Hag-Seed

Margaret Atwood

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Felix Phillips, renowned director, is too busy with his production to watch his back. His trusted right-hand man, Tony, schemes and plots his downfall. Felix is ousted, replaced by Tony. Crushed, Felix retires to a small cabin to lick his wounds and dream of revenge. He gets his opportunity as director of a prison drama program. After two other productions, he decides to put on The Tempest and invite Tony and other dignitaries to view his production and his humiliation. Calling on an old friend to choreograph the dance scenes and using the prisoners as his accomplices, he sets in motion an elaborate plan to get revenge.

He gets his revenge, but also an unexpected healing. Haunted by the death of his daughter Miranda, he finds an ultimate release from her ghost and a fulfillment in working with the prisoners. What originated as merely a tool for revenge has become a means of release from the prison of hatred and memory that had incarcerated him.

ARC from Netgalley

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To Defy a King

Elizabeth Chadwick

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This is #5 in the William Marshal series, detailing the events in the life of William Marshal in detail. Marshal is a peripheral character in this novel of his daughter’s marriage and life as the wife if Hugh Bigod, eldest son of the Earl of Norfolk. The Marshalls hope to make a safe marriage for a beloved daughter, but in the trouble times of King John, there is no safety.

This novel goes into detail, almost on a daily basis, of the life of a high-class woman of her time. Her responsibilities are heavy, and at times in her husband’s absence, she is forced to make decisions and live with the consequences.

The defiance of a the king refers to the barons forcing King John to sign the Magna Carta, although it may also refer to Mahelt’s personal defiance of John’s unwanted advances to her. In her life, one is momentous as the other. Although not quite chattel, she knows her place is to be a faithful and industrious wife to Hugh and bear him many children in the hope that enough will survive to carry on his name.

Elizabeth has a gift for filling a book with daily incidents to give the reader a sense of the life of a high-status medieval woman.

Long Upon the Land

Margaret Maron

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A pleasant ending to a pleasant series. The 20th and last of the Deborah Knott series, Long Upon the Land, looks back in time, telling the story of Deborah’s mother and father, their courtship and marriage. Interwoven in their story is that of a mysterious soldier and his secret. Along with this is a man found dying on her father’s land. Tainted by a long-standing feud with her father who finds the dying man, Deborah and Dwight have to clear Kezzie’s name before the rumors hang the murder on him.

It isn’t easy to maintain the quality of a series, much less for as long as this one has been going. Maron, a Grand Mistress of crime, is up to the task. Each book reveals more of Deborah’s background, while simultaneously advancing her love story and putting a pretty mystery for her to solve. Each story is as satisfying as the one before it. I’ve been reading these books since I was given the first, Bootlegger’s Daughter, when I was hospitalized for knee replacement surgery. A perfect gift, I have been enjoying these books for nearly four years.

I’ll be sorry to say goodbye to Judge Knott, but I have 20 books to reread and enjoy again and again.

The Undoing

Shelly Laurenston

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When you look up ‘guilty pleasure’ in the dictionary, right under dark chocolate raspberry creams, you’ll find books by Laurenston. Her books make me glad I can pretend I’m reading Thomas Hardy on my Kindle, when actually I’m reveling in the awesomesauce that is the Call of Crows Series. Even better that her Pride series, this series is smart and funny and they’re not jumping into bed every other page. Every other chapter, maybe.

The Pride series has a certain appeal (who doesn’t love a millionaire were-lion, ex-Seal in love with a NYPD detective?), but this series has it in spades. Maybe it’s the Scandinavian  mythology mixed in with hunky men, intelligent women, and flying dogs, that combine to make the ultimate pleasure series.  My only regret is that there are only two books in the series, with one due out next year. I can hardly wait, and I willing part with the dollars to pay full price. Anybody who spins a yarn this good deserves the money.

This Is Where I Leave You

Jonathan Tropper

This Is Where I Leave You: A Novel by [Tropper, Jonathan]

This book has been turned into a motion picture, and I haven’t seen the film. Maybe it’s better than the book. The problem is that the author tries too hard to be funny.

