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Readingomnivore Reviews

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by readingomnivore, Mar 25, 2014.

  1. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "A Summer's Grass" is a short story in J. J. Salkeld's Natural Detective series featuring former policeman, now hill farmer Owen Irvine and the officers of the Kendal CID, Cumbria Constabulary. It was published in inexpensive e-book format in 2017.

    When Dan Bowness is arrested for robbing a hotel, Owen Irvine believes that the younger man is innocent. Granted he had been a skilled burglar and had served time for robbery, but Dan had worked for Irvine after his release and given every evidence of going straight. With a decent job and happy with his wife expecting their first child, why would he suddenly revert to his criminal ways? But the robbery used the same modus operandi as one of his early jobs, Dan has no alibi for the time of the robbery, and the police find the stolen goods except for a £6,000 Rolex in his flat. Why would anyone go to so much trouble to set Dan up? Case solved so far as the police are conceerned, but Andy gives Irvine a few days to see what he can find.

    I enjoy this series. I like the characters, especially the assorted members of Kendal CID, ably run by DI Andy Hall and DI Jane Francis, life partners who job-share. As DS Kathy Stone, Irvine's lover, tells him, "You know Andy. As far as he's concerned the only useful function of the rule book is to give him something to put his mug of tea on." DS Ian Mann's method to deal with criminals can be satisfying. Irvine himself is pleasingly complex. Sense of place is well-developed. Salkeld is a skilled writer of short fiction.

    I recommend "A Summer's Grass" highly. (A)
     
  2. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE DARCYS OF PEMBERLEY is the first of Shannon Winslow's sequels to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in e-book format in 2011. Others in the series include Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, which covers the same events as THE DARCYS OF PEMBERLEY but from Georgiana's point of view, and Return to Longbourn.

    The first two-thirds of THE DARCYS OF PEMBERLEY proceeds slowly with expected events beginning immediately after the death of Reverend William Collins in "Mr. Collins's Last Supper." Charlotte Lucas Collins goes to live with Ruth Collins Sanditon, his widowed sister-in-law. Mrs. Sanditon receives tenancy to a cottage near Kympton and Pemberley, at Reddclift, the estate of her widower brother-in-law, thus drawing him into the Pemberley circle. Charles and Jane Bingley, too close to Longbourn at Netherfield, purchase Heatheridge, an estate in Staffordshire some thirty miles from Pemberley. Jane is pregnant and bears twins. The Darcys visit London to bring Georgiana "out" in Society. George Wickham is discharged from the army, so he and Lydia move in with the Bingleys. Georgiana confesses her romantic love and desire to marry Colonel Fitzwilliam to Elizabeth and swears her to secrecy, first about the colonel, then about Mr. Sanditon's proposal of marriage. Darcy is more withdrawn than usual and often engaged on unexplained "business" both at Pemberley and in London. Elizabeth becomes pregnant. Then everything goes to h*ll in a hand-basket.

    I found THE DARCYS OF PEMBERLEY not terribly satisfying on several counts. The plot is unbalanced, with the tension between Darcy and Elizabeth that dominates the larger first segment easily dealt with if they had talked to each other. The histrionics of the final portion deadens the opening. Again Mrs. Bennet and Lydia escape consequences for their deeds: Mrs. Bennet tells childbirth horror stories to Jane as she lies in labor, Lydia forges Elizabeth's handwriting in a love letter that Wickham uses to blackmail Darcy. Just once, I would like to see their karma operate appropriately. The epilogue is so drawn out, it becomes anticlimax.

    Writing style is not nineteenth-century literary style like Austen's, but it is fairly formal standard English with several anachronistic words. For the most part, they are not offensive. However, "party spirit" and the use of "you all" (American Southern colloquial plural of "you") glare. "Discrete" and "discreet" are different words.

    I'm most disappointed in the characters. How likely is Sanditon--a widower and father of two small children, a man at least as old as Darcy--to propose marriage to Georgiana, a girl not yet "out" in her first Season, before consulting her brother and guardian? How probable is the engagement between Colonel Fitzwilliam and Anne de Bourgh as it plays out? How believable are Lady Catherine's reactions to her nephews' ultimatums and to Anne's wedding? How realistic is Charles Bingley's failure to meet his responsibilities as head of his household?

