TBR Challenge: What the Bride Didn’t Know, by Kelly Hunter

I didn’t think I’d have time to squeeze in a TBR Challenge book this month, but that’s what fast, fun Harlequin romance is for. The February theme is Backlist Glom, an author who has more than one book in your TBR pile. I had an embarrassment (quite literally) of riches to choose from and I went for Kelly Hunter’s What the Bride Didn’t Know (see fast and fun above–I’ve read a number of her books and always enjoyed them).

This is the third book in Hunter’s West family series, and I’d enjoyed the previous two. It was published in Harlequin’s late lamented Kiss line, though the others are all Presents. The mysteries of publishing.

This book, indeed this series, is overstuffed with plot. The West siblings are all hackers or spies and there’s a vague spy plot running through them all relating to oldest brother Jared’s disappearance, which may be related to trying to find out who was behind the incident in which his sister Lena was shot. They spy stuff is almost all offstage so far, which is probably good because what we do see is pretty implausible. Hunter knows her strengths. And yet, it’s kind of annoying: oh, the bad guy was taken down between books?

Our heroine here is the aforesaid Lena; 19 months after being wounded, she knows she won’t ever be back to her old physical self, and she’s feeling lost. All her life she’s worked to keep up with her brother Jared and his best friend Adrian, aka Trig. She became part of their team. If she can’t keep chasing them, what is she worth? Continue reading

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My Library Pile

It’s out of control. I’m writing a post about it to ease my anxiety about this. Why can’t I just read some of my own books?! Because browsing the library website is fun. And the new is always more tempting than what’s languishing in my TBR, forgotten. And since I’ve been reading more lately, I imagine I can read even more: my library eyes are bigger than my reading stomach. Finally, I’m not very disciplined about library holds, but also when I request a book that’s “on order,” its arrival is very unpredictable. It could appear immediately after the publication date, or several months after. All that is part of why my library pile is out of control.

Here’s the pile: 11 12 (one’s missing) physical books, and one digital. What are they? Continue reading

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In the Days of Rain, by Rebecca Stott

The subtitle of Rebecca Stott’s memoir In the Days of Rain is A Daughter, a Father, a Cult. “Growing up in and escaping a cult” memoirs have been a minor theme of my reading. I think (look away, Mom and Dad!) I’m drawn to them in part because of my own family history: my dad went to an Episcopal seminary when I was 13. I’m not saying it’s a cult (I’m still an Anglican!) but grappling with the ways your parents’ faith can upend and shape your own life, well, that’s an interesting story to me.

Stott was the fourth generation of her family to belong to the Exclusive Brethren, or as, one of her cousins says, be “caught up in them.” Stott ponders this phrase:

Caught up like a coat catching on thorns. Caught up in a scandal. Caught up in the arms of the Lord. Whichever way you phrased it, it meant you didn’t get to choose, and there was no getting away.

The Brethren were (are) a separatist Christian sect that believed the world was under Satan’s control and encouraged its members to have as little as possible to do with that world. In the 60s, the period of Stott’s early childhood, it became increasingly separatist and cult-like, forcing members to “withdraw” from professional associations, university education, and family members who were not part of the Brethren–or the right sub-division of the Brethren. In response to what he later called “the Nazi years,” her father, who had become a leader in the sect, eventually decided to leave. And so the family entered a strange new world, one where TV, radio, music and books were allowed. Where Darwin wasn’t excised from the encyclopedia. And where not every question has an answer, something Rebecca finds both frightening and liberating. Continue reading

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A Winter Away, by Elizabeth Fair

A couple of years ago, I stumbled on the Furrowed Middlebrowblog. It’s a treasure trove of reviews and lists of “lesser-known British, Irish and American women writers 1910-1960,” books that are often hard to find. But some of them are now much easier to find, because Scott, the blog’s owner, has an imprint at Deane Street press, which has re-released a number of his selections.

The books look like just my thing (it’s my taste for “mid-century middlebrow” reading that led me to discover the blog in the first place), and I’ve acquired a few–the e-books are reasonably priced. But the first one I actually read was A Winter Away, by Elizabeth Fair, originally published in 1957, which I borrowed from the library. It won’t be the last I read, because I loved it.

A Winter Away had me from the opening lines:

“I am small and insignificant,” said Maud, “but this room is going to make me feel much more so.”

She gazed at herself in the speckled looking glass which hung on the wall. A giant’s wardrobe near the window cut off the daylight and the single electric light was behind her at the other end of the room.

An unassuming heroine arrived in unprepossessing surroundings, and a narrator with a sense of humour about it. Bingo.

Continue reading

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The Female Detective, by Andrew Forrester

I requested Andrew Forrester’s The Female Detective from my library after a Twitter conversation with lawless about an obituary of Sue Grafton that implied she more or less invented the female private eye.

Forrester’s detective–whom I vaguely remembered from my dissertation-writing days, when I read up on Victorian detective fiction–is not a private eye; she’s a police detective, dreamed up in 1864, half a century before Britain had real-life female officers. This collection of stories isn’t great. G., the detective, doesn’t emerge as a fully-formed character, though that’s perhaps deliberate. The writing is frequently awkward. And many of the stories will seem odd to readers of modern detective fiction: G. doesn’t always appear in them, and many of the plots are unresolved.

But I did find it a really interesting precursor of the modern genre, and it made me want to go back and re-read some scholarly work on Victorian crime fiction. Here are some threads of thought that The Female Detective made me wish I had time to follow further.

Continue reading

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