Woo-Hoo!

I joined Net Galley a couple of months ago. Bewildering array of books, but I didn’t find anything I wanted to read. Looked again last week – and that had certainly changed! Felt like a kid in a candy store, but didn’t want to be too greedy. So I chose one book – and I have been approved! The book is Fell Murder by Golden Age mystery writer, E.C.R. Lorac

A world of wonderful books awaits me.

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Book Review: A Dandy in Aspic

A Dandy in Aspic

A Dandy in Aspic by Derek Marlowe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this one at first. And “enjoy” might not be the right word.

Very slow moving, although I enjoyed the glimpses of 60’s London.

Alexander Eberlin is a civil servant in London. He is one of those “dead inside” characters that were so popular in 60s & 70s fiction. His main pleasure in life is his clothing. He is a dandy and a great admirer of Beau Brummell (Brumell is also one of my favourite historical figures.)

Anyone else remember the old Department S & Jason King TV shows? I used to love watching them on a Friday night. This is how I pictured Eberlin looking. He is holding another cast member. I don’t remember so much smoking since I last read a Mary Stewart thriller.

But all is not as it seems and Eberlin is actually a double agent by the name of Krasnevin. He is sent to Berlin – to kill himself.

The action picks up quite a bit once Eberlin arrives in Berlin, although there are lots of meditative pauses with his friend.

Another friend of Eberlin’s from London, the gamine Caroline keeps turning up. Is she as artless as she seems?
Caroline was played by Mia Farrow in the 1968 film of the same name.

I’m assuming Caroline’s part was expanded for the film. But I am quite envious of some of the clothes Farrow wore;

Well some of them!

Forgive me for going offtrack – I just love 60’s clothes and wish I had been a teen then!

This book was heading for a 3★ rating, but the action at the end is amazing and a very spectacular finish. As shame that most reviews find the film lacklustre. I would have expected a decent film director could make this story an outstanding film.

I can’t go higher than 4★ because of the slow, almost dull start and the almost constant misogyny. The words may be coming out of his characters’ mouths, but they feel like Marlowe’s own ideas.

All this Prentiss took in his stride with a wry smile and a bashful grin when close friends discussed his pedigree of prettily rich ex-lovers, and would repeat over pints of beer at his Chelsea pub, when others admired his latest girl-child: “I would give her to you, but she is part of a set”…

Blech.

Ugh, and all the groping male hands. Sometimes nostalgia may be misplaced.

If you like to have likeable characters, this may also not be the book for you – although I did feel a tepid liking for Caroline.

An interesting period piece.

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Book Review: Secret Admirer

Secret Admirer

Secret Admirer by Susan Napier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


We have a couple of appointments today, so I was going to reread this Napier title during the inevitable hanging around in waiting rooms with no or terrible magazines in their lounge area. But I ended up gulping this steamy novel down last night.

Back when I was a voracious reader of Mills & Boon, Napier was my favourite of their authors. & this was my second favourite of her titles. But I’m thinking if I did reread some of the others…well, some would definitely stand the test of time better than this one!


Obviously, since I am giving it 4★ and read it at the speed of sound, I didn’t hate it. But the whole plot was based on the hero behaving like a creepy stalker and The Twist. (side note: I heard Ms Napier speak while she was working out the plot for this novel – so I was actively looking for this novel for a couple of years. Knowing The Twist didn’t spoil the book for me at all, but I can certainly understand other readers being annoyed at the spoiler filled reviews on Goodreads.) This was a very original idea at the time.

I’ve just finished reading

The Passionate Pen New Zealand's Romance Writers Talk to Rachel McAlpine by Rachel McAlpine

and Ms Napier mentions that the very short word counts on modern Harlequin Mills & Boon make it hard to do much plot or character development. This book could have used another 5k words I think, because most of the plot was the h & H snarling at each other. In spite of this, Grace and Scott were appealing both physically and in character. The sex scenes were pretty hot.

Weak resolution of a couple of plot strands, but still would recommend.

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Short Story Review: A Whisper in the Weld by Alix E. Harrow

Shimmer 2014: The Collected Stories

Shimmer 2014: The Collected Stories by E. Catherine Tobler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


4.5★

The cool thing about reviewing on WordPress is that I can review a short story only – not have to use the entry for a whole collection! I understand Goodread’s reasons but sometimes it is frustrating!

Another amazing story from the most exciting new writer I have read this year. This is an earlier effort from 2014.

Isa dies in a tragic accident at the mill. She yearns for her dead husband, (killed in the war) but her main priority in protecting their orphaned daughters from a life at the mill. Her ghostly love encircles them.

I don’t think I can say more without spoiling this evocative and stunning story.

