Saturday, January 6, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: An Irish Country Courtship by Patrick Taylor

It’s been too long since I visited Ballybucklebo to spend time with Drs. Barry Laverty and Finnegan O’Reilly. The books are sweet, entertaining reads that show slices of daily life and medical practice in rural Ireland in the 1960s. (I’ve decided that the timing counts for historical fiction.)

An Irish Country Courtship by Patrick Taylor picks up where An Irish Country Christmas left off. Dr. Laverty is continuing as assistant to general practitioner Dr. O’Reilly. But he’s having doubts about staying on. Although he enjoys working with and being mentored by Dr. O’Reilly, and likes the small town and its people, he wants a domestic life with a wife and family. He is in love with Patricia Spence who has gone off to school to become an engineer. While he was originally supportive of her goals, it seems he only will support her so far. He’s willing to wait for her to get her education, but then he expects her to come live in Balleybucklebo and keep house for him. Patricia has given him multiple clues that she wants different things out of life. At the beginning of this novel, she breaks the news to him that she cannot envision a small town life. Moreover, she’s met someone else. It’s over.

Laverty is heartbroken, wondering what he might have done differently, and wondering if he is really cut out for small town doctoring. Will he get bored? Will he grow increasingly frustrated when all the difficult cases have to be referred out? Should he pursue his interest in and talent for OB/GYN?

Dr. O’Reilly, on the other hand, is moving full-steam ahead with his romance with nurse Kitty O’Hallorhan. The only problem is that his long-time housekeeper and cook, Kinky, is getting nervous about being replaced.

The gentle progress of Laverty’s healing and O’Reilly’s courtship make for a pleasant plot arc. The medical emergencies and non-emergencies that they deal with along the way keep the book interesting. And, of course, their "arch-enemy", Councilor Bishop, is still up to no good and needs thwarting.

While the novels follow a pattern, they have some surprises and I’m sure I’ll keep following the developments. I’d like to see less of Laverty’s friend, Jack, who is a skirt-chasing surgeon who is getting more and more annoying, but the other characters are lots of fun.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

I really enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, so I was happy to receive her latest, The Music Shop, from Netgalley to review.

This is another sweet story about a lonely man with some endearing quirks who overcomes a painful past to find love.

Frank owns a music shop on a dead-end street in a not very fashionable corner of London. He was brought up by an unconventional mother who was obsessed with music and men, but not so much with being a mother. She raises Frank to distrust relationships both by example and by instruction. From his mother, he has learned to appreciate any kind of music so long as it is played on vinyl. He believes CDs are a fad and refuses to stock them. What keeps customers coming back is the service. Frank has a sixth sense for what customers need. He listens to their stories, learns what they think they want which usually isn’t really what they want, then plucks out just the right record to heal their souls.

One day, a slight, pretty woman faints in front of his store. Frank and his employee bring her in and revive her. She (Ilse Brauchmann) has a German accent and mysterious ways. She and Frank gaze into each other’s eyes and something happens. But they are both wounded and frightened. She disappears then returns with a "thank you" plant, disappears again but "forgets" her purse. Before long, she and Frank are meeting on Tuesday evenings for music lessons. He enthusiastically teaches her about all sorts of music, giving her records and instructing her to listen.

There are complications. She has a fiancee, so Frank won’t confide how he feels. Frank is so stand-offish that she won’t confide anything.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood is going downhill fast and record suppliers are pressuring Frank to sell CDs or else they will cut him off.

The story is sweet; however, it was an average read. The over-the-top quirkiness was a bit too much. The lack of communication between the characters was necessary and understandable, but it got to the point where I no longer cared if they got together. Frank, in particular, took so long to get over himself that I started to think Ilse was better off looking elsewhere–even if he was generally kind. Still, I think I would have enjoyed this more if it didn’t seem like I’d already read variations of the story. I’ve read a few books where bookshop owners had the unique gift of knowing just what book to put in the hands of characters drifting into their shops with various emotional needs, so it felt as though Joyce simply exchanged records for books. I am impressed, however, with the detailed knowledge of music and musicians Joyce was able to express through Frank.

For music lovers looking for a sweet love story, The Music Shop is a good bet. But for those who haven’t read Rachel Joyce yet, I’d recommend starting with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

HISTORICAL FICTION READING CHALLENGE- 2018



The first challenge I'm signing up for this year is in my favorite genre.  If I read nothing else, I'm sure to read historical fiction.  I'm going to go with the "Ancient History" level of 25 books or more. And I'm looking forward to checking out the reviews of other participants!

Sign up at Passages to the Past.

Links to my reviews will be listed below:

1. An Irish Country Courtship by Patrick Taylor

Monday, January 1, 2018

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS

2017 wasn't a great year for reading and blogging. There was a lot going on. The only challenge I signed up for was the Goodreads challenge and I didn't even complete that.

So, I'm going to pick a couple of my old favorite challenges and sign up for them. And my New Years resolution (one of them anyway) is to read more and blog more.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all. Let's hope 2018 is a good year!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: A Secret Sisterhood. The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

A Secret Sisterhood. The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney is another collection of focused historical biographies of famous women. (See also my review of What She Ate by Laura Shapiro.) This time, the women are all authors. The theme, or focus, of the biographies is on a particular friendship of each author with another female writer whose literary understanding and support were crucial to the careers of the women studied.

Utilizing newly mined resources including letters and journals, the authors of A Secret Sisterhood explore a specific relationship of each of the four women named in the title as well as the importance of female friendships in general.

Jane Austen befriended her niece’s governess, Anne Sharp, an amateur playwright. Despite the differences in their circumstances and despite chronic illness, Anne was one of Jane Austen’s most steadfast supporters.

