Queen of the Tearling

Erika Johansen

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I read this book and the two that followed in one, glorious binge read over a couple of days. I was so enchanted and pulled into the story, I had to keep reading until the story was finished. It is the story of a young woman, raised in isolation by two people in the country. One day, a group of men-at-arms arrive, and hail her the Queen of the Tearling and take her away. From then on, she must learn what it means to be a queen.

The main character is so appealing and the task before her is so large, I couldn’t help rooting for her to overcome the odds against her.

An excellent story.

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The Memory Palace

Mira Bartok

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I love reading memoirs, even when it’s difficult. The one is more difficult than most. Mira and her sister are raised by a mother suffering from mental illness. Obsessed with the idea that Nazis are after the girls, she constantly monitors their every action. Her actions become so intrusive, that their jobs are threatened, and the girls are forced to change their names and move to where their mother can’t find them.

Later in life they decide to try to reach out to their mother and attempt a reconciliation. They find her dying in a homeless women’s shelter. In trying to help her, they find a set of keys that opens a storage unit.  In opening it, they find the things that their mother kept over the years.

This is a heartbreaking story of love, loss, and the ties that bind mother and daughters through the years.

Unveiled

Courtney Milan

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I love Courtney Milan’s historical fiction. Can’t speak to her contemporary romances because I don’t read much contemporary romance. I read a lot of historical romance, and hers is among the best.

In this novel, a woman and her brothers have been declared illegitimate and stripped of their titles, fortune and lands because of illegal actions by their father. When Ash Turner comes to claim the title and property that is rightfully his, Lady Margaret poses as a nurse. Her brothers are content to stay out of the way, writing abusive letters to her asking why she hasn’t done more to uncover his weak spots so they can reclaim their place in society.

The problem is that the more she learns about Ash, the more she comes to respect and like him. Soon she is torn between her love for her brothers and her love for Ash. Watching her work her way through this conflict is the essence of the book.

Milan is a mistress of pacing and dialogue. As the story progresses, I came to care more and more both for Ash and Margaret. Fortunately there is a HEA for them both.

The Patternmaster

Olivia Butler

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If I understand it correctly, the four books in this series were written from oldest to new. That means that this book, number four in the series, was written first. If that is so, it would explains why the first book was the best. Not that there is anything wrong with this volume, it’s just that they became more interesting at the first.

By the time we arrive at the fourth book, their powers have fully matured, and the characters are terrible in their power. The hold literal life and death power over the people without the mental powers they have.

There is one rebel who refuses to bend to the will of the dominant man. He and a healer make a run for freedom.

Butler’s world-building is supurb, and the characters moving in this world brilliantly inhabit it. It isn’t pleasant, but it is put together in an entirely plausible way.

The Splendour Falls

Susanna Kearsley

I really like Susanna Kearsley. It isn’t the plot so much as the characters. I don’t remember much of the plot, but I really like her heroines. They are sensible, not silly. I guess most of books fall into the romantic suspense category. She reminds me a lot of Mary Stewart, an author I loved when I was in high school, but don’t care much for now.

Her heroines don’t do stupid things, but still find themselves in danger. And then they get themselves out, instead of waiting to be rescued by the hero. I like their independence and resiliency. They use their heads to figure things out.

This book has the bonus of being set in Chinon, France, with a medieval castle, legends of a hidden treasure, and a mysterious vintner for lagniappe. I enjoyed the fruits of her research she must have put into the book.

A thoroughly enjoyable read.

Mothers and Sons

Colm Toibin

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I don’t usually care for short stories. I prefer the length of a novel to get to know a character, but Toibin is so skilled at delineating his characters that it requires only a few paragraphs to know them.

I remember two of the stories, the longest and the shortest, best of all. The short one is about the tensions between a folk-singing mother, who wants to forget her past,  and her son, who wants to revive it. In the other story, almost novella-length, the mother is absent. Lost in the snowy landscape, she doesn’t appear at all, as her son and husband search for her.

All of these stories portray the importance of a mother in a son’s life, his maturing and the role she plays in the man he becomes.

Colm Toibin is a master.

Ephemeral

Andie Andrews

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This is kind of a silly book about a woman who is writing a country-western romance. In order to add verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative, she decides to take riding lessons. Now why a country-western romance writer decides to take lessons in a high-end dressage barn is beyond me, but that is what she does.

Told from alternating viewpoint of a broken-down cow pony name Sonny, we follow Clarissa as she enters the world of high-end show horses. Along the way, she catches the eye of a young, handsome, Argentinian dressage teacher. He could have any of the young, nubile women thirsty after his body, but he is attracted to this middle-aged writer on an old cow pony.

Clarissa’s life comes to a crisis when her husband asks her to come to Paris where he is enjoying a vacation. Which is it to be? Her boring husband of many years, or the hot Argentinian teacher with his mysterious, tragic past?

 

 

 

Coming into the End Zone

Doris Grumbach

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As I enter my seventies, I find myself looking for a guide on how to do it. So far, I’ve read May Sarton’s journals, and they helped a bit. She mentions Doris Grumback, so I tried hers, and I found it much more helpful. For one thing, Grumbach doesn’t seem so self-absorbed. She is still engaged, still traveling, still involved in other people’s lives.

I particularly enjoyed her descriptions of her travels and the acknowledgement that it is probably for the last time. My travelling days have also come to an end, and I enjoy looking back at my trips and the good memories they hold. Fortunately, I never took a camera, so my memories are not limited to the size of a view-finder. I also don’t have piles of photographs to dispose of.

Grumbach offers a good example of aging gracefully. I’d love to share a cup of coffee with her.