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I Capture the Castle–class structure in mid-20th century England
I Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith
To label I Capture the Castle as a “coming of age” story is true, but the novel is so much more. It is related in her journal by Cassandra who lives in poverty under the leaky roof of a crumbling castle. Her father Mortmain is a writer with one successful book to his credit before he hit a writing desert. He secured a forty-year lease on the castle on a whim. The other residents are his son, another daughter, a boy taken in when his servant mother passed, and Topaz, the children’s stepmother. All in the family realize that the only way out of their financial straits is for at least one of the girls to marry into a rich family.
Author Dodie Smith has gifted us with a book full of nonconventional characters, a beautiful romantic background, and moral dilemmas. The plot begins with touches reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice but deviates fairly quickly. There is a similar theme of class differences, but without Austen’s use of satire. Two of the potential romantic interests grew up in America, one in the East and one in the West. Their backgrounds add another layer of social and cultural differences. Cassandra’s family is caught in the middle. They clearly had money in the past, but they have sold off most of their belongings and are reduced to very meager meals and one or two threadbare outfits per person. They have to be very creative to be acceptable in the social milieu to which they aspire.
I Capture the Castle has the depth necessary for a book to stand the test of time and appeal to a wide audience. It includes topics like women’s roles, art and sexuality, depression, literary criticism, and the laws of inheritance in Great Britain. While it addresses these issues, it remains an interesting and well-told tale with an ending that does not tie everything up neatly. Instead, it gives the reader the opportunity to speculate on the characters’ future decisions and actions which is a good way for this novel to conclude.
Category: Romance, General Fiction
Notes: 1. There are discussion questions at the end.
2. The book has been made into a movie.
Publication: 1948—St. Martin’s Press
I am writing this journal partly to practice my newly acquired speed-writing and partly to teach myself how to write a novel—I intend to capture all our characters and put in conversations. It ought to be good for my style to dash along without much thought, as up to now my stories have been very stiff and self-conscious.
The taxi drew up at a wonderful shop—the sort of shop I would never dare to walk through without a reason. We went in by way of the glove and stocking department, but there were things from other departments just dotted about; bottles of scent and a little glass tree with cherries on it and a piece of white branched coral on a sea-green chiffon scarf. Oh, it was an artful place—it must make people who have money want to spend it madly!
In the end, Topaz got Stephen to take the hen-house door off its hinges and make some rough trestles to put it on, and we pushed it close to the window-seat, which saved us three chairs. We used the grey brocade curtains from the hall as a table-cloth—they looked magnificent though the join showed a bit and they got in the way of our feet. All our silver and good china and glass went long ago, but the Vicar lent us his, including his silver candelabra.
Murder in a Teacup–who had the opportunity to murder?
Murder in a Teacup
by Vicki Delany
The Locality: Cape Cod Bay in North Augusta, Massachusetts
The Setting: Victoria-on-Sea, a B&B owned by the elderly Rose Campbell
Tea by the Sea, a tearoom on the B&B property operated by Rose’s granddaughter Lily Roberts
Friends: Bernie, AKA the Princess Warrior, a frustrated writer
Simon McCracken, horticulturalist from England hired as a temporary gardener
Pets: Rose’s cat Robbie
Lily’s Labradoodle, Éclair
Vicki Delany’s Murder in a Teacup centers around a family reunion with events at both businesses. The organizer is Heather, a very wealthy, young, New York widow who is paying all expenses for the trip for her grandmother and her estranged, greedy family—her father, mother, brother and his wife and their two teenagers—all from Idaho. Also included in the fun are Heather’s brother-in-law and his wife. No one seems to know that the other side of the family is invited. If you look up “dysfunctional” in the dictionary, you will probably find this family listed as an example.
There is a death that is possibly attributable to something served at one of the establishments. That is bad news for both businesses when the police shut down the tearoom. Not only are cancellations necessary, but social media is going to have a field day. Lily cooks for both facilities. Rose and Lily desperately need to be open as they depend on summer tourist income to get them through the winter. The further complication is that the murderer must still be at the B&B and is probably part of the family.
I kept changing my mind as to who the murderer is: an easy thing to do with so many unlikable characters. Pulling together possible motives is easier than pinpointing opportunity once the method of murder is discovered. The identity reveal comes as a shock to the characters and to the reader.
There are subplots that add interest. Lily’s life has an intense pace as she puts in 12-14 hour days seven days a week struggling to make both businesses succeed. Bernie gave up her Manhattan job as a forensic accountant to become a writer but is having trouble settling into her new profession. There are the barest beginnings of a romance for both young ladies. The pets are ever-present but don’t participate much in the action. I enjoyed watching the conflict between the two detectives on the case play out. One is lazy and fumbling. His counterpart is sharp and cares. Both are limited in what information they can share with Lily and the others making it more difficult for Lily, Rose, and Bernie in their informal investigations, but they persist anyway.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #2 in the Tea by the Sea Mystery Series, but is excellent as a standalone as the author provides all needed background information while diving into the current story.