The book takes place over the seven days that the family is sitting shiva for the dead father. Not a good setting for humor. I’ve lost some people who left a big hole in my life, and I don’t find anything funny about a family gathering to mourn a dead family member. Also  neither the main character nor anyone else matures or learns about themselves over the course of the book.

There are some funny bits, but generally this book left a bad taste in my mouth.

The Summer Queen

Elizabeth Chadwick

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I have to say I’m a bit burnt out on historical biography, whether fiction or non-fiction. I’m reading books by Jean Plaidy, Alison Weir, and Elizabeth Chadwick. I like Jean Plaidy the best, Alison Weir (non-fiction) and Elizabeth Chadwick the least. She writes well enough, but I think she takes too much time to tell her tale. What Weir and Plaidy can write in one book, Chadwick draws out into at least three.

This is the first of three novels about Eleanor of Aquitaine, and I have no desire to read the other two. There is nothing wrong with this book. Elizabeth Chadwick has a gift for recreating the time period she writes about, and the people who lived in it. Without using anachronisms, she bring them both to life. She has a lively imagination she uses to fill in the blanks that history leaves about her characters.

I bought this book from one of my discount subscription services, so I am not unhappy with the price. Maybe if the other two become available for $1.99 or less, I might be tempted.

The Secret History

Donna Tartt

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Donna Tartt is a fine writer. Her novel The Goldfinch is one of the best I have ever read, full of surprises. This being so, I wanted to explore her work. The reviews were mostly good for this book so I set out to enjoy it.

It was a puzzling book. It started out with a bang: five college students have murdered one of their classmates and wait for the body to be discovered. It’s an engaging way to start out, and a large portion of the book is spend in a flashback of events leading up to the murder and the rest is aftermath.

Her descriptions of the characters are indelible. Her problem in this novel seems to be plotting. The books just runs out of gas at the end. The Goldfinch seems to indicate that her plotting is under control, and I look forward to her next novel with anticipation.

Sunday the Rabbi Stayed Home

Harry Kemelman

415639

Another bit of light reading. This time the rabbi has been there six years, and his five-year contract is about to run out. The grass starts looking greener over the fence, and when the congregation starts to split he is tempted for a short time to take another job. His irritation with the congregation’s president, who treats David as just another employee wanes, and his growing trust in the the local chief of police flowers into a real friendship. He helps solve another murder, his differences with the president are resolved, and future is secure—for another year.

The Tea Planter’s Wife

Dinah Jefferies

 The Tea Planter's Wife: A Novel by [Jefferies, Dinah]
I received a review copy from Netgalley.
A long melodrama about people in Ceylon in the 1920s, this book traces the fates of its characters set against the background of a tea plantation in the beautiful countryside of Ceylon. The events take place before independence and name change to Sri Lanka.
Gwen meets Lawrence, a handsome young widower, in England. Swept off her feet by his exotic lifestyle, she marries him and is carried off to his tea plantation in Ceylon. Gwen has very little agency, and when she does take action it end in disaster. She tries to keep her action secret from Lawrence, and it stifles her love for him. Jealous of the women who surround him, she sinks into a depression.When she finally reveals his secret, she discovers Lawrence has been keeping secrets from her, too.
The book is well-written and redeemed by its detailed descriptions of Ceylon and its people.

A Killer’s Guide to Good Works

Shelley Costa

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I confess to being hooked by the cover and the fact that one of major characters is a member of a Carmelite monastery in England. Fool that I was, I expected some realism in depiction the life of the monastery. Instead, what I got was a Dan Brown-type mystery with people running in all directions trying to foil the actions of a mysterious cult. If Netgalley hadn’t given me the book in exchange for an honest review, I would have stopped reading it early on.

I soldiered on until I finished it. It wasn’t any more realistic or believable by the end than it was at the beginning. There were a few moments of enjoyment, where Val is compelled to do her job as an editor, but they are outnumbered by the annoyance at Anthony’s lack of any real religious vocation and his complete freedom to wander around at will.

All and all a disappointment.