Charlotte Brontë had not only her sisters as companions, but also an old school friend, Mary Taylor, whose unconventional life challenged Charlotte to be bolder in her writing and in her life.

George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe were pen pals who supported each other through personal and professional crises. That one surprised me. Moreover, George Eliot seemed to be the more sensitive and generous of the two, which also isn’t what I would’ve expected.

Finally, Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield were rivals as well as friends. They admired one another’s talent and spent very productive time in each other’s company, but they could also be jealous, catty, and back-biting.

Each of the mini-biographies is detailed and interesting. This book is a wonderful introduction to the lives of these writers seen through the lens of their friendships with like-minded women.

Friday, December 8, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Loving Luther by Allison Pittman

What a wonderful book I just read! Loving Luther by Allison Pittman was utterly captivating.

I’d seen the book on Netgalley and thought about requesting it because the subject interested me: a fictional biography of Katharina von Bora, Martin Luther’s wife. But I was dissuaded by the cover. (I know that’s not how I should judge a book.) The pretty, rather flirty woman gazing out from the cover made me think the book would be less serious, more of a Romance. And while I certainly read Historical Romance, I admit to being squeamish about reading one featuring Martin Luther as alpha male.

However, at the end of October, with the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing his Theses to the church door in Wittenberg and kicking off the Reformation, bits of Luther’s biography made its way into my consciousness in various venues. The fact that he was an ex-monk who married an ex-nun is a great basis for a historical novel. So I decided to give the book a shot.

I’m so glad! This is a beautiful, thoughtful story that explores the emotional and spiritual journey of this strong, independent-minded woman.

We are introduced to Katharina as a six-year-old child, abandoned at the door of an abbey by a weak-willed and impoverished father. She has a good family name and memories of her dead mother, but nothing else. Nothing unless you count her deep faith, inner strength, and innate intelligence. She is befriended by two slightly older girls who teach her the ropes, along with a bit of mischief and subdued subversion.

Katharina grows to young adulthood under the care of nuns. When she comes of age, despite serious doubts about her calling, she sees no choice but to take the veil. The novel portrays life in a nunnery in compelling, realistic detail–the good and the bad.

Although a devoted Christian, she continues to harbor doubts about God’s plan for her. When one of her friends begins smuggling in the writings of Martin Luther, Katharina’s consciousness awakes. She becomes a leader of a group of discontented, similarly questioning women. And when the chance arises, she leads the escape, orchestrated on the outside by Luther.

Luther understands the dilemma facing women who have fled the convent. They have nothing to their names. They can only hope their families take them back or that they will find husbands quickly. As he has an extensive network of friends from many backgrounds, he is quick to arrange introductions for those who need them. In the novel, at least, these introductions lead to happy marriages. Except for Katharina.

There is mutual admiration and friendship between Luther and Katharina from the moment they meet. But she doesn’t jump from the nunnery into his arms. Luther is significantly older, poor, and dedicated to his work. He’s attracted to her, but tries to set her up with someone more suitable, someone with more to offer.

Historically, we know how this is going to work out. Still, the pleasure in reading this novel comes from the way their relationship plays out. So without giving any more of the plot arc away, I’ll just reiterate what a lovely story it is. Pittman does this remarkable true love story justice. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Duke Knows Best by Jane Ashford

I received this book free from Netgalley. That did not influence my review.

I had a mini-vacation and wanted something light and quick to read, so I chose a Romance from Netgalley, although the vacation was in September and the release date isn’t until December, so I won’t be posting this review for a while. . .

The Duke Knows Best by Jane Ashford must take its title from the old TV series Father Knows Best, because the duke is not the protagonist but rather the protagonist’s father, who comes to the rescue in the book’s final chapters. The protagonist, Lord Randolph Gresham, is not a duke, not even heir to a dukedom, but a third or fourth son who has taken a living as a "country parson." Having suffered the tragic loss of a fiancé years before, Randolph is now prepared to return to London to seek a wife.

The heroine, Verity Sinclair, is the daughter of the dean of a cathedral. At twenty-four, she has finally convinced her parents that she deserves a London Season, and she’s determined to make the most of it. She’d going to find a husband who will take her out of her dull, dreary world to go adventuring.

The two are introduced at a small party and Verity, before giving the poor man a chance to open his mouth, announces that she is not interested in living in the countryside. For good measure, she insults those who do. (The incredible rudeness and almost ridiculous presumption in the way she addresses a stranger is jarring. While it’s understandable that she was stunned to realize the first handsome man she meets is exactly the type of man she most definitely doesn’t want, the reader’s initial impression of her is far from favorable.)

London Seasons being what they are, the two cross paths time and again. Verity continues to be unreasonably rude and Randolph tries to simply stay away from her. But at a small house party that includes musical performances by guests, the hostess asks that Verity and Randolph sing a duet. Their passion is ignited as they meld voices. The masterful duet is a stunning success.

Shortly, the Prince, alerted to the new phenomenon, commands a performance and they are unable to refuse. This means forced together time.

The relationship blossoms and they discover how compatible they actually are. There are subplots including a couple of silly young female friends/relatives who want to thwart convention and a Regency Mean Girl who Verity mistakenly befriends early on, believing her to be a fellow adventuress, before she understands how petty and cruel the woman is. Randolph, meanwhile, has troubles of his own stemming from an earlier career mishap that threatens to derail his future prospects in the church.

The story flows along, buoyed by the steadiness and charm of the hero. As Verity matures and changes course, the reader can truly root for the resolution of their difficulties and their ultimate happiness.