Read it here https://www.shimmerzine.com/a-whisper-in-the-weld-by-alix-e-harrow/

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Book Review: Biltmore Oswald The Diary of a Hapless Recruit

Biltmore Oswald The Diary of a Hapless Recruit

Biltmore Oswald The Diary of a Hapless Recruit by Thorne Smith

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


2.5★

Ugh. Originally the page count on GR was around 85. By the time I figured out it was much longer than that I was at around the 60% mark. I made it to 66% before -heh- abandoning ship!

This book was originally a series of comic stories written for the Naval Reservist journal The Broadside while Smith was in the Navy about raw recruit Biltmore Oswald. My (admittedly free) copy doesn’t make this clear, so I was baffled by the disjointed approach. My copy also is shown as being illustrated & I think maybe Dick Dorgan’s black & white sketches may have given the story more charm. Frustratingly though the table of illustrations is on my copy, but not the illustrations themselves.

“‘Do you enlist for foreign service?’ He snapped. ‘Sure,’ I replied, ‘It will all be foreign to me”
Source of cartoon:Gutenberg

This flippant yet, naive exchange was so typical of the later works Smith became famous for. Smith was my parents’ favourite humorous writer – that in itself was pretty funny if you knew my parents who were both really straightlaced . Just talking about the skeleton dog in

Skin and Bones by Thorne Smith

scratching for nonexistent fleas would reduce my mother to tears of helpless mirth!

But this first work of Smith’s while riotously funny at the beginning (the scenes with Oswald and his mother reminded me -a lot! – of Private Pike and his overprotective mother in Dad’s Army – right down to the scarf!)

I may download the Gutenberg copy (which does have the illustrations) at some point and try again. Luckily I have already read some of Smith’s funniest works (he is best known for Topper, but some of his other books are better) and know Smith was only in his early twenties when he wrote this.

I wouldn’t make this a first Smith read. Try Skin & Bones or The Glorious Pool first.

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Book Review: The Passionate Pen

The Passionate Pen: New Zealand's Romance Writers Talk to Rachel McAlpine

The Passionate Pen: New Zealand’s Romance Writers Talk to Rachel McAlpine by Rachel McAlpine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


4.5★

For me to analyse what the romance writers say would be a breach of trust. Our explicit understanding was that they would speak for themselves, and they have vetted my edited transcripts of our conversations…

Rachel McAlpine

And this is both this books strength and it’s weakness, as the interviewed authors trusted noted NZ author McAlpine enough to open up to her about their lives, but it can be short on biographical specifics.

But their lives are all interesting. Some come from backgrounds of considerable hardship. Many had to leave school early because their father’s business was failing, some were isolated in ramshackle farm houses. Mary Moore says that in the first five years of her marriage the only female visitor she had was when her mother came to stay. Some of their manuscripts were posted overseas and there was no response, positive or negative for months.Many of these women milked cows, churned butter. Still want to sneer over them wanting to escape into light romance?

A positive common theme is the great affection the older writers had for Alan Boon from Mills and Boon who was endlessly supportive. Essie Summers went out of her way to help other romance writers and became a close personal friend of some of them, in particular Gloria Bevan and Miriam Macgregor. Some like Eva Burfield and Daphne Clair wrote in other genres.

In New Zealand, romance writers are very supportive to one another; in this I suspect they differ from “serious” writers. People who write literary books depend on grants for survival…


Jessie Nichols

She could also have added that the NZ literary elite can be snobbish and envious of those that enjoy commercial success.

In spite of all the hardships I had a sense that these were happy women who had enjoyed rewarding lives, other than Rachelle Swift A tough childhood in England, followed by a difficult life in New Zealand.

ButRobyn Donald still going strong – a new title Claimed by her Billionaire Protector was published last year.

Ms McAlpine’s sensitive touch has allowed us to get to know these women. I’ve tried to use this book to fill in gaps in their biographies on Goodreads. Romance now if not a more respected genre, at least women (and men) can be more open about enjoying it.

This quote isn’t from this book,but I can’t resist using it!

“On romance books: We might assume then that men, major consumers of thrillers, westerns, and detective fiction, enjoy being beaten up, tortured, shot, stabbed, dragged by galloping horses, and thrown out of moving vehicles.”


Daphne Clair

Indeed. Why the assumptions that romance readers are the only readers who can’t tell the difference between real life and fiction?

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Book Review: Trouble in Nuala

Trouble in Nuala (The Inspector de Silva Mysteries #1)

Trouble in Nuala by Harriet Steel

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


2.5★

So many friends and reviewers on Goodreads seem to like this book. I liked the idea behind the book. I liked the setting & Steel’s very evocative descriptions of Ceylon’s (Sri Lanka’s) scenery, customs & delectable cuisine.

