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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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    THE SHAMAN'S SECRET is the seventh in Rich Curtin's Manny Rivera police procedural series set in Moab, Grand County, Utah. It was published in free or inexpensive digital format in 2017.

    When Deputy Sheriff Manny Rivera gets a call of a man shot by poachers of bighorn rams in the Big Triangle area, he is surprised to learn that the poaching has been going on a year and that the rams are worth $50,000 each to trophy hunters and hunting ranches. Local militiaman Zeke Stanton doesn't die but, unconscious and in critical condition, he's no help to Rivera. Then Dr. Peter Kennedy, a resident at the nearby Center for Cosmic Consciousness, goes missing. Kennedy, an anthropologist, had been researching a series of unique shaman-figure petroglyphs carved by one man in the early 1700s, an old Ute who killed a Spaniard carrying "bad medicine," which he hid to protect his people. Working with Kennedy's former graduate student Harry Ward, Rivera follows the trail of petroglyphs to a cave not a hundred feet from Stanton's shooting, where he discovers Kennedy's body, shot in the chest with the same gun. So close together in time and location, same gun--coincidence? If connected, how?

    I like this series, particularly Manny Rivera's identification with the high desert country of the Four Corners region. Curtin is skilled at using atmospheric details to lead to an observation of character: "He continued on the dirt road...and ascended to the top of Hotel Mesa, noticing something his mind hadn't tuned into yesterday because he's been preoccupied with rushing to the scene of the shooting. The long blades of grass on the mesa, now golden from the cold nights, wee bending in billowy waves as the massaging of the gentle breeze caused the stalks to ebb and flow in unison. The sea of grass was interspersed with dark green junipers. Yellow snakeweed and clusters of purple wildflowers bloomed along the sides of the road. Rivera considered beholding beautiful scenes like this to be one of the perks of his job." (40) Rivera is supported by well-drawn continuing characters.

    Curtin's plots operate on more than one level. On the most basic, Rivera works a crime, or a series of crimes, in traditional investigative mode; a second level deals with politics within the Sheriff's Department under unqualified Sheriff Denny Campbell, up for reelection in THE SHAMAN'S SECRET; the third involves Rivera's wish for a family of his own and acute awareness of the passage of time. Curtin is good at foreshadowing both identity and motive to provide logical, satisfying conclusions that still contain a surprise element. Things are never as simple as they first seem.

    Editing in THE SHAMAN'S SECRET is good. I found only two problems. One is the county commissioner used to threaten Rivera's job for having arrested Butch Jeffers, head of The Keepers of Order militia--is Andrew Jeffers his father or his uncle? The other confusion involves the sequence and timing of photographs at the crime scene and their acceptance and exhibition at a Moab art gallery, pictures that put Rivera on the road to solving Kennedy's murder. A solid read. (B+)
     
  2. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    TO REFUSE SUCH A MAN is one of P. O. Dixon's novella variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in digital format, no publication date given.

    While she's nursing her sister Jane at Netherfield, Elizabeth Bennet spends a half hour alone in the library with Fitzwilliam Darcy. Nothing inappropriate happens, they don't even speak, but a gossiping servant spreads scandal. Caroline Bingley gives credence to the rumors by dismissing the servant. Honor bound as a gentleman, and one who is much attracted to Elizabeth, Darcy asks Thomas Bennet for his daughter's hand. In the meantime, William Collins proposes to Elizabeth and, when she initially refuses him, threatens to propose to Jane. Aware that her gentle sister could not withstand their mother's pressure, Elizabeth asks for time to consider Collins's offer. Given the choice between Collins, Darcy, and her mother's censure, Elizabeth chooses Darcy. Because Darcy refused Caroline Bingley's appeal to interfere between Jane and Bingley, and because she has not met George Wickham and heard his lies, Elizabeth needs little time to change her opinion of Darcy and begin to fall in love with her intended.

    There's little drama and no angst in TO REFUSE SUCH A MAN. Given her choices, Elizabeth's response is a given. Because he has not committed the egregious acts of the canon, Darcy has little need to change. Darcy fears he's rushing the innocent Elizabeth with his desire, while Elizabeth fears he is repulsed by her passionate response to their first kiss. Lady Catherine offers only token resistance. Action is told, not shown, and there's little sense of chemistry between the lovers despite Darcy's fantasy of foreplay. I doubt Darcy teaches Elizabeth to ride astride. Pleasant enough, but thin to the point of transparency. (C)
     
  3. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE PEMBERLEY AFFAIR is Charity McColl's sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in free or inexpensive digital format. No publication date is given.

    Set mostly in London about a year after the marriage of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Elizabeth to serve as chaperone for sixteen-year-old Thomasina "Tommy" Descartes. Tommy's mother Lady Caroline Descartes, an actress who married a much-older earl now in poor health, is anxious that Tommy have a Season to learn her way about Society before embarking on the search for a husband. Elizabeth uses the friendship between Tommy and Georgiana Darcy to introduce her sister-in-law as well. Tommy attracts and is attracted to Philip Cavendish, Lord Edgerton's fourth son disinherited and cast out for refusing both the army and the Church. He means to become a poet. Can Elizabeth help produce a happy ending for Tommy and young Cavendish?

    Several problems. McColl introduces a multitude of Society names, not individualized and not essential to the plot. The conclusion requires disbelief to be effective. There's no reasonable explanation for Elizabeth's agreeing to chaperone Tommy, especially since she accepts the responsibility without consulting Darcy. Editing missed "Here! Here!" used instead of "Hear! Hear!" McColl refers to three dances together permissible for an unengaged couple at Almack's, though Austen consistently says only two. (See, for example, Jane and Bingley at the Meryton assembly and the Netherfield ball.) McColl also has Darcy at a formal dinner passing a platter of salmon. Surely at Darcy House any food not served already plated would be handed around by a footman; it would not be passed in modern family style service.