    Most displeasing are changes in Elizabeth and Darcy. Elizabeth Bennet Darcy agrees to hide Georgiana's confessions from Darcy, causing her own angst and his suspicions. Despite knowing Wickham's history and knowing Darcy worries that he is a danger to her and Georgiana, a heavily pregnant Elizabeth pulls a TSTL and goes alone with Wickham to check on Lydia. Darcy is just as bad, paying blackmail when he should know better than anyone else the depths of Wickham's wickedness. He shows little faith in Elizabeth's honor. He pulls his own TSTL when he, knowing that Wickham skulks, strips Pemberley of its male servants to go look for a carriage accident that Elizabeth saw in a nightmare.

    THE DARCYS OF PEMBERLEY has some interesting events and better than average writing, but a thorough revision could improve it significantly. (B-)
     
  3. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    PICTURE MISS SEETON is the first book in Heron Carvic's mystery series featuring Miss Emily Dorothea Seeton, an elderly art teacher whose sketches often reveal her perceptions of their subjects' character and activities. It was originally printed in 1968, then published in e-book format n 2016.

    On her way home from a Covent Garden production of Carmen, Miss Seeton sees a man, she thinks, hit a woman; she pokes him with her umbrella and tells him to stop. She's surprised when Scotland Yard Superintendent Alan Delphick (aka "The Oracle") and Detective Sergeant Bob Ranger reveal that she's the eye witness to a murder; she is able to identify but not describe the killer. Delphick asks her to sketch the scene, which she does with enough insight for them to identify the killer as Cesar Lebel, a longtime criminal on the edges of the drug trade. Miss Seeton, who's inherited the cottage Sweetbriars in Plummergen, Kent, from her godmother, removes herself to the country during the school holiday to decide if she will live there in her approaching retirement. As an in-comer to the small village and a celebrity after press coverage of her role in the Covent Garden murder, Miss Seeton is the object of great curiosity with her arrival precipitating both gossip and serious criminal activity.

    Carvic establishes the village of Plummergen in PICTURE MISS SEETON, introducing its villagers and defining their relationships. The most important relationship for Miss Seeton begins in London with Delphick and Ranger, a professional duo who respect each other and Miss Seeton's strange ability. As the perceptive Delphick explains to Ranger, "She's everybody's conscience...the universal maiden aunt, cousin, or sister. Humanity's backbone. Throughout history she's gone to the stake for you again and again, not with any sense of heroism, but as a matter of principle and because it would never occur to her to do anything else." In Plummergen, Martha and Stan Bloomer, who "do" for Miss Seeton in house and garden, appoint themselves her guardians. Miss Seeton excites Miss Erica Nuttel (aka "Eric") and Mrs. Norah Blaine (aka "Bunny"), collectively known as The Nuts, endlessly snooping, jumping to conclusions, and spreading vicious gossip. She's taken under the wing of Sir George and Lady Colveden and their eighteen-year-old son Nigel, the leading family in Plummergen. Many villagers are over the top, but Carvic makes it easy to suspend disbelief and enjoy them.

    Humor is a large element in PICTURE MISS SEETON. It's based on Miss Seeton's so often not understanding with what she's involved, on the law of unexpected consequences, and on her dithering attempts to explain. None of her actions in a tricky situation produce the results she intended. The series is a cross between a cozy (Miss Seeton is most definitely an amateur), a police procedural (The Oracle and Ranger follow allow behind, picking up clues from her sketches and arresting the criminals), and a genuinely funny story.

    I enjoy the whimsical nature of Miss Seeton and her talent in PICTURE MISS SEETON. (A-)
     
  4. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    BLAKELY HILL is another of Perpetua Langley's variant tellings of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in e-book format in 2016. It is set after Wickham has given up the living at Kympton but before he goes to study law in London; its action occurs in Derbyshire.

    ~~~POSSIBLE SPOILERS~~~

    The basic change from the canon is Charlotte Lucas's marrying Harry Wheatley, a nondescript militia officer stationed in Meryton. He owns only a small farm in Dorset, but it is a love match on both sides, and they are happy. When an elderly cousin and his sons die unexpectedly, Wheatley becomes the Viscount Blakely, inheriting title, fortune, and the estate Blakely Hill bordering on Pemberley near Lambton. Charlotte invites Jane and Elizabeth Bennet for an extended visit to Blakely Hill, putting them in position to meet the Darcy siblings, George Wickham, and the Bingleys. Darcy and Elizabeth are immediately attracted to each other, but she suspects Wickham's too evident charm. Wickham trades on Georgiana's friendship to annoy Darcy and to insinuate his way into Society, plotting to elevate himself to the status of gentleman to which he feels entitled. When Mrs. Bennet finagles an invitation for herself and Lydia to Blakely Hill, their outrageous behavior at Pemberley causes Elizabeth to refuse Darcy's first proposal because she thinks it based on honor, his having raised her expectations, rather than on love. How will Wickham be thwarted, and how will love survive such wretched relatives?