The covers (and I am shallow enough to be swayed by covers) are eyecatching and Steel sensibly isn’t changing them every 5 minutes!

That is pretty much where it stops for me. After such wonderful scene setting in the beginning, for a short book, this one started to drag.

The main problem was the stilted dialogue. Clichéd characters also didn’t help. There were also very few suspects in the murder of a disliked and brutal plantation owner. If it wasn’t such a short book (it finished at 89% on my Kindle) I think I would have abandoned the read.

Not many mystery series start strong though – and I do have the second book in the series on my kindle. I may still read

Dark Clouds Over Nuala (The Inspector de Silva Mysteries #2) by Harriet Steel

and see if it shows more character and plot development.

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Book Review: One of Us is Lying

One of Us Is Lying

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Frankly in Love came close, but this is a YA book that really lived up to all the hype.

The Breakfast Club was obviously the inspiration for this novel, but this book isn’t a straight copy of it. Sure the five main characters are American Teen Cliches, but they are strongly drawn identities. Others have said they managed to guess the twist easily – I’ve been sick (excuses, excuses!) but I didn’t see it coming and I didn’t guess the solution either. I could only put the book down when I needed a nap.

Also a great road map on the perils and benefits of social media. My only quibble would be that there are too many happy endings!

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Short Story Review: A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies

Apex Magazine Issue 105, February 2018

From; Apex Magazine Issue 105, February 2018 by Jason Sizemore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


My review is for A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix Harrow and Interview with Alix Harrow by Andrea Johnson only.

Enchanting

Really the only word that can be used to describe this longish short story. I entered the Witch Librarian’s library – and I didn’t want to leave.

Books can do magic, can create a world for the lost, bewildered and lonely. Ms Harrow understands this.

I’m excited by the depth and complexity of Ms Harrow’s imagination and look forward to reading more of her work.

It’s only September, but I am going to call this my best short story read of 2019.

Great interview by Andrea Johnson – which shows she also has a vivid imagination! Brief, but witty and informative. 5★

I’m a Librarian on Goodreads and I always feel a faint bit of dread when friends review online magazine stories individually on Goodreads. There is always much angst when the story is inevitably merged with the magazine.Want to change Goodreads policy on short stories? I don’t think there is much chance of that, but you need to contact staff rather than posting about it on your review. Here is the link. https://www.goodreads.com/about/contact_us

Librarians are volunteers – we have little to no influence on Goodreads policies. On the rare occasions that Goodreads backs down, you need Librarians prepared to do the reversals and there is usually a consequence where active Librarians either stop doing the edits or only do their own. Just saying.

More chance of success would be to ask if the authors concerned if they would put the short stories on their own website. If the story is on their website, it would have to be unconditionally available. (readers not required to join a mailing list for example) to be added to the Goodreads database.

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Book Review: Thornyhold

Thornyhold

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


2.5★

Well…it was better than Stormy Petrel, but still fell short of the mark for me.

The beginning, although sad and depressing was well written. I felt for the lonely child that Jilly was and loved the relationship with her “fairy godmother”, Geillis.

And as always, Lady Stewart creates a wonderful sense of place, vividly described people. I’m interested in life in post war Britain with all the frustrating hardships and food shortages.

I was fine with the magic realism element.

But this book shares the same major fault that Stormy Petrel has, where Lady Stewart seems to head towards a major plot point and then backs away. For me the instalove was extreme – and for a very anonymous hero. (who also appears to be a negligent father.)

I really liked Rose Cottage, but Lady Stewart’s other two cottage books aren’t for me. Even Rose Cottage I’m unlikely to reread.

It wasn’t really relevant to the story, but I’m glad that Lady S introduced me to the poet Sidney Keyes. Did she know him? Or as a well read woman, did she decide to use her influence with her readership to stop this young man, who was killed in WW2, from fading into obscurity.

A sample poem that Keyes wrote about the grandfather who raised him.

Elegy
(In memoriam SKK)

April again, and it’s a year again
Since you walked out and slammed the door
Leaving us tangled in your words. Your brain
Lives in the bank-book and your eyes look up
Laughing from the carpet on the floor:
And we still drink from your silver cup.

It is a year again since they poured
The dumb ground into your mouth:
And yet we know, by some recurring word
Or look caught unawares, that you still drive
Our thoughts like the smart cobs of your youth –
When you and the world were alive.

A year again, and we have fallen on bad times
Since they gave you to the worms.
I am ashamed to take delight in these rhymes
Without grief; but you need no tears.
We shall never forget nor escape you, nor make terms
With your enemies, the swift departing years.

Keyes was only 16 when he wrote this. Sixteen!

A remarkable talent was lost. Best poetry I have read this year. 5★

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