    Slight drama, contrived plot, static characters, thin story. The Darcys are bored in London and so are its readers. Don't bother. (F)
     
  4. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "A Narrow Escape" is Audrey Anderson's short story variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in free or inexpensive digital format in 2018.

    Elizabeth Bennet returns to Longbourn after Darcy's proposal and explanation at Hunsford, to find Jane still depressed over the departure of Charles Bingley from Netherfield but Lydia exultant because she's been invited to spend two months in Brighton with Colonel and Mrs. Forster. Elizabeth knows Lydia cannot be trusted among the militia officers chaperoned by a married woman as silly and almost as young as herself. But how much of Darcy's disclosures should Elizabeth reveal to her family?

    It is a truism in teaching writing that the action of the story must fit its chosen length, so that a short story should be more tightly focused in space and time, in the number and development of characters, in the number of story lines. "A Narrow Escape" is not well focused, dealing with multiple plots: Elizabeth and Darcy's confused feelings, their courtship, Lydia's projected trip to Brighton, and Jane and Bingley's reunion. As a consequence, none of them are well developed, all are reported and not shown. The resolution of the Lydia storyline is the only change from the canon. I appreciate the irony that Lydia, attempting to discredit Elizabeth as acting from jealousy over Wickham, is herself responsible for persuading Mr. Bennet to deny the trip and to return his two younger daughters to the schoolroom. Otherwise, "A Narrow Escape" is nothing special. (D)
     
  5. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE LAST MISS BENNET is Wynne Mabry's variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    Fitzwilliam Darcy struggles with his attraction to Elizabeth Bennet while she tends her sister Jane, ill at Netherfield. Elizabeth does not know how to take Darcy's habit of watching her, but she knows she can never marry Mr. Collins, even to save Longbourn. In the space of the year following Elizabeth's visit to Charlotte at Hunsford (when Darcy does not make his insulting proposal), all five of the Bennet sisters marry, four of them well, with Elizabeth and Darcy's the last of the weddings.

    The main problem with THE LAST MISS BENNET is its lack of focus. Dealing with all five courtships (if Lydia and Wickham's relationship qualifies as such) makes it impossible to deal with any of them, including Elizabeth and Darcy's, in more than a cursory way. It's a neat twist that often-overlooked Mary marries first, for convenience that soon turns to love, a relationship that supports new personal insight and emotional bonding with her sisters. Events are reported, not seen and felt. Despite Lydia's fraught situation, there's little sense of angst.


    Characters are reasonable outgrowths of Austen's original, with only Mary's husband John Purvis and Kitty's husband Lieutenant Chamberlayne as well-drawn introductions. Oblivious to the implications of her behavior and subsequent situation, Lydia is willfully simple-minded in her belief in Wickham; as usual in fan fiction, she leaves dealing with the consequences of her actions to Elizabeth, Mary and Purvis, Kitty, and Darcy. Mabry even gives her a totally undeserved happy ending. Grr!

    The main editing problem in THE LAST MISS BENNET is improper formation of plurals and possessives of family names. There's also a large common sense hole in the plot. Longbourn is small as country houses go, inhabited by five women and at least one female servant besides Lydia; privacy in modern terms is nonexistent. How likely is it that Lydia could conceal pregnancy for six or seven months?

    Still, as fan fiction goes, THE LAST MISS BENNET is above average. (B)
     
  6. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    LADY CATHERINE DECAMPS is one of Perpetua Langley's variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    When Rosings suffers major damage in a fire, Lady Catherine de Bourgh plans to move her entourage into Pemberley until restoration of her home is complete. Remembering the disruption and unhappiness caused by her last visit, Fitzwilliam Darcy determines to keep her away from Derbyshire. Charles Bingley, acting to help Darcy, takes Netherfield to house Lady Catherine for the duration; on his visit to view the house, Bingley discovers that Sir William Lucas is a distant cousin (their great-grandfathers had been brothers) and meets the Bennet family. When Lady Catherine demands a long visit by Darcy and Georgiana as the price for living at Netherfield, and the Darcys agree to a visit as the lesser evil, Bingley is delighted to accept Sir William's invitation to visit Lucas Lodge to catch up on family, to keep Darcy company, and to further his acquaintance with Jane. Darcy is much taken by Elizabeth, but he's repulsed by her family's behavior; she, in turn, is lied to by George Wickham and misjudges Darcy's character. Under Lady Catherine's critical eye, can the lovers overcome the obstacles to their happiness?

    The other major change in Langley's version is the Wickham-Georgiana situation. As Langley develops it, Georgiana is only fourteen years old, under care of Mrs. Younge temporarily; it is Mrs. Annesley who intercepts Wickham's letter to Georgiana delivered by Mrs. Younge, meant to set up a clandestine meeting. Informed of Wickham's intent, Darcy intervenes and warns Wickham off without disclosing the situation to Georgiana. Unless it is to blacken Wickham's character further, this change serves no purpose in the plot.

    Most of the characters are reasonable projections of Austen's originals, though relative importance is often shifted. Both Wickham and Caroline Bingley are more plot devices to increase tension between Elizabeth and Darcy than characters in their own right. Lady Catherine, Mrs. Bennet, and William Collins, Austen's caricatures, are exaggerated into grotesques. Despite the eponymous title, Lady Catherine plays little role in the lovers' relationship. Elizabeth is too quick to make assumptions based on incomplete information and to speak without thinking when angry. She's her own worst enemy.

    Several things bother me in LADY CATHERINE DECAMPS. One is practical--a dining room at Lucas Lodge large enough to hold fifty people? Another is serving strawberry jam on biscuits--jam on cookies? Collins addresses and refers to Elizabeth as "Miss Bennet" even in Jane's presence; as the eldest, Jane is "Miss Bennet" until she marries, her sister "Miss Elizabeth" until she becomes the oldest unmarried Bennet daughter. It is unclear who in the area knows the story Wickham has told of his history with the Darcy siblings.