2. Recipes at the end of the book include Chocolate Chip Cookies for children’s tea, Shortbread Cookies, and Curried Egg Salad Sandwiches.
Publication: July 21, 2021—Kensington
Plump orange and raisin scones in the middle, perfectly cut sandwiches on the bottom, delicious sweets on the top: a carefully controlled explosion of color, shape, and flavor.
Matt was a true-crime writer, successful enough to have been able to buy his family property when his father wanted to sell it, but not successful enough to be able to pay for all the renovations it needed.
“Stay!” Her ears dropped, her face crumbled, her tail drooped. Slowly, ever so slowly, she crawled under the table and sat down. She let out a mighty sigh and stared at me through enormous liquid brown eyes. “Drama queen,” I said as I bent over and reached under the table to give her an affectionate pat.
Booked for Death–murders, books, and suspicion
Booked for Death
by Victoria Gilbert
Victoria Gilbert, a retired librarian, has started a second series for those who love all things bookish. In Booked for Death, Charlotte, a widow, has inherited a large home from her Great Aunt Isabella whose life was a mystery to her family. Already an established B&B, the inn is called Chapters because of the extensive library it houses which includes many rare books. In keeping with the various themes, Charlotte hosts special events centered on authors and books.
In Booked for Death, the week’s focus is British writer Josephine Tey. As the participants dive into one of her mysteries, there is a murder at the B&B. There are many suspects with legitimately plausible motivations for killing bookseller Lincoln Delamont as he was not a very nice man. Charlotte tries to find out as much as she can about all the people who were at the B& B at the time of the murder. Information comes out gradually as to backgrounds and alibis. Charlotte, who has a reason to wish Lincoln dead, is one of the suspects but soon finds her own life in danger.
There are many interesting characters. Some of those will clearly appear in future books in the series—her friend Julie, housekeeper and cook Alicia, and neighbor Ellen. Others may or may not make a reappearance. Charlotte’s investigations take her to the dusty, cluttered attic to try to understand her great aunt’s complicated past.
Most of the book is well-written. There is a small portion that has stilted dialogue between Ellen and Charlotte, but most of the book, which is written in first person, flows smoothly. I did not guess who the murderer is, but the reveal is both surprising and nicely disclosed. The conclusion is very satisfying and so well played that I read the last few pages twice just to enjoy both the implications for future books and the written words themselves. It is easy to see how this book can segue into even bigger mysteries in future books with legitimate, not contrived, investigations.
I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Crooked Lane Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1.#1 in the Booklovers B&B Mystery Series
2. The second book in the series, Reserved for Murder, is scheduled for release on June 8, 2021.
3. I have one criticism of the book (in its ARC form) which may well have been altered for publication. The author overused the term “narrowed/narrowing his/her eye” (15 times) and “side-eyed” (8 times). I’m sure with a little creativity, the author can find other ways to explain the character’s expressions. This issue was overshadowed for me by the intricacies of the plot, some beautifully written passages, and the excellent ending which left me looking forward to the next book in the series.
Publication: June 9, 2020—Crooked Lane Books
Her vivacious beauty, undimmed even in her later years, had seemed far too exotic for our rather unexceptional family. Like a butterfly among the moths, I thought, as I laid down the photo and picked up another.
“I was hungry,” Tara said, fixing me with a glare that would’ve frozen the blood of most adults. But I’d taught high school for far too long to be intimidated by such tactics.
“…she wasn’t believed when she told the truth as a child. And honestly, it’s not always easy to share our deepest pain, even with the ones we love.”
Lady Clementine–frustrated power
by Marie Benedict
I had to work hard as I read Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict to differentiate my feelings about Clementine Churchill as the wife of a historical figure, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of England during World War II, and Clementine, a character of historical fiction fleshed out by the author based on background information. In this book, which was both interesting and informative, I struggled because I just didn’t like Clementine. The story of her fight to be a changing force in a time when women had no power seems genuine, but I just could not identify with her inner turmoils. Part of her stress is a result of the “poor little rich girl” syndrome. For example, she complains multiple times of the difficulties of trying to live the rich life style her husband’s rank and tastes demand while on a limited budget and with an inadequate number of domestic servants. My biggest moment of disgust was when, for her nerves, she has to get away from it all for an extended retreat by herself at a facility in France and bemoans the fact that she can only afford to take her personal maid with her to care for her needs. She has to leave the rest of the domestics at home to care for the house, Winston, and the children. I realize that as I am not part of the aristocracy, understanding her dilemma is a reach for me, but I find it ironic that Clementine focuses much of her time and energy on helping women who can’t take fifteen minutes to themselves much less several months. The part I can empathize with is her struggle to balance efforts to promote and aid her husband with her own self-efficacy and the responsibilities of her family. Her family, except for her youngest daughter Mary, turn out to be the losers in this battle.