    Langley introduces interesting new characters in BLAKELY HILL. There is a definite Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey motif with Charlotte's maid Betty, Chambers the butler, and Mrs. Talkin the housekeeper providing commentary on their superiors' activities. (The Weakleys win them over, as do Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, but the servants despise social-climbing Wickham and Caroline Bingley and uncouth Mrs. Bennet and Lydia.) Harry Wheatley--a warm, intelligent, hospitable man--becomes Darcy's good friend.

    Langley's take on Darcy is different from that in many fan fiction variants. Moving the action back in time slightly prevents her Darcy from alienating Elizabeth. There is no assembly in Meryton; Wickham has no story of misuse to poison her mind. Darcy is reserved but well-mannered and displays his attraction to Elizabeth from their meeting. Despite calling Mrs. Bennet ghastly, he shows that his love overrides her family's behavior. He treats Elizabeth as an intellectual equal. My only reservation about Langley's Darcy is whether, since he is already suspicious of Wickham, he would accept his reference of Mrs. Younge as a suitable companion for Georgiana at Pemberley.

    Langley's Elizabeth is wiser than the original. Her first impressions of his humor, pleasant nature, and good public manners, led Elizabeth to praise newcomer Mr. Brown to everyone in Meryton; when he marries, she learns that he physically abuses his wife. Publicly embarrassed by her mistake, she now appraises new acquaintances carefully and expresses her opinions discreetly. This Elizabeth is even more her father's daughter, able intelligently to discuss with Darcy events in the war with Napoleon and conditions in England's boarding schools. She is definitely a feminist. Twice Langley's Elizabeth directly criticizes Mrs. Bennet and Lydia's behavior and its consequences even though, of course, they don't listen to her.

    Langley's writing style is somewhat formal but not Austen-esque; attitudes are more modern than the original but not outrageously so. The number of characters and Langley's frequent cuts between locales and characters make reading choppy. An epilogue that rounds out the story satisfies, but its length tends toward anticlimax.

    Taken as a whole, BLAKELY HILL is one of the most original variants on Pride and Prejudice that I have read. (A)
     
  5. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    MISS SEETON DRAWS THE LINE is the second book in Heron Carvic's mystery series featuring art teacher and police sketch artist Miss Emily Dorothea Seeton. It was published in print edition in 1969 and in e-book format in 2016.

    Miss Seeton is worried when she's suddenly unable to complete for the mother an acceptable sketch of Effie Goffer, a rather repulsive village child. She can't draw the right side of Effie's face. Meanwhile, Superintendent Delphick, the Oracle, covers the murder of the fifth victim of a serial killer targeting children between ten and fourteen years old, all garroted, four victims in Kent and one in London. When Miss Seeton consults Dr. Knight about the possibility of a stroke that is affecting her ability to draw, his daughter and office nurse Anne, who's courting with the Oracle's legman Bob Ranger, sends Bob one of Miss Seeton's unsatisfactory sketches. The Oracle sees in Miss Seeton's sketches connections between the child killings, robberies of local subpost offices by a pair of motorcyclists before the murders, and increased thefts from local homes following. He believes that the sketch indicates Plummergen for the next robbery and Effie as the killer's next victim. Can he catch the killer before she dies?

    The Oracle's boss Assistant Commissioner Sir Hubert Everleigh characterizes Miss Seeton and her role succinctly: "...the woman is undoubtedly a catalyst... The dictionary definition is 'a substance which, added to other substances, facilitates a chemical reaction in which it is, itself, not consumed.' The case of these child killings is at a standstill on our side. It needs a change, or change of approach. By dropping a catalyst into it I'm hoping to get a reaction. In other words, although Miss Seeton may, almost certainly will, remain the same, the case, more than likely, will not."