    Traditionally events in Pride and Prejudice are dated to 1811 or 1812, so a couple of anachronisms intrude. One is Georgiana Darcy's saving her pin money (£20 month) to help fund a homeless shelter when the prevailing opinion was "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" The second is Collins's reference in his letter to Mr. Bennet to the Forty-seven Ronin, when the first known publication of the Ronin story comes in Isaac Titsingh's Illustrations of Japan, issued posthumously in 1822. (Wiki) References to historic figures and events add verisimilitude only when accurate.

    Still, LADY CATHERINE DECAMPS is an interesting take on the canon. (B)
     
  7. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    TO SAVE ELIZABETH is Zoe Burton's latest to date novella variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in free or inexpensive digital format published in 2018.

    Months after the carriage accident in which her parents and four sisters were killed, Elizabeth Bennet lives in Cheapside with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner and her devoted dog, the Great Dane Brutus. She suffers from PTSD, unable to enter a carriage without being dosed with laudanum, but she and her aunt see the necessity to overcome this disability. On their first attempt, an outing to Hatchard's book store, they meet Fitzwilliam Darcy, who helps. He is touched by Elizabeth's plight and asks to stay in touch. A friendship soon develops, Darcy and Georgiana helping Elizabeth with coping strategies and support; when a man attempts to abduct Elizabeth from a visit to the British Museum, Darcy realizes that he's in love and that Elizabeth is in danger. He hires a Bow Street Runner to investigate Elizabeth's connections as he considers marrying her. The Runner discovers that the Gardiner house is being watched, with Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner followed on their outings. There's a break-in at the Gardiner house with nothing taken, though Elizabeth's rooms are ransacked. What's going on, and who's responsible?

    The only editing problem is incorrect formation of plurals and possessives of names. Characters are consistent with Austen's originals, though the whole treatment of Elizabeth with PTSD is distinctly modern, not Regency. Brutus is described as, though not called, a therapy dog. Darcy's hiring an investigator to check out Elizabeth's background is also twenty-first century.

    ~~~POSSIBLE SPOILERS~~~

    I do have common sense problems. One is that, at the time of the Bennets' deaths, apparently no one examined why their coach wrecked so thoroughly; therefore, how likely is it that, months later, the pieces of the ruined coach would still be available to check for tampering? Another problem involves contradictory statements about William Collins. First Elizabeth distinctly says that she's never met Collins to recognize him, then in her next speech she gives details of Collins's visit to Longbourn, his pursuit of Jane and herself, and his fury at Mr. Bennet's refusal to compel a marriage. Why Elizabeth is made a target months after her family's death is never explained.

    TO SAVE ELIZABETH has some intriguing ideas, but the novella length precludes their effective development. It focuses on Elizabeth's PTSD, the developing relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth, and their interactions with each other's relatives more than with the danger to Elizabeth. That portion of the plot seems rushed, almost extraneous, reported rather than shown. Going to full novel length and developing the external conflict would make for a much stronger story. (B)
     
  8. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    A SHIMMER OF HUMMINGBIRDS is the fourth book in Steve Burrow's police procedural series featuring DCI Domenic Jejeune. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    A SHIMMER OF HUMMINGBIRDS takes up where A CAST OF FALCONS leaves off. Damian Jejeune is still a fugitive from an international arrest warrant for manslaughter in Colombia, and Domenic Jejeune takes a sudden holiday to Bogota in search, ostensibly, of rare hummingbirds. Aided by college friend Juan "Traz" Perez, he means to discover evidence to persuade Colombian authorities to reopen Damian's case. Can he? Meanwhile, back in Saltmarsh, Jejeune's girl friend, prize-winning journalist Lindy Hey, sees a shaven-head man with extensive neck tattoos following her, then there's a suspicious explosion when she's alone in the magazine office. Jejeune recognizes the description as Ray Hayes, a murderer convicted through the detective work of then-Sergeant Jejeune and DI Marvin Laraby, who's in Saltmarsh to work the murder of Erin Dawes in Jejeune's absence. There's major unspecified history between the two men, with Sergeant Danny Maik and DC Lauren Salter caught in the middle.

    A SHIMMER OF HUMMINGBIRDS suffers from lack of focus. There's too much going on to maintain intensity. Frequent cuts between Colombia, the Erin Dawes case, and Lindy Hey make for choppy reading. The Colombian story line is left unresolved; Jejeune presents exculpating evidence, it is accepted, but no decision is forthcoming. The central mystery, the murder of Erin Dawes, seems contrived, more like one of the Golden Age puzzle-plots than anything approaching real life. It is solved only when Jejeune spots a major oversight in Laraby's investigation. The story line involving Lindy Hey is clearly set up for a sequel. I enjoy series, but I prefer that the books resolve the mystery subplots. Sense of place is excellent.

    Domenic Jejeune remains shadowy in A SHIMMER OF HUMMINGBIRDS. He's largely passive, far beyond what one expect of a high-ranking police officer, secretive, an intentional outsider. His closest relationship seems to be not with Lindy but with Danny Maik. "Jejeune was leaning against Maik, using his broad shoulder like a crutch as he stood before the priest in the transept of the tiny church. Through the rose window over the altar, a ray of filtered light shown down on the desecrated chancel, its watery pink radiance lighting up the space like hope. The sunlight of the present, filtered through the glories of the past, though Jejeune. He wondered what future lay in store for them. For him, who faced a move to a new place, a new challenge, a new life. And for Danny Maik, who may have destroyed his own career to support Jejeune in his search for Ray Hayes. He suspected he knew rather more about loyalty and devotion than Reverend Jane could have imagined." (342) I see Maik as the protagonist, despite Jejeune's superior rank.

    A SHIMMER OF HUMMINGBIRDS is not as tight as earlier books in the series, but it is well worth the time. (B-)
     
  9. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE POISONED PROPOSAL is the third in Penelope Swan's Dark Darcy series of mystery variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2015.

