is a high compliment, like saying that something may stand the test of time.

Two holiday novels by Janet Evanovich – “Thanksgiving” and “Visions of Sugar Plums”

Janet Evanovich feels like a friend. She’s not the same kind of Jersey Girl as me, but I’ve lived in this state since age 25. I AM a Jersey Girl, though often I don’t realize it until I get out of state. I have a long, intermittent relationship with Trenton, one of America’s really messed up, suffering cities. And I have been to dinner in Chambersburg, the Trenton neighborhood that is home to Stephanie Plum, Evanovich’s most popular heroine.

I downloaded Thanksgiving to keep me company on my way to and from a family Turkey Day gathering. It’s a fluffy romance, not a Stephanie Plum crime novel. You know from the beginning that the two appealing young protagonists are going to get together, and you can laugh at the mischances and misunderstandings along the way. Thanksgiving is softer and more romantic than most of Evanovich’s books. But if you just want to relax and ignore your surroundings for a little while, this book is perfect.

My family, bless them, was relatively sane over the holiday. I couldn’t believe the tales I heard at the office on Monday!

If you really want to laugh out loud, get Evanovich’s Christmas book, Visions of Sugar Plums, originally published in 2002. I loved it! I re-read it several times, then gave it (as a Christmas gift) to someone who needed a good laugh. It provided my first introduction to Diesel, Stephanie’s third, “slightly” supernatural boyfriend. It is fast paced (like all the Stephanie Plum novels) and hilarious. Pure fun!

Thanks, Janet Evanovich, for keeping me entertained so many times over the past 20 years. Keep writing, and I will keep on reading!

“What Alice Forgot” by Liane Moriarty

I started out with one good reason to read this book, and one reason not to.

Of course I am likely to read a book with my name in the title. “ALICE” is not a common name.

But I would generally not choose to read a book in which BRAIN INJURY is a prominent theme. I dealt with that in real life – I don’t need to pile fiction on top of it. I already know too much.

But here was this novel, handed along by a friend, and said to be funny, gripping, etc. So I plunged in!

The “Alice” of the title, a thirty something mother of three who is separated but not divorced, falls and bangs her head in the midst of a gym workout. TEN YEARS of her memory is obliterated. As she rediscovers her lost decade, she has an opportunity for a “rewind” that few ever encounter. Despite pitfalls and complications and new relationships, she and her husband get back together and rebuild their damaged marriage.

I’ll skip the medical critique. I guess they do things differently in Australia.

This turned out to be a pretty good read. I’ll pass it along the next time a friend needs something to take on a plane.