Because the weekend is when I meant to write it, but I had to give myself an extension. I was grading research papers all weekend.
I give a final exam on Wednesday, and once that’s graded I’m done with the semester. I have plenty of work lined up through the end of June, but my time is also more flexible and I hope to have more energy for reading and blogging. Here is some of what I’ve been reading/will be reading, when not mired in end of term craziness.
Catherine O’Flynn, Mr. Lynch’s Holiday. This novel, O’Flynn’s third, confirmed me as a fan, though I still think her début, What Was Lost, is her best book (and I’m not alone). O’Flynn is one of those authors who returns to particular themes: loss, memory, and the importance of place–all of her novels center on buildings being developed or redeveloped. In Mr. Lynch’s Holiday, it’s Lomaverde, a Spanish housing development intended for ex-pats, but abandoned half-completed because of the economic downturn (it reminded me of the unfinished Las Vegas development in Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch; what richly symbolic spaces these are). Widower Dermot Lynch arrives to visit his son Eamonn and finds that Eamonn has lost his job, his wife (at least temporarily), and himself in this nowhere place. The book isn’t as dark as this makes it sound. It’s often funny, and also tender and moving as father and son find each other, and other things/people.
Here is one moment I loved. Dermot remembers waiting for his then-fiancée, Kathleen:
There was something dramatic about her entrances. Her hair blown from being on the bike, her face glowing, a slight breathlessness as she swept through the café. He always stood to greet a lady, but with Kathleen it was never courtesy or manners, it was an involuntary response. His legs straightening of their own accord, propelling him up to hold her, to catch her somehow.
I feel I’ve been bashing romance lately, but look: these lines convey so vividly Dermot’s love and physical attraction, and with none of the obvious signifiers romance so often resorts to (although you can read Dermot’s involuntary standing symbolically if you like, I suppose). I found this more believable, more moving, more romantic than any pebbling nipples, perpetual erection, etc. I thought of the feeling I still get when I unexpectedly catch sight of my husband coming towards me down the street, or spot him across the concourse at work.
Neither Dermot nor Eamonn is anything like a typical romance hero, but they did remind me of real men I know, and I cared about both of them.
Mary Jo Putney, The Bargain (read by Emma Newman). I tried a more recent Putney book without success, but was hoping this older one would work for me, especially as it features my favorite trope, marriage of convenience. I didn’t dislike it, but I thought it squandered all the most interesting possibilities in its setup. Lady Jocelyn marries David,a dying soldier, so she can keep her fortune and he can secure his sister’s future. And then he lives! I thought that could be difficult for him to come to terms with, but no–he even gets over opium addiction in a night. He’s perfect and charming, and the main conflict is Lady Jocelyn’s boring belief that she isn’t worthy of love because Mommy Issues. Oh also, David doesn’t feel himself her social equal, and I couldn’t fucking believe how that was resolved, but won’t spoil it. Even the potential love triangle with the man Jocelyn thinks she wants didn’t come to much. I liked the secondary romance with David’s prickly sister and the gruff Scottish doctor who saves David’s life, but that too was wrapped hastily in a bow and not nearly as interesting as it could have been. I think Putney is Not For Me. And also that I’m still not in a mood to fully enjoy a romance, perhaps.
I am reading Toni Anderson’s Edge of Survival. After she was nominated for a RITA, @saschakeet and @dougalgodfrey noted on Twitter that they had enjoyed some of her books, and I noticed my online library had a number. I’m really enjoying the unusual setting: the heroine is a wildlife biologist doing a fish study in Labrador (I think?), the hero is a helicopter pilot. (This set-up reminded me of Rosie Thomas’s Sun at Midnight, though the books are very different). Heroine Cam has diabetes, and that seems to be depicted well–it’s part of who she is and what she can do, but doesn’t define her, and she’s tough and disciplined because she has to be. I am not a fan of villain point of view, especially if the villain is over-the-top crazy eeeevil, and this book is not changing my mind.
I’m nearly done (well, 5 hours left, but considering the length that’s nearly done) with my Middlemarch audiobook, which I have enjoyed tremendously. In the middle (ha!) I paused to listen to Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, which enriched my hearing of Eliot’s novel. (Rohan has a good review here).
I have big dreams about all the summer reading I want to do (please let it involve enjoying romance fiction again, as well as finally getting into Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles). In April, I’m planning to read some political romances: Emma Barry‘s Special Interests, Rose Lerner’s Sweet Disorder, and Karyn Langhorne’s Unfinished Business. These are books I wanted to read and thought would “go together,” but I got more recommendations on Twitter, so if it goes well, I may keep going.
Tomorrow I’m heading to the library to pick up the latest Julia Spencer-Fleming mystery and Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen, part of my Read Non-Fiction from Best Of 2013 Lists project.
I have too much to read. What are you reading? *gets ready to note down more titles*