Friday, February 01, 2013

Reading Report: Jan 2013

Shakespeare's Lady by Alexa Schnee.  I'm not the first person to gripe that historical romances are often just an excuse to put modern people in fancy clothes and old-fashioned social situations.  But Shakespeare's Lady is not anything like a typical historical romance, and it wasn't intended to be.  Alexa has done her homework.  She's imagined--in rich detail-- the life of Emilia Bassano, one of the ladies in Queen Elizabeth I's court who is often mentioned as the most likely candidate for the unnamed Dark Lady of Shakespeare's sonnets.  Emilia is truly a woman of her time-- almost completely powerless to make her own choices, subject to the whims of her queen, the lover to whom the queen first consigns her, and eventually, her husband.  But she takes William Shakespeare as her lover, and they are both changed by their affair.  The affair is imagined--there is no proof that it happened--but Alexa makes it believable.

This review is long overdue.  Alex is the daughter of a dear friend of mine, and you may have noticed that she occasionally comments here as alexinksit (the link is to her blog).  I was able to watch from the sidelines as Alex wrote the book, won an award for it, and got it published.  I bought a copy of it as soon as it came out, of course, but I didn't have time to finish reading it until this week.  Highly recommended.  There is no happily-ever-after, but you'll feel as if you've been transported right back to the sixteenth century.  It's all the more amazing since she wrote it when she was seventeen.

The Black Tower by P. D. James.  I love P. D. James.  Her mysteries aren't always the most intricately plotted, and by 2013 standards, the police procedural aspect is almost ludicrously behind the times (this one was published in 1975).  But her protagonist, Adam Dalgleish, a detective at Scotland Yard, is a complexly interesting man, and P. D. James writes like a dream.  Contemplating a map drawn by an elderly friend, James writes,
The map could be guaranteed to confuse anyone accustomed to depend on the orhodox publications of the National Survey rather than on early seventeen-century charts.  The wavy lines presumably represented the sea. Dalgleish felt the omission of a spouting whale.
Later, she describes another character:
Anstey's smile, when it came, was as sweet as ever but his eyes were preoccupied and his enquiries over his guest's comforts were perfunctory.  Dalgliesh sensed that he wouldn't be sorry to see him go.  Anstey might see himself in the role of a welcoming medieval abbot, always ready with the bread and ale, but what he really craved were the gratifications of hospitality without the inconvenience of a guest.
This one is not her best mystery, but it is still plenty rewarding as an installment in the story of Adam Dalgleish.  The Black Tower opens with Dalgleish in the hospital.  He has been diagnosed with a deadly illness and told he has very little time to live.  Then oops! they find out they were mistaken, and he is almost literally brought back from the dead.  Dalgleish, a poet as well as a police detective, has some lovely meditative thoughts on returning to life after death, while in the midst of dealing with murder.  I'm slowly making my way through James's work--this is the fourth one of hers I've read-- and so far, they have all been excellent.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming.  This is the first book in a series about a woman Anglican priest named Claire Fergusson and the chief of police in her small town, Russ Van Alstyne.  On a cold December night, Claire finds a baby someone has left on the steps of the church.  A week later, out on patrol with Russ to get a better handle on what's going on in their town, Claire finds the body of a young woman who has recently given birth.  Unraveling the mystery behind the birth and death leads to another murder and nearly to Claire's death as well.  It's a little clumsy, but I'm happy to be forgiving for a first novel.  It's definitely good enough that I looked for (and found!) the next one in the series at our library this week.

I seem to be on a mystery kick at the moment.  I don't read them all the time, but sometimes they're exactly what I want to read.

I also read the Gallaghers of Ardmore trilogy by Nora Roberts.  So shoot me.  I just wanted something mindless when I was done with school.  I only started reading Roberts a couple of years ago, and she's so prolific that whenever I'm in the mood for one of hers, there's always another one to read.  If you like Roberts, these three (Jewels of the Sun, Tears of the Moon, and Heart of the Sea) are a good example of her work, but if you don't, they definitely would not convert you.  They're set in Ireland, about three siblings who run the family pub.  In the first one (and best of the three), oldest brother Aidan Gallagher falls in love with Jude, an American who is visiting the land of her ancestors as she recovers from a humiliating divorce.  In the second (and least successful), Brenna O'Toole has to get the attention of the middle Gallagher sibling, Shawn, who has been a brother figure to her since they were in diapers.  In the final one, Darcy Gallagher's incredible voice is discovered by a wealthy American who is building a concert hall in Ardmore.  Roberts has an annoying way of writing dialogue that is all the more annoying because it appears in every single one of her books.  But some of her books are still entertaining, and these are better than average--but not as good as Northern Lights, which I read right before Christmas, and is probably the best one of hers I've read. 


  1. I adore historic ANYthing. But I was derailed by your "it's not a happy book" line. Oops, this one is now disqualified.

    That's okay, I'm constantly behind with a too big TBR pile (and that darn Judy3 doesn't help any).

    (Well, she actually DOES help!)

    1. Well, it's not an *unhappy* book, it just doesn't have the typical happily ever after. Maybe I shouldn't have said that. I just know that many who read here do read historical romances, and I didn't want to give the impression that there's a Happily Ever After. It ends with Emilia contented and at peace.

      And also--this isn't related to your comment, just something I should have said in the review-- the reason I didn't finish it until this week wasn't because of the book but because of having too much to read for school.

    2. (so I edited it slightly to reflect the above.)

    3. This is one of the things I love most about you. Truly.

      (Which now just makes me miss you more.... )

      You are BEYOND considerate. It's a beautiful trait.
      And you wear it effortlessly.

  2. Thanks so much, Barb! This made my day. :)

    1. You're welcome, sorry it took so long!! :-) I'm looking forward to the next one.

  3. Bought Alex's book. Love Julia Spencer-Fleming's books. Haven't read much P.D. James, but enjoyed what I have read. And Julia is a lovely woman in person.

  4. There's a sort of melancholy air to the PD James books, that I don't see myself returning to her in future. Same with the Rendell I read this year. I don't mind serious or even violent, but the melancholy... meeps. I'm just finishing a sci fi book that I almost stopped because of this, but the plot kicked up just in time.

    1. Yes, you're right about the melancholy, and since he's convalescing from a serious illness, it's worse in Black Tower even than the other ones. I don't like melancholy when it's combined with gloom and despair, but Dagleish also has a very snide, dry sense of humor which I love, and it ends up being life-affirming in spite of everything. so I guess it doesn't bother me. I remember about twenty years ago I made Dean read The Mists of Avalon which at that point I thought was my favorite book EVER. He got done and said-- but it's so sad, which I think is that same sense of melancholy that you're talking about.