    The week before Elizabeth Bennet's arrival at Hunsford, Lady Catherine de Bourgh suffered a violent overnight illness. Villagers think she'd been poisoned. When she suffers a second, more violent attack, Mrs Jenkinson, jealous of Lady Catherine's new favorite, denounces Charlotte to the village constable, who places Charlotte under house arrest as the poisoner. Elizabeth is determined to prove her friend innocent, with Darcy intent on discovering the identity of the poisoner. Their developing relationship does not go unnoticed.

    The mystery component of the plot is reasonable, though it has a major hole-- the mechanism of the first attempt is not explained, though apparently different from the second. There are few suspects, and misdirection is heavy-handed. Swan plays on readers' preconceptions to conceal in plain sight the poisoner's identity; the resolution is not satisfying, quitting without realistic closure the mystery story line.

    Characters are reasonable projections of Austen's originals, though there is ambiguity in Anne de Bourgh's age. When she first meets Elizabeth, she's "about Elizabeth's age," though later she's said to be several years older. Certainly she's immature enough that her sudden declaration of independence from her mother and Mrs. Jenkinson's control does not ring true. Lady Catherine, on the other hand, is her autocratic self, extorting a promise that Elizabeth will refuse Darcy if he proposes by threatening to ruin Jane by spreading scandal about the Netherfield ball. Her capitulation with only token protest to Anne's demand for a London Season is inconsistent with both canon and earlier behavior in THE POISONED PROPOSAL. The only new characters of any importance are Mrs.Potts, housekeeper at Rosings with good reason to resent Lady Catherine, and the Honourable Edwin Hargreave, Anne's childhood friend whom her mother has scornfully rejected as a suitor for Anne. He is, after all, only the second son of the Earl of Wexford, not the heir.

    A few things bother me in THE POISONED PROPOSAL. Charlotte constantly refers to her friend as "Eliza," though in the canon only Caroline Bingley uses that call name, a term of denigration, a servant's name. Anachronisms stand out: abortifacient (1858), smorgasbord (1879), liaise (1920s). Lady Catherine orders Charlotte to prepare hartshorn jelly for use at Rosing, speaking of it as food, when hartshorn is an aqueous ammonia solution (smelling salts). As Austen fan fiction goes, THE POISONED PROPOSAL is above average. (B+)
     
  10. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    SECRETS AT PEMBERLEY is the fourth and final book in Penelope Swan's Dark Darcy series of variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2015.

    Following her meeting with Darcy in Kent, Elizabeth had awaited his promised return to Netherfield, but he does not return. Traveling with the Gardiners in Derbyshire, Mrs. Gardiner hears of the recent arrival and robberies of highwayman "Wicked George," aka George Wickham, in and around Lambton; Elizabeth even encounters him in the churchyard. Touring Pemberley, their party meet Darcy and, when the Lambton Inn is damaged by fire, accept his proffered hospitality for the remainder of their stay. But strange things are going on at the Darcy estate. Maid Tilly, hired by Darcy after Wickham seduced her into his accomplice at Netherfield, is obviously uncomfortable at Elizabeth's presence. Georgiana's recently-acquired antique pianoforte is reputed to be haunted, since it plays itself in the middle of the night. Wickham is hanging around. What's going on?

    The mystery element in SECRETS AT PEMBERLEY is weak. Once the supernatural is eliminated, there's only one reasonable explanation for the self-playing pianoforte, and it's obvious. It's hard to believe that both Tilly and Georgiana succumb to Wickham's blandishments a second time. The resolution of the Wickham story line is unsatisfactory--Wickham goes over a cliff, but his body is not found. So is he dead, or will he miraculously survive if needed for a sequel? When finally Darcy proposes again, Elizabeth accepts with no reference to the promise extorted in Kent by Lady Catherine in The Poisoned Proposal.

    Narration is strictly from Elizabeth's point of view. She and Darcy still have major trust issues, each making assumptions and jumping to conclusions when openness, which each professes to prize, would save much angst. Jarring anachronisms include chaise longue (circa 1906), claustrophobia (late 19th century), smorgasbord (1879), ad empathize (circa 1921).

    SECRETS AT PEMBERLEY (C); Dark Darcy series (C+)
     
  11. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    CATASTROPHE: A HIGHLAND MURDER MOST FOWL is Lucinda Hare's Scottish Highland Wildcat's Tail*, published in digital format in 2018.

    The first person narrator of CATASTROPHE is a Scottish wildcat, named Catastrophe for his tendency to produce the condition. Shot by a gamekeeper, he's saved by Mary and George Dunsmore; they pay for his care and adopt him when his injured leg prevents his being returned to the wild. Despite the vet's warning that Catastrophe can't be tamed, the young male bonds with Mary, her sixteen-year-old moggie Haggis, and George. When Mary's beloved Aunt Edith dies at Driechandubh Castle in the Highlands, Catastrophe accompanies them to the funeral, the annual Hallowe'en ball, and the reading of the will. Aunt Maud, the sister who'd moved in, taken over Aunt Edith's home and business affairs, and cut Mary off by claims of Edith's ill health, insists that the ball must go on, but it's obvious that she and Douglas, Duke of Cairngorm, are villains. Can Catastrophe help the Dunsmores overcome their schemes?