    Miss Seeton's self-perception is different: "Her occasional and irrepressible breakthroughs of inspiration and originality she deplored, or excused as being notes to be worked on later. So in her life Adventure sought her out, cavorted round her, and intruded. Miss Seeton, armored in Respectability, ignored it, or when perforce involved, she used the Nelson Touch; refused to see... In life, for her congenital imbroglios and escapades...she would blame herself, a misconception here; there a failure to understand; nor would she admit to any sequence in such events since to do so would be to deny the placid, conventional existence she truly believed she led." Her serene acceptance of the most outre circumstances produces much of her charm as a character.

    MISS SEETON DRAWS THE LINE is not as tightly plotted as PICTURE MISS SEETON. It includes two secondary story lines extraneous to the child killings: an embezzling bank cashier and murderer, and raids on village gatherings by a bicycle gang, the Ashford Choppers. The Oracle's failure to have Miss Seeton draw the robbers escaping from the Plummergen post office or the men abandoning a stolen car in a ditch delays the solution of the robberies and the murders. Humor abounds , especially in the Oracle's dealing with the "infallible" payroll computer about Miss Seeton's name.

    While a pleasant read, MISS SEETON DRAWS THE LINE is not as strong as its predecessor. (B)
     
  6. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    RETURN TO LONGBOURN is another in Shannon Winslow's series of sequels to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in e-book format in 2013.

    RETURN TO LONGBOURN focuses on Mary Bennet and on the arrival of Tristan Collins, younger brother and heir of the late William Collins, to inherit Longbourn upon the unexpected death of Mr. Bennet. In the months before Collins's arrival, Mrs. Bennet convinces herself that he will marry Kitty and the Bennet women will not have to leave Longbourn. Mary already has removed herself; she lives at Netherfield as governess to the children of retired Navy captain Harrison Farnsworth, a widower of commanding disposition. Kitty, who does not want to marry Tristan Collins, requires Mary to promise to try to win him for herself while Kitty prospects for suitors in the wealthier neighborhoods of Pemberley and Heatheridge. Mary does so, opening herself to the possibility of love and marriage, but also to dashed hopes.

    Most of the action is seen through the eyes of Mary Bennet, now 29 years old and accomplished, the responsible sister: "...she felt a special kinship with Martha from the Bible, whose worth she always considered unfairly disparaged. Although she counted it a very fine thing to sit reverently at the master's feet for a time, sooner or later somebody had to attend to the utilitarian as well. She had taken that role upon herself, allowing others leisure to weep alongside of their father's casket. Her own sorrows she reserved for solitary hours." She prides herself on independence and logic but lacks the self-esteem to trust her perceptions of people.

    ~~~POSSIBLE SPOILERS~~~

    RETURN TO LONGBOURN is derivative, not just of Pride and Prejudice, but also of Austen's Sense and Sensibility and of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Mary Bennet's personality closely resembles that of Elinor Dashwood, though Elinor is more self-confident. Mary's feelings and actions in the face of Kitty's raptures over her expected engagement to Tristan Collins echo Elinor's as Lucy Steele triumphs in her engagement to Edward Ferrars.

    The connection is clearer with Jane Eyre. The "master marrying governess" motif is central. Harrison Farnsworth is a clone of Edward Rochester--older, brusque, commanding, never explaining himself. He sets up a house party at which Mary is to be a guest and introduced to his friends; he invites and pays attention to Miss June Hawkins who's intent on becoming the second Mrs. Farnsworth, to make Mary jealous. Following an accident to eight-year-old Michael Farnsworth, Mary runs away in the middle of the night without disclosing her destination, leaving Farnsworth to search for months. The story of Farnsworth's first marriage is extraneous to the main plot line, seemingly intended to increase the similarity to Rochester by providing a scandal in his past for which he can be forgiven. There's even a parallel with St. John Winters's proposal to Jane Eyre in Monsieur Hubert's proposal to Mary, with each heroine reprievd from a loveless marriage.

    Winslow's writing style is somewhat formal without being Regency. A few anachronistic colloquialisms glare: "odd man out" (1873); "dim-witted" (1934), "tom-foolery" (1812). She introduces several non-essential characters, most notably the Beam siblings who follow Collins from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Winslow ignores the effect of politics and war between the United States, Great Britain, France, and Spain on travel between countries and, financially, the cost of round-trip passage for two, unlikely to be affordable for a working farmer for a pleasure trip. Except Farnsworth and to a lesser degree Tristan Collin, most new characters are only slightly sketched.

    RETURN TO LONGBOURN is one of the best Pride and Prejudice sequels to date, even if many elements are borrowed. (A-/B+)
     

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