Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Summer Reading, August 23, 2016




Today I'm recommending a series, The Miss Julia books by Ann B. Ross. Pictured are the first two books, Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind and Miss Julia Takes Over. The heroine of these stories is Julia Springer, a recently bereaved, mature and wealthy lady who lives in a small town in North Carolina. A strong-willed woman with standards and a pillar of her local Presbyterian church, she's not stuffy, but she likes things done a certain way and she's not afraid to tell you so. She lives with her dead husband's mistress and her 9-year-old son, by the way, who's the spitting image of his father. Kind of an unusual arrangement? Well, these two were sprung on Miss Julia shortly after her husband's funeral and she was pretty stricken at the time, but she's not going to let the whole town pity her and talk behind her back. Besides, Miss Julia's so mad at her dead husband that she doesn't care what people say about him, so she holds her head up high and parades her husband's illicit affair right out front where everyone can see them. In fact, she becomes so fond of Hazel Marie, who's had a truly tough life up until now, and Little Lloyd that she forces her friends to accept them too.

These stories have larger than life, quirky characters and funny conflicts, since Miss Julia's generally fighting other people's battles. If you've enjoyed Fannie Flagg's humorous books about small town life in the deep south as much as I have, I think you'll appreciate this series too. And the author, Ann B. Ross, has written nineteen Miss Julia books so far, so you can look forward to having lots to read.

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Sunday, 14 August 2016

Summer Reading, August 14, 2016


I'm a Lord Peter Wimsey fan. In case you're not familiar with his stories, they were written by Dorothy Sayers, one of the three queens, along with Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham, of the golden age of British detective fiction. Lord Peter is an aristocratic amateur detective who turns to solving murders, with the help of his faithful man servant, Bunter, to overcome the effects of shell-shock suffered during WWI. He disarms people with his bland appearance and silly conversation, as did the Scarlet Pimpernell, but is actually brilliant, athletic, and intuitive. He's also kind and wears his heart on his sleeve for crime novelist Harriet Vane, whom he gets off a murder charge in the poisoning death of her ex-lover, and ultimately marries. If you like stylish historical mysteries that are cleverly written with an endearing detective, I highly recommend the series.

I revisited Thrones, Dominations last week. It's set after Busman's Honeymoon, when Harriet and Peter have only been married a few weeks and Harriet is being introduced into "society" as Peter's unconventional wife. The 13th Lord Peter novel, Sayers began writing it in 1936, but never finished it prior to her death in 1957. It was published in 1998 after the trustees of Sayers' estate asked novelist Jill Paton Walsh, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, to finish it.

You see this happening time and again when a famous series novelist dies and the trustees ask another author to finish a story or even write a brand new one. The books are often a disappointment; just not quite good enough. Thrones, Dominations, however, is very good. It's faithful to the characters as Harriet struggles with continuing her writing career while dealing with servants, social obligations, and whether or not to have children, and Peter investigates the murder of a beautiful married woman who is an acquaintance of the couple. Amusing, suspenseful, and well-crafted, it's well worth the read for those who hunger for just one more Lord Peter Wimsey story.

I can't resist adding this picture of Lord Peter and Harriet Vane, as portrayed by Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter, in a  1987 BBC dramatization of Have His Carcase.


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Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Summer Reading, July 27, 2016


It's been a couple of weeks since I've blogged about my reading due to a decision to only talk about books I've enjoyed and can recommend. (Aside to one of my fellow authors: "Witty" banter can be overdone and can't take the place of character or plot development!) But I've just finished a book I can recommend, Girl Waits With Gun, the first in a blossoming series about the real-life Kopp sisters. Author Amy Stewart bases her novel on newspaper articles that were published as the result of a 1914 accident between the three sisters, who were riding in their buggy, and a car driven by a wealthy factory owner who plowed into them. When the eldest sister, thirty-five-year-old Constance, tries to claim $50 in damages from the factory owner, Henry Kaufman, she sets off a string of nasty persecutions from Kaufman and his gang of hoodlums. Attacks escalate from rocks with threatening messages being hurled through the sisters' bedroom windows in the middle of the night, to shots being fired at the house, to attempted arson. Isolated on a small farm outside of Paterson, New Jersey, the sisters enlist the help of Sheriff Heath, a stalwart, dedicated, and forward-thinking lawman who develops feelings for Constance, but it is through her own efforts to solve the case as well as to help a young factory worker whose infant son, fathered by Kaufman, has disappeared, that retribution is made.

Although the story starts a bit slowly, I soon became enamoured with the sisters. Constance, tall for a woman, strong, and resourceful, seems to be waiting for her life to begin and has a big secret. Norma, the middle sister, never wants to leave the farm and spends her spare time training homing pigeons to carry cut-out newspaper headlines back to her sisters. Fleurette, a teenager, is the spoiled, artistic family beauty who dramatizes everything and can't wait to escape the isolation of their lives. I also enjoyed the historical detail, the homeyness of the sisters' lives, and the sensibility of women who are trying to act like ladies while dealing with some very unladylike problems and a judicial system that fails them.

There is a second book in the series, Lady Copp Makes Trouble (another actual newspaper headline, I assume), that I'm looking forward to reading. But check out Girl Waits With Gun first.

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