    I'm whimsy impaired, so I confess that I read CATASTROPHE expecting to be disappointed. Surprisingly, I'm not. Hare makes it easy to go with the idea of the cat as the silent observer, displaying appropriate feline curiosity and confidence, relying on senses much more acute than those of furless two-legs. Hare increases the anthropomorphism gradually as Catastrophe acclimates to humans: "Taking three steps into the room, [Inspector Morrell] gazed openly around with childlike interest, gawking at the huge painting over the fireplace; looking at the tapestries that hung on the white-washed walls; the splendid Chippendale chairs and costly chintz fabric that fell in folds around the arched windows. Why, then, did I sense that a fellow hunter had entered the room?" (72)

    Even more than Catastrophe and the human characters, who are well drawn, I enjoy the sense of place Hare evokes. "The Highland are painted in subtle hues of rain and wind and rock. Their snow-capped mountains were created by ice then sculpted by storms. Red-berried rowan and silver birch climb the ragged rock-peppered gorge where snowmelt crashes down into the glens' heather-clad roots. The light is never constant, but ebbs and flow like the salty tidal lochs; mists mask ancient peat bogs and wreath the mountains so that every flower, every pine needle, every furred and feathered creature is pearled with moisture. Cold winds lament distant treacheries and the mists dance to haunted pipes. The old bones of the mountains hide their secrets and share them only with those who can speak the land's ancient language. These are the Highlands. This is my home." (32)

    The plot in CATASTROPHE is thriller format, it being clear from the first mention that Aunt Maud is up to no good. As her various crimes unfold, the suspense comes from how Catastrophe can foil her. Her end is ironically appropriate and satisfying. Highly recommended. (A)

    *not a typo
     
  12. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    A CHANCE AT HAPPINESS is another of Meg Osborne's novella variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    Neither Charlotte nor William Collins is very content in marriage. Charlotte feels putting up with her foolish, inexpressive husband is a high price to pay for her home, while he yearns for emotional closeness and support. Recognizing that Charlotte's lonely and dealing with massive change in her life, he suggests she ask a friend to Hunsford for company and agrees to have Elizabeth Bennet visit. Elizabeth, arriving at the same time as Fitzwilliam Darcy and Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam's visit to Lady Catherine at Rosings, sees the unhappiness in the Collinses' marriage and resolves to bring them closer. When Collins overindulges in Lady Catherine's brandy and writes a note of apology to Charlotte for Elizabeth to deliver, Elizabeth substitutes her own, a romantic unsigned version. What can possibly go wrong?

    Nothing much happens in A CHANCE AT HAPPINESS. Osborne introduces no non-canonical characters. Elizabeth reservations about Darcy involves only his aloof, judgmental behavior and his role in the Bingleys' removal from Netherfield--no insult at the assembly, no Wickham. Angst and drama are minimal. Lady Catherine is reduced to snarling her disapproval of Anne's suitor while she ignores Darcy and Elizabeth. Osborne makes William Collins the insecure adult victim of a verbally abusive misanthrope father and school bullies, man who wants to change.

    ~~~POSSIBLE SPOILERS~~~

    There is a significant hole involving Elizabeth's note. When Collins finds it, he most likely has never seen Elizabeth's handwriting, making his jealous erroneous identification of its author plausible Charlotte, on the other hand, has corresponded regularly with Elizabeth since her marriage. Why doesn't she recognize her best friend's script? Elizabeth makes no attempt to disguise her handwriting.

    There's also significant inaccuracy in the account of the challenge and duel. Both Collins and his opponent are specifically said to use rifles, the opponent even said to take up his second rifle. The next reference has Collins with a pistol. Despite the old story of Abraham Lincoln choosing cow pats at 20 paces in a frontier duel, Regency dueling involved swords or pistols, with formal rules of engagement: only gentlemen of equal rank could duel, seconds must also be gentlemen (Collins's is his valet), meetings were held at dawn with a surgeon present. To satisfy honor, rituals of the duel were as strictly formalized as the sacraments of the Church.

    A CHANCE AT HAPPINESS is okay, but it''s nothing special. (C)
     
  13. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE DARCY LEGACY is the latest to date in Joana Starnes's variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    Writers of Austen fan fiction often create intriguing variant story lines and offer new insights into canonical characters. Starnes has done both. The problem is that she so loads THE DARCY LEGACY that none are well developed.

    ~~~PROBABLE SPOILERS~~~

    Intriguing possible story lines abound. The first involves the spirits of George and Lady Anne Darcy, bound to Pemberley to watch over their children; their eventual confrontation with Lady Catherine is worth the price of the book. A second covers the death of Mrs. Bennet about 1807, leaving her husband a single parent with five unmarried daughters and the need to modify his laissez faire life style. The third is Elizabeth and Darcy's courtship, minus the Wickham factor. A fourth alludes to the marriage of Mary Bennet and Mr.Collins with their subsequent supervision in Kent of a compromised Lydia. A fifth sketches the marriage of Mr. Bennet and Lady Catherine with the Bennets' subsequent residence at Rosings. A sixth shows Anne de Bourgh assuming control of her life and estate, choosing a very different husband to Fitzwilliam Darcy. A seventh is the back story of Sir Lewis and Lady Catherine de Bourgh's marriage that provides the motive for Anne's being poisoned. Any one of these could serve as the nucleus of a focused book. THE DARCY LEGACY reminds me of a cook, not quite satisfied with a recipe, who keeps adding a bit of this and a dash of that, trying to improve the taste of the dish, to result in an unpalatable hodgepodge.

    Starnes introduces only three important characters--Anne's physician Dr. Beaumont, his son the Reverend Henry Beaumont, and their maid Mrs. Gibbs, though she makes significant changes in canonical ones. Darcy is undemonstrative, almost inarticulate at times, smugly satisfied when Mr. Bennet's marriage to Lady Catherine makes Elizabeth more fit for Darcy status. Lady Catherine's decision to marry Mr. Bennet to ensure Eliabeth and Jane remain at Rosings as companions to Anne (she generously means Elizabeth to continue as Anne's companion after Darcy and her daughter are married) does not ring true. I refuse to believe that Mr. Bennet, after the experience of his first marriage, would marry Lady Catherine; it is totally out of character, even for Starnes's revised man. As for the comments about their marriage not being a celibate one--some things, once imagined, cannot be un-seen.

    It's a shame that a ruthless editor did not thin the number of subplots so that THE DARCY LEGACY read as a unified whole. Two grades: possibilities (A), execution (C-)
     
  14. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    LOVE'S FOOL: THE TAMING OF LYDIA BENNET is book two in Elaine Owen's Longbourn Unexpected series of variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2014.

