Thursday, August 24, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Back in the day, I had the same reaction as Elaine Benes (from Seinfeld) to the movie The English Patient. Although it isn’t a popular opinion, I was bored throughout. As a consequence, I never read the book by Michael Ondaatje, even though I know novels are almost always better than the movies based upon them.

Well, I finally picked up the book. Bits of it are familiar from the movie, but the book contains so much more.

Revolving around the lives of four characters whose paths cross in a bombed-out Italian villa as World War II is ending, it shows various ways that people are injured by war. The title character, identified through most of the book as simply the English patient, is an unknown. He may not actually be English. Burned beyond recognition, he doesn’t even know himself. However, he retains memories of a tragic love affair and those memories trickle out over the course of the novel.

His caregiver, Hana, is a young nurse struggling with numerous losses. She refused to leave her patient as her colleagues retreated further north. These two are joined by a thief who had been employed by the army as a spy. He had been friends with Hana’s father many years earlier and retains an affection for her. When he heard her name mentioned in a random place, he resolved to find her. He becomes interested in the patient as his suspicions grow that the man was also a spy, but for the Germans. The fourth character is a young Indian sapper, named Kip, skilled at defusing bombs. Their overlapping stories are told in segments that combine memory with ongoing action.

While much of the language is beautiful and the story intricately told, my overall reaction was mixed. In parts, the self-conscious literary style grew plodding and my interest flagged before I could sort out the meaning. My favorite parts were the more straightforward presentations of Kip’s skill at deactivating bombs of increasing complexity. In fact, Kip quickly became my favorite character.

The love story that I remember as central to the movie does not seem compelling in the book. It was a brief adulterous affair with an element of obsession but unconvincing love.

This may have been a book that I would have enjoyed more if I had never seen the movie. Other readers may be interested in comparing the two.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Match Me If You Can by Michelle Willingham

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

Match Me If You Can by Michelle Willingham is the delightful third book in the Regency Romance series, The School For Spinsters.

Emma Bartholomew is a low-status gentlewoman who has not succeeded in finding a husband despite five seasons in the marriage mart. Her stepmother is resorting to desperate measures (an auction!) to marry her off. Emma’s failure to attract a husband is due to a lack of self-confidence which is in turn due to the fact that she is almost blind. She has none of the usual female accomplishments. But she does possess an internal strength that has helped her to navigate the world though she is nearly sightless. And she refuses to be auctioned off. She takes herself to Miss Harding’s School for Young Ladies, otherwise known as the School for Spinsters. Miss Harding is a matchmaker.

Cormac Ormond, Earl of Dunmeath, is in desperate need of a wife and, even more importantly, an heir. So desperate, he has an off-putting tendency to propose to women within 10 minutes of meeting them. His desperation stems from the belief that he is dying of the same illness that took his grandfather, father, and older brother. It’s a family curse, affecting only the males. 

Cormac meets Emma at a party where they briefly converse. They meet again at the School, where Miss Harding has invited Cormac and a few other men to dinner so that Emma can practice conversation. Cormac deduces Emma’s secret blindness. But he also understands the strength of her character. Emma is drawn to him, yet when he blurts her secret out in company, making her an object of pity as well as ridicule, she believes he is untrustworthy and wants nothing further to do with him. Until he confides his secret to her.

Emma doesn’t believe in the family curse, although she certainly believes in his illness. She’s determined to save him. This novel highlights the struggles of these unconventional protagonists as they find their way to love.

Monday, August 14, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Tales of Timeless Romance: A collection of tales from “The Write Track” contest finalists 2022

Whether you are a die-hard historical romance reader or just curious to dip your toe into the genre, Tales of Timeless Romance: A collection of tales from “The Write Track” contest finalists 2022 is an enjoyable taste of romance. The collection includes 6 novellas by authors Sophia Nye, Lois Templin, Kel O’Connor, Elizabeth Donne, Sarah Richmond, and Isabella Hargreaves. Three are based on Robin Hood and his Merrymen, two are set in the world of Arthurian legends, and one is a re-imagining of the love story between Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning (with fictional protagonists.) The stories each run roughly 120 pages. The steam level varies from sweet to steamy. There’s something here for everyone who wants to read a quick love story!

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: The House of Lamentations by S. G. MacLean

The Captain Damian Seeker series by S.G. MacLean is one of the most compelling historical political thriller series that I’ve come across. Start with The Seeker. You won’t be disappointed.

After reading The Bear Pit (book 4) I was so impatient for book 5 that I bought the ebook because that was the earliest release I could obtain. But then, concerned it was the last book in the series, I put off reading it because I didn’t want the story to end. Then, unfortunately, it fell off my radar and languished on my TBR pile. Until I saw that there will be a book six released in September. 

I pulled out my ipad and settled down to enjoy The House of Lamentations

Set in the mid-1600s near the end of Cromwell’s controversial reign as Lord Protector, the novels bring the time period to life with all its idealism, uncertainty, and violence. Captain Damian Seeker is one of Cromwell’s most loyal men. He began his career in the army, but now serves as an enforcer and spy. He is a brutal man with a complicated past and a soft core.

After the events of book 4, Seeker is sent to Bruges to keep tabs on loyalist ex-pats who are plotting against Cromwell. Seeker takes on the identity of “John Carpenter,” insinuating himself easily into places the royalists would not like him to be. There is a double agent working within royalist circles who feeds information to Seeker. However, since their plots are consistently foiled, higher-ups have concluded there must be a spy in Bruges and they are sending a “she-intelligencer” to uncover him.

Strangers come and go in Bruges and Seeker tries to keep tabs on them all. His most pressing current task is to identify the “she-intelligencer” before she can discover his contact or, worse, expose him. But he has an even more pressing concern. He has been separated for more than a year from the woman he loves back in England. Now, with Cromwell’s England becoming more violent and more of a dictatorship, Maria’s brother has decided to move to Massachusetts and take Maria along. Seeker races against time to complete his mission and return to England to reunite with her before she goes.

The complex plotting will keep readers guessing. The atmospheric writing is superb. Seeker’s internal conflicts keep him as compelling a protagonist as ever. Now, on to book 6!