Friday, July 26, 2013

Long Live the King, by Fay Weldon. St. Martin’s Press, 2013

The year is 1901, King Edward VII is soon to have his official coronation, and the Dilberne family is in a kerfuffle. Arthur Dilberne is good friend of the King and so caught up in preparations for the coronation, as is his wife, Lady Isobel. Their daughter in law Minnie is pregnant, ready to do her duty by providing an heir, and daughter Rosina is still being a political agitator. Meanwhile, sixteen year old, suddenly orphaned Adela, niece to Lord Dilberne, tired of having her fate arranged by others, takes her life into her own hands and goes on an adventure. And three invitations to the coronation have become an object of much contention and confusion.

This trilogy (which began with last years Habits of the House) is sort of like Seinfeld: the show about nothing. Very little seems to take place, but everybody is practicing their own little schemes and things that seem small take on great importance. Nobody is really a villain; nobody is really a hero. They are just people- wealthy people, for the most part but not all- being people at a time when great changes were taking place. But the books are written so well that I can’t put them down, and I eagerly await the third book. 

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The Mythical Bill: A Neurological Memoir, by Jody Macauliffe. University of Iowa Press, 2013

In WW2 Bill Macauliffe developed torticollis; two days after surgery to correct it, he tried to kill himself. He spent the last 20 years of his life fighting mental illness ultimately dying unattended and possibly not reported for at least a day. He is called weak and told to just get himself together, but in reality he was a very strong man, holding it together to work and help raise a family, falling apart on weekends and pulling himself back together Sunday nights. He embarrassed, frustrated, and scared his family, but Jody, his daughter, never stopped loving him.

This book is Jody’s memoir of what it was like growing up with Bill as a father, and of her search for answers. It jumps back and forth in time, visiting Bill’s childhood, his time in the military and his death in a hospital and right into the present as Jody talks to doctors, trying to find out what Bill really had. Did the surgery for the torticollis do something to his mind, or did he have preexisting mental illness? His surgery took place on the day she was born; she never knew her father as a man without mental illness. It’s a touching book.  

The above is an associate link. If you click through it and buy the book, Amazon gives me a few cents. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Haunting of Maddy Clare, by Simone St. James. New American Library, 2012

In 1922 London, Sarah Piper is a poor temp worker, barely making ends meet. So when she is offered an assignment that requires going to a country village as assistant to Alistair Gellis, a ghost hunter, she sees no option other than to take it. Gellis seems harmless enough, even though his belief in ghosts makes him foolish in Piper’s eyes. Gellis’s regular assistant has been called away to attend a family illness.

The story they are presented with when they get to Waringstoke is that a servant girl, Maddy Clare, who had turned up years before one night, filthy, beaten and unable to talk and was taken in by the Clare’s, cared for, given their name, and made into a servant for light work, had committed suicide in the barn and was now haunting said barn. Mrs. Clare is frightened of her and wants her spirit gone. Much to Sarah’s shock, the ghost is very real, very angry and very powerful- and she hates men as much in death as she did in life.

What follows is a paranormal detective story, with Sarah, Gellis, and Gellis’s returned assistant, Matthew Ryder, trying to find out who Maddy was and how she had turned up on the Clare’s doorstep in the condition she was in. Someone is trying to discourage them from investigating, and a face from Alistair’s past has turned up in town.

In most ways, I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. It’s a good mystery, and the mystery is blended with the paranormal well. I really liked Sarah Piper; she is strong and independent without being too modern for the time the story is set in. And while I liked Matthew for the most part, his relationship with Sarah starts out pretty creepily for my taste. The excuse is that Matthew (and Alistair, too) suffer from PTSD from the Great War, but that doesn’t it any more palatable when he enters Sarah’s room and has sex with her without having a word with her about it- and then telling her he won’t be back. Now, the sex *is* consensual, but he has no way of knowing how she feels; he just mounts her. Since he’s portrayed as a good, if damaged, person in the rest of the novel, one assumes (hopes) that he would have stopped if Sarah had said anything. 

The above is an associate link. If you click through it and buy the book, Amazon gives me a few cents.