    LOVE'S FOOL deals with the aftermath of Lydia Bennet's foiled elopement with George Wickham. Colonel Fitzwilliam helps find an honorable officer, Captain Jonathan Fret, willing for £5,000 and an annuity of £100 per annum, to marry her and thus minimize scandal. He needs the money, but is there a more personal reason for his decision? The story covers the first year of their marriage, with a long epilogue that takes the related families to the third generation.

    The story is told through journal entries begun by Lydia, "imprisoned in the Gracechurch Street hovel" as she awaits her arranged marriage to Fret, Fret's field notes planning and evaluating strategy in his "campaign" to deal with her, and their occasional letters and reports to and from Longbourn. Owen is effective in creating distinct narrative voices for Lydia and Fret and skillful in adjusting Lydia's voice as she matures and modifies her thinking. Though less physically boisterous, the first few months of their marriage owe much to the 1967 Franco Zeffirelli film adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. The plot is reasonable and well constructed, though the story and epilogue carry over into anticlimax. Wickham's end on the frontier in America is ironically appropriate, even if it's probably historically inaccurate in time and place.

    I do recognize some problems. After a text remarkably free from errors in grammar and usage, there is a plethora of mistakes in forming plural and possessive forms of names and other nouns. What makes use of apostrophes so difficult? Another is the speed with which Lydia Bennet Fret changes her personality. It's too quick to seem authentic. Blame for Lyda's bad conduct falls on Thomas Bennet, with scant attention to the influence of her mother.

    The biggest problem is the time frame of a peripheral event. Jane and Elizabeth both marry less than a month before Lydia, who married on 28 June 1810, and both depart on wedding trips abroad, the Bingleys to the Continent (Jane sends Lydia a Paris bonnet for Christmas) and the Darcys to India. By 17 December 1810, Elizabeth is returned from her wedding trip. I don't think so. According to Ian Marshall, Passage East * (Howell Press): " In the days of sail, if you went to work for the East India Company you could expect to return home perhaps once before retirement; it was customary to grant a three-year furlough in mid-career. The voyage from England to India via the Cape of Good Hope took six months at least, and you might have another three or four months of traveling to do before reaching your final destination. Replies to letters, therefore, could well take over a year and a half to receive." The Suez Canal did not open until 1869.

    Still, LOVE'S FOOL is one of the best fan fiction stories yet. (solid A)

    *https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/first/m/marshall-east.html
     
  15. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    SEVEN BLACK STONES is one of Jean Hager's Molly Bearpaw series. Originally published in 1995, it was reissued in digital format in 2018.

    Molly Bearpaw works in Cherokee County, Oklahoma, as an investigator for the Native American Advocacy League, a civil rights advocate for Native Americans with various local authorities including law enforcement. Elderly traditional Cherokee Zebedia Smoke, offended by construction of a new Cherokee Nation bingo hall next to the shack he calls home, makes medicine against it; seven black stones associated with an ancient death curse are found on the site. When unemployed womanizer Ed Whitekiller turns up dead in what Adair County Sheriff Dave Highsmith is quick to label suicide, seven black stones in the seat of his truck convince Molly that his death was neither suicide nor accident. When Molly learns that Whitekiller had visited the site the Friday before his death, and then Franklin Soap, a laborer on the site, is found shot to death, also with seven black stones in his truck, she's convinced that the motive lies in the new bingo hall. But what is it?

    I'm disappointed in SEVEN BLACK STONES. A complex character with believable baggage (her mother committed suicide when Molly was six years old), Molly is essentially static, changing only by allowing longtime boyfriend D. J. Kennedy to sleep the night in her bed. Many characters are minimally developed, alternative suspects for the Whitekiller murder without being an integral part of the plot. Editing failed to eradicate all indications of name change--Zeb Smoke is referred to occasionally as Jeb.

    Plot elements are not well integrated. The key episode in determining the motive for Whitekiller's murder, as well as most of the action, is told, not shown. Suspense and drama are minimal. Elements of Cherokee culture, so effectively used earlier in the series to establish setting and character, are tangential, so sense of place is generic. When the connection to the construction site is made, only one viable suspect remains. Certainly a comedown for a strong series. (C-)
     
  16. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THROUGH PEMBERLEY WOODS is Emily Russell's variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    Elizabeth Bennet meets Fitzwilliam Darcy when she and Aunt Gardiner visit Lambton for an extended stay with her aunt's school friend Mrs. Abigail Waters. While walking in Pemberley woods, Elizabeth encounters a man she thinks, from his clothing and gun, a gamekeeper; he peremptorily orders her to stay out of the woods. They are not safe because they're a thief's base. It is only later that she learns Darcy's identity, and she's not impressed by his manners. She meets and befriends Georgiana Darcy, Darcy encourages them because his sister has no local friends her age and only Mrs. Younge for companionship. Elizabeth's stay in Lambton is marred by Mrs. Waters's insistent matchmatching with her older son, Captain Henry Waters, late of the Royal Navy. Elizabeth is also concerned about Mrs. Younge's dominance over Georgiana and, when Georgiana decides to remain at Pemberley through the summer instead of visiting Ramsgate as her companion had planned, suspects something untoward is going on. Can she and Darcy prevent Georgiana's ruin?

    THROUGH PEMBERLEY WOODS is well written. Austen characters are faithful to the originals, and introduced characters are believable. Mrs. Waters is another Mrs. Bennet, quite as blatant in her matchmaking and as disregarding of Elizabeth's disinterest. The Bennet family comes into the story only after Elizabeth returns to Longbourn engaged to Darcy. Mrs. Gardiner is more plot device to get Elizabeth into Derbyshire than a significant presence. Focus remains on Elizabeth and Darcy, with shifts in viewpoint between them.

    The plot retains many of the elements of the original, the main change being removal of the action to Derbyshire and Gretna Green. Elizabeth still has conflicting ideas about Darcy's true character, and he must reform his criteria for a "suitable" wife. To add verisimilitude, Henry Waters is acquainted with the Crofts (Persuasion); reference is made to a visit to Box Hill and he, like Frank Churchill, is involved in a secret engagement (Emma). Waters's role in concealing Georgiana's elopement seems less than probable, more deus ex machina.

