Sunday, November 10, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Someone to Remember by Mary Balogh

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

I love Mary Balogh’s historical romances and have been following her latest series, “A Westcott Story” (or the “Someone to. . .”) since the beginning. The new release, Someone to Remember, is billed as a novella.  At 272 pages, it’s shorter and simpler than the longer novels in the series. It’s probably best to read some of the others in order to understand the large Westcott family and their sphere of influence before reading this one.

This is Mathilda’s story. Previously known as the spinster aunt, a fussy stickler for propriety, Mathilda was usually present but generally invisible until the previous book, Someone to Honor. Then she comes briefly to the fore—boldly, if secretly, approaching a man from her past to help solve a crisis in the family.

That action draws the man, Viscount Dirkson, into the Westcott world where he and Mathilda rediscover one another.

Interestingly, Mathilda is in her mid-to-late fifties, making her an unusual heroine for a Regency Romance. Her only prior experience with love was when she was a debutante. She was courted by Dirkson, who was then merely Charles Sawyer. Charles was very young (as was she) and known to be wild. When he asked her father for her hand, her father refused. Obedient daughter that she was, Mathilda sent Charles away. He became even wilder, seemingly proving that her parents were correct to deny his suit. But Mathilda never loved another.

A good deal of this short novel is taken up explaining the backstory and reminding the reader of who’s who in the expanding Westcott saga. But, since the Westcotts are old friends by now, I was pleased to get the reminders and a hint of what they are currently up to. The progress of the now-resumed romance proceeds smoothly and chastely. There are no surprises, except, perhaps for the reaction of Mathilda’s grumpy mother. The book lacks the steamy love scenes of Balogh’s other books, though it does imply that Mathilda and Charles are not too old to feel passionate. It’s a good, solid romance that gives Mathilda a voice. It also introduces new single young people who may well end up getting books of their own.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Miss Susie Slagle's by Augusta Tucker

Miss Susie Slagle’s by Augusta Tucker, originally published in 1939, is an interesting look at the life of medical students at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1912, the glory days of the founding of modern medical education in the United States.

Miss Slagle runs a boarding house for medical students and has supported numerous young doctors-to-be through the process with her good nature and unconditional caring. The book opens with introductions to her current boarders, all with different backgrounds and very different personalities, motivations, weaknesses, and ambitions. It takes us through four years, highlighting their training and interpersonal relationships.

Descriptions of Baltimore and of the hospital at that time are lush and detailed. The rigorous training is aptly portrayed.  It’s a lovely period piece. However, it’s dated in style. The male-female relationships all progress from love at first sight and none seem realistic. Women are presented in a condescending way, even when the author intends admiration. Racist views permeate the book in a way that is rather nauseating to a modern reader. Although widely read in its day and even made into a movie, the book is now more valuable as a window into the past than as entertaining fiction.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

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

I read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout almost eight years ago so the details are fuzzy, but I remember being moved by the characterizations. A follow-up novel, Olive, Again, has recently been released and it’s a worthy successor.

This novel is also a collection of vignettes, stories about the inhabitants of Olive’s small Maine town, whose lives swirl around and occasionally intersect with that of the curmudgeonly retired school teacher. For the most part, the characters in this story are older than in the original. Delving deeply into their psyches using glimpses of daily life, Olive, Again is a masterful portrayal of loneliness, aging, resignation, and a smidgen of hope. Olive is as uncompromising as ever, but her perspective shifts as her world shrinks and there is some healing in her relationships.

Although it’s a fairly quick read, it’s a melancholy book. Strout has a gift for storytelling that can make a reader think and feel. Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again should not be missed.