Some Tame Gazelle

Barbara Pym

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This book isn’t for everyone. No car chases, shootouts, kidnappings, or loud bangs. In fact, some people may wonder if anything is going to happen. In its quiet way, quite a lot happens to its main characters, Belinda and Harriet Bede, sisters living together. Both are afraid that the other one will get married and upset the balance of their quiet lives. What drama there is lies inside their heads as they observe the actions of the other.

I loved the book, but then I’ve lived in the environment she describes, one with the focus on church activities and the doings of clergy. There is plenty of drama there, but it is not showy and not on the surface.

Although the author was only 18 when she wrote the novel, she exhibits an extraordinary level of observation and understanding of single women ‘of a certain age.’ Harriet and Belinda are delightful.

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In Calabria

Peter S. Beagle

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This is a quietly delightful short novel about a simple small-time farmer, Claudio, who lives in Calabria. He is content to live alone and write poetry. His main contact with the outside world is through the postman who delivers mostly junk mail. His life changes dramatically—the postman’s younger sister starts delivering the mail, and a pregnant unicorn turns up on his property.

His efforts to keep the unicorn secret and his growing love for the girl make up the bulk of the story. The local gang of thugs interferes with both of these goals, and the helicopters from the news media flying around trying to get a glimpse of the unicorn don’t help.

Eventually, as is all good fairy tales, he is successful in both.

The book is charming, as one would expect from the author of The Last Unicorn.

Offshore

Penelope Fitzgerald

Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald

Unlike some Booker Prize winners, this book is neither heavy nor self-indulgent. It is light and funny. It chronicles the lives of several individuals inhabiting barges along the banks of the Thames. Most of them are hardly seaworthy. Such could be said of their inhabitants, most of whom are hanging on teeth and toenails.

I don’t usually like children in fiction. ‘Plot moppets,’ Red-Headed Girl calls them. I especially dislike fictional children who lisp. Well, the feral children of this novel, hold their own. Skipping school to rummage along the mudflats for anything they can turn to cash, they are the centerpiece of this novel. I loved them.

In fact, I loved all the characters. Drawn to a way of life they can’t explain, they live their lives on the margins of society.

The Essays of Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne

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When I bought my first Kindle in 2009, I immediately set to downloading the free books I had heard about but never read. Among them was the complete essays of Montaigne. All 19 volumes. On April 4, 2018, I finished Volume 19. What has kept me interested for nine years? What could a 16th-century French aristocrat have to say to a 21st-century nurse?

Quite a lot, it turns out. For Montaigne isn’t writing just about the details of his life in France but about Life and Death and Health and Sickness. Topics that interest us all deeply. So whether you live in the 16th century or the 21st, you will be interested in what Montaigne has to say.

Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, editors

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This, the third in their series of anthologies of ‘fairy tales for adults,’ continues along the lines of Snow White, Blood Red and Black Thorn, White Rose. Anyone who enjoyed fairy tales as a child will enjoy these grown-up story by the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, Gahan Wilson, Tanith Lee, and Neil Gaiman, to name a few of the contributors.

Dark and disturbing, these are just as frightening and compelling as Grimm’s Fairy Tales were to me as a child. These are not Disney fairy tales, but throwbacks to the stories I loved and shivered to read when I was a child. These are children’s tales all grown up.

The Hermit of Eyton Forest

Ellis Peters

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The is the 14th in the series of stories about Brother Cadfael, and Ellis Peters has the elements down pat. This story involves a mysterious stranger who suddenly turns up to be a hermit in the woods and his very attractive servant. At the heart of the book is a young man placed in the abbot’s care by his father. On the father’s death, his grandmother demands his return to his custody. She wants to wed him to the daughter of the owner of a neighboring property. This marriage will  result in a very nice piece of property. Unfortunately the boy has no desire to wed and wants to stay at the monastery and continue this education.

Peters has a gift for blending all these elements into one coherent story that engages the reader in a tangle that only Brother Cadfael, with the assistance of the sheriff Hugh Berringer, can unravel.

A Man Called Ove

Fredrik Backman

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An engaging story of a curmudgeonly older man. Underneath all that crust is a lovable character with a heart of gold. All is well with Ove as long as his wife is alive to run interference for him, but when she dies, something in him dies, too.

As the story grows, we realize that Ove is trying to kill himself, but things keep happening to interfere with his plans. Against his will, he is repeatedly drawn into the lives of his neighbors, until he realizes he does have something to live for.

Very similar to a story I liked better—The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

The Unkillable Kitty O’Kane

Colin Falconer

The Unkillable Kitty O'Kane: A Novel

An engaging account of a tough and resilient woman. Kitty pulls herself up from a Dublin slum to find happiness at last with the man who was her childhood sweetheart. Along the way, she survives the sinking of the Titanic, the Bolshevik revolution, participation in the suffragette movement in New York, and the beginnings of the Irish rebellion. Her presence at each event is believable and credible.

Kitty is a wonderful and believable character with a strong drive to survive that helps pull her through all her adventures.

Death in Venice

Thomas Mann

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I confess I’m obsessed with Venice. I have been ever since watching a movie called Dangerous Beauty, set in the beautiful city in the 16th century. Ever since then, I have read everything I could get my hands on, fiction and non-fiction, about the city. If this book were called Death in Marseilles I wouldn’t have been interested.

There is enough of Venice to make it interesting, and it was a good movie. Unfortunately, on the page it loses it’s attraction. Add in the boring short stories that lead up to the final climax, and you have a lot of slog to get to the payoff. I simply don’t like Thomas Mann. I read Buddenbrooks and found it tolerable. Magic Mountain I abandoned about half-way through. I gave him his final chance in these short stories. It’s my failing, I’m sure, as Mann is considered one of the great writers, but he completely fails to speak to me.

 

The Rake and the Recluse

Jenn LeBlanc

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This book falls under the heading of ‘guilty pleasure.’ I know I should be reading quality literature, but sometime I like a low-brow romp. This book is full of crazy sauce, but it has my catnip, a time-slip romance. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, time slip is a story based on the premise that someone (almost always a woman) loses consciousness and wakes up in the past. In this case, Francine is on her way to make a presentation, has an accident  in the cab, and wakes up in the late 19th century. She is on the run from an abusive male, and falls under the carriage of a duke. He rescues her, and it’s love at first sight.

That’s the first half of the book. The second is the story of Perry, the younger brother of the duke, who finds a servant girl hiding in his carriage as he returns to London. She has been beaten and abused by the same man who attacked Francine. She persuades Perry to take  her to London, and he agrees. Again, it’s love at first sight.

Both stories are in the same book, so you definitely get your money’s worth, plus there are photographs taken by the author, which illustrate key moments.

The writing is adequate, and if you are willing to suspend your disbelief and go along for the ride, this book is a  lot of fun.