    THROUGH PEMBERLEY WOODS is one of the very best variants on Pride and Prejudice. (A)
     
  17. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE CATHERINE WHEEL is an entry in Patricia Wentworth's long-running mystery series featuring Miss Maud Silver. Originally published in 1951, it was reissued in digital format in 2011.

    When Jeremiah Taverner, owner of the Catherine-Wheel Inn near Ledlington, died in 1888, he left everything to the oldest son, beginning a total break between his other seven children that lasted for three generations. Jacob Taverner, wealthy, retired, and bored, advertises for his grandfather's descendants, ostensibly to meet them and to learn the Taverner family history; he invites eight of Jeremiah's great-grandchildren for a weekend at the Catherine-Wheel, where they will join Jeremiah's granddaughter Annie whose husband manages the inn. To ensure their acceptance, he offers each £100. Jane Heron, granddaughter of Jeremiah's son Acts, and Captain Jeremy Taverner, grandson of Jeremiah's son John, accept. Jane needs the money, and Jeremy won't allow her to go alone, though he has grave misgivings. His misgivings intensify when Jacob Taverner closely questions each of his guests about the smuggling history of the Catherine-Wheel and the secret passage it is said to contain. Scotland Yard is also concerned that the Catherine-Wheel is base to modern smuggling of drugs and stolen jewels, enough that Miss Maud Silver is asked to use the cover of the family meeting to assess the Taverners and the inn. Can murder be far behind?.

    THE CATHERINE WHEEL follows the usual Miss Silver format. She's working with the police and at least initially no one suspects she's a detective; there's an assortment of various character types in a closed setting; there's a chaste romance and a damsel in distress; Miss Silver sees evidence and elicits information not found by the police to solve the case. It offers no new insights into the continuing characters, with few of the Taverners more than minimally drawn. The plot is one typical of the period in which the story was written, more puzzle than realistic, with long-buried secrets, mistaken identities and complicated alibis. But Wentworth makes it easy to float with the current. (B-)
     
  18. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    A RIDE WITH MR. DARCY is a novella-length variant by Anne-Marie Grace on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.hilhi

    When the Gardiner party visits Pemberley on their trip to Derbyshire, Elizabeth wanders into the stables where she finds Darcy mucking out a stall. Mortified by his appearance, he nevertheless seizes the opportunity to show Elizabeth his authentic self, welcoming her family. During a ride to survey the park, Elizabeth is thrown from her horse, sustaining a head injury and sprained ankle that allows Darcy to offer hospitality until she recuperates enough to travel. During that week, he is attentive to Elizabeth, conversing easily and entertaining her, gracious to the Gardiners, eager that she meet Georgiana. Elizabeth's feelings for Darcy change. When she returns to Longbourn, Darcy immediately confesses to Charles Bingleey his mistaken reading of Jane's feelings, and the men return to Netherfield to woo and win the Bennet sisters.

    There's little angst between Darcy and Elizabeth in A RIDE WITH MR. DARCY. Darcy has few reservations about Elizabeth's connections, and she soon hopes for a renewal of his proposal. Caroline Bingley and Lady Catherine do not appear, and Lydia's attention-seeking elopement with Wickham is only a soon-resolved glitch to the wedding plans.

    Grace's version of Darcy, constantly blushing, ears red, red-faced, is more inarticulate than Austen's. Elizabeth is set up with confusion and occasions of short-term memory problems from her head injuries, then the strand is dropped without resolution. The plot seems off-balance because the week at Pemberley is developed in daily detail (about two-thirds of the text), then the return to Longbourn is rushed through in a few chapters, from return through the courtship, elopement, and wedding all in a month. Hertfordshire events are reported, not shown,

    A RIDE WITH MR. DARCY needs thorough proofreading for grammar, usage, and word choice. Research fails when Grace has first Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner, laterJane and Elizabeth, ride properly side-saddle while attired in day dresses, the skirts of which would not accommodate the position. Ladies' riding habits had specially-cut skirts that concealed the posture of the legs. (B-)
     
  19. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Tiffany Ward's novella DARCY SAVES ELIZABETH is marketed as a variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018. More accurately, it is a new story using only the names of Austen's characters.

    The initial premise of DARCY SAVES ELIZABETH has George Wickham deliberately compromise Elizabeth on the dance floor at the Netherfield ball to force her to accept him and to revenge himself on Darcy, whom he knows to love her. Darcy reveals that Wickham is already married to Mrs. Younge and proposes to Elizabeth himself. She, faced with banishment from Longbourn or a quick marriage to Mr. Collins, accepts Darcy. Their engagement is announced, with four weeks for courtship before the wedding, despite Jane's venomous attack that she, as the eldest and most beautiful sister, should be Darcy's bride. Elizabeth visits the Gardiners to choose her trousseau, and everything breaks loose. Jane plots to ruin Elizabeth's chances with Darcy's family and Society, and his uncle the Earl of Matlock has signed contracts binding Darcy to marry Lady Cynthia, daughter of the Duke of Liverpool. What's going on?

    ~~~SPOILERS, FOR SURE~~~

    There's so much askew in DARCY SAVES ELIZABETH that it's hard to know where to start. The Earl of Matlock's machinations make no sense because he has no authority over Darcy, who is of legal age and in full control of his inheritance. No contract entered by the Earl without Darcy's authorization would bind Darcy in law, and the Earl is not even head of Darcy's family. Darcy's senior paternal relative is his father's brother Judge Samuel Darcy, who served as executor of the will. The resolution of this storyline is not satisfying.

    I don't like what Ward does with characters. Elizabeth's feelings for Darcy change too suddenly to be believable, while Darcy declarations of love are soppy. Ward's Jane makes the canonical Lydia seem prim and proper; though she deserves chastising for her egregious behavior toward Elizabeth, Mr. Bennet's forcing Jane into immediate marriage to Mr. Collins is cruel and unusual punishment. Lady Catherine, unbelievably mellowed since Anne's death five years before, now diagnosed with terminal cancer, without explanation survives to become honorary grandmother to Darcy, Georgiana, and Colonel Fitzwilliam's children, Ward introduces many minor characters (investigators, security guards, servants) that are only names.

    Ward's grasp of the Regency period is tenuous. All currency references are to dollars (i.e., Darcy's annual income is $10,000). Caroline Bingley's attack on Elizabeth results in a charge of assault on a peer because Elizabeth is marrying Darcy (though he is not from a noble family); Caroline's punishment is transportation to Georgia Colony. By the Regency period, Georgia is part of the United States and no longer a British penal colony. Ward's use of titles is incorrect, referring to Colonel Fitzwilliam's older brother, after he succeeds his exiled father, as Earl Randolph Fitzwilliam.

    Writing style reminds me of my English-teacher years. DARCY SAVES ELIZABETH reads like the rough draft of a freshman girl's love story. It's told, not shown, lacking logical paragraphing and editing. Grammar and usage problems include plurals and possessives, commas with nouns of direct address, homophones, subject-verb agreement, inconsistent use of present and past tense verbs. spelling mistakes, and word choice (Lady Catherine's great condensation). She refers to Longbourn as Longbourgh or Longbourn Manner.

    What offends me greatly is the sexualization of Austen's characters. I do not doubt that Elizabeth and Darcy go on to have a passionate, satisfying sex life, but I do not need play-by-play of their foreplay (including oral sex involving pastry cream) or how many orgasms Elizabeth has on her wedding night (Darcy may be a serious stud, but the count seems improbable). I find use of modern slang terms for genitalia and emissions most objectionable.

    If you value Jane Austen's characters or writing, don't waste time on DARCY SAVES ELIZABETH. My grade is an old teacher joke, to be taken seriously in this case. (G, because it's not good enough to deserve an F)
     
  20. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE, Vintage 2008, is the latest release to date from the long-running British comedy series. The core characters remain Clegg (Peter Sallis), Truly (Frank Thornton), Ivy (Jane Freeman), Howard (Robert Fyfe), Pearl (Juliette Kaplan), Marina (Jean Fergusson), and Nora Batty (Kathy Staff). The series was written by Roy Clarke throughout. Though its quality and popularity declined somewhat following the death of Bill Owen, who played Compo Simmonite so perfectly, it is still some of the best television ever produced.

    Vintage 2008 included twelve episodes. "Enter the Finger" opens with Barry (Mike Grady) disgusted by the macho martial arts posturing of neighbor Boothroyd. Alvin (Brian Murphy) and Entwhistle (Burt Kwouk) soon set Boothroyd to meet the Grand Master, Howard "the Finger". (B+) "Will the Genuine Racer Please Stand Up?' has Howard attempt to escape Pearl by disguising himself as a bicycle racer, while Barry and Glenda (Sarah Thomas) endure a long-staying neighbor. (B) "A Short Introduction to Cooper's Rules" focuses on the laissez faire police constables Cooper (Ken Kitson) and Walsh (Louis Emrick) as they deal with drunks and what they think is Barry's kidnapping of the retired vicar (Nicholas Smith, Mr. Rumbold from Are You Being Served?) (A) "Is Jeremy Quite Safe" has Howard jealous of the attention paid to self-proclaimed "gentleman jewel thief" Jeremy DeWyatt-Brown by Marina and Miss Davenport (Josephine Tewson). Jeremy reveals his expertise when he's expected to open an old safe belonging to Auntie Wainwright (Jean Alexander). (A)

    Howard complains thqt life is colorless in "All That Glitters Is Not Elvis," which puts him, costumed in an appropriately embellished jumpsuit, in the middle of an ongoing quarrel over the death (or not) of Elvis Presley. (B+) "Eva's Back In Town" brings Alvin's sexy ex-girlfriend Eva (Shirley Ann Field) back and, when Howard complains about his monotonous life, Alvin uses her to convince Howard of an encounter on his birthday that he was too drunk to remember. (A-) "In Which Romance Isn't Dead--Just Incompetent" has Barry trying to escape the lonely Mr. Chistlehurst by setting him up with poetry and Maurice Chevalier impressions for Miss Davenport. (A-) In "The Mischievious Twinkle in Howard's Eye," howard takes up Morris dancing as an ingenious (he thinks) cover to escape Pearl's surveillance, while Cooper and Walsh pre-empt Alvin and Entwhistle's roller-skates. (B+)

    In "Of Passion and Pizza," Alvin and Entwhistle try to help shy Mervyn declare his love for "her at the pizza parlor" and use mistaken identity to get Howard into trouble with Pearl. (B) "It's Never Ten Years" occurs on the tenth anniversary of Compo's death, when Clegg and Truly share their memories (film clips) of some of his memorable stunts, as well as Compo's memories of Dunkirk. (A) Lenny from the pickle factory (Bobby Ball, aka "The Swan Man of Ilkey") returns, now retired and determined on a show-business career as an escape artist, only he's not very good. (B) The final episode in 2008 introduced or enlarged the roles of previous characters, most importantly Luther Hobdyke "Hobbo" (Russ Abbott) retired route-man for Primrose Dairies, who's convinced that he was actually a spy working behind enemy lines in the Cold War, and Toby Mulberry-Smith, golf club captain and Barry's Nemesis (Trevor Bannister, Mr. Lucas, Are You Being Served?) Hobbo is Clegg's new neighbor, while Nora Batty's sister Stella (Barbara Young) is house-sitting next door to Alvin while Nora's in Australia. Herman Teasdale (Christopher Benny), intrepid debt collector chasing Tom Simmonite (Tom Owen), has retired and changed his name to Morton Beamish, his wife has left him, and he's looking for friendship with Tom. More character study than action, it works well to establish the new individuals. (A-)

    LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE is high on my list of all-time favorites. Vintage 2008 overall (B+)
     

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