Although not a page turner, Lady Clementine is well written and prompts me to want to read some nonfiction about the Churchills. There is no doubt that they played a pivotal role in the defeat of the Nazis in World War II. If I don’t find them very likable, despite the more intimate conversations between them as “Pug” and “Cat,” the fault may be that they are both politicians, but in different ways. Politicians, in general, are self-concerned, and Winston and Clementine live that out in the pages of this book. They do good works but are always concerned about how those works reflect back on them.
I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Sourcebooks Landmark for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Historical Fiction
Publication: January 7, 2020—Sourcebooks Landmark
“Since I was a young boy, I’ve had the unerring sense that my future and that of Great Britain were inextricably intertwined. That I would be called upon to rescue our nation in a time of tremendous turmoil.”
My husband’s discerning eye perceives all but the threats standing right in front of him, and it seems that I may have to serve as the sentinel of his personal landscape and the gatekeeper of our shared ideals and our marriage.
If he had slapped me, I could not have been more wounded. He only thinks about my identity and my worth in terms of the possessive, in terms of what I mean and what I do for him. I realize for the first time how dependent I’ve been on Winston for his admiration and how reliant I am for his permission to assume my own power, even if it is power derived from his own. No longer.
Broken Heart Attack–good series
Broken Heart Attack
by James J. Cudney
The best way for me to describe the beginning of Broken Heart Attack is “hyperactive,” a label which is meant to be descriptive, not positive or negative. Author James J. Cudney packs a lot into the first several chapters as he brings readers up to speed on the events in the first book of the series and introduces a complex plot with a lot of characters.
The main mystery of Broken Heart Attack centers around the Paddington family, murder, and a missing will. Unfortunately, the Paddington family is quite dysfunctional, and there is not one member of the family that I could relate to or invest myself in. In other words, by the end of the book, I really didn’t care who the murderer was.
A side issue to the murder is a paternity case. Other stories that affect the main character, Kellan, continue from the first book but make little progress: the reappearance of a presumed dead wife, conflict with co-worker Myriam, a potential love triangle involving friends Connor and Maggie, and a possible softening in his relationship with Sheriff Montague.
I purchased this book; it was not an advance copy. Therefore, I was surprised to see a number of errors. Some were obviously a case of autocorrect gone wrong, some were spelling, and some were, more egregiously, pronoun usage. This is particularly startling because the author rarely has errors in his posted book reviews.
On the positive side, Nana D continues to provide humor and Kellan is a likeable character. Would I read another book in this cozy mystery series? Absolutely! I would particularly like to see what happens as Kellan is pressured by his wife’s mob family, the Castiglianos. I would urge the author to write the next book at a less frenetic pace with more character development. He has the beginnings of a good series with interesting plots and a college setting that provides a background with multiple possibilities. The Braxton Campus Mystery Series definitely has a lot of potential.
Notes: #2 in the Braxton Campus Mystery Series. It could be read as a standalone, but would be more fun in sequence.
Publication: November 25, 2018—Creativia
I loved my nana, but her friends were harder to handle than standing upside down catching a greasy pig in a mud slide.
Eustacia and Nana D had some sort of symbiotic relationship where they often couldn’t stand to be around one another but if ever two days went by without time for tea or gossip, the world might’ve come to an end.
I woke up Thursday morning with a hangover so painful my head had put out a foreclosure sign.
Surprise Me–will surprises keep a marriage vital?
by Sophie Kinsella
I have really enjoyed books by Sophie Kinsella and was looking forward to reading her newest book Surprise Me. At first I felt like I was the one “surprised” in a disappointed kind of way. The characters in Surprise Me are two-dimensional, the premise is bland, and the attempts at humor are not very effective—for the first half of the book. The novel was good enough for me to plug on, however, and I’m glad I did. The pace and interest pick up dramatically in the second half. The characters grow and develop and become people you can actually care about. The original proposition seems silly: how do you live with and love the same person for over sixty years? I know the world is changing a lot in terms of longevity of marriages, but there are many examples that demonstrate the success of long marriages and the happiness of people in such marriages.
There are many surprises for the reader and the main character Sylvie as she discovers that she does not really know the people close to her as well as she thought she did. In encountering difficulties, she discovers a strength she never knew she had. There are a lot of negative feelings associated with this book and a lot less fun fluff than initially appears to be the case or is usually associated with Kinsella’s books such as the Shopaholic series. Although I came away with mixed feelings, I also took away some serious musings about the ability of testing in life to help build character.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House (Dial Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance
Publication: February 13, 2018 — Random House (Dial Press)
Living with five-year-old twins is like living in a Communist state. I don’t quite count out the Shreddies into the bowls every morning to make sure things are equal, but… Actually, I did once count out the Shreddies into the bowls. It was quicker.
“Oh, marriage.” She makes a snorting sound. “Did you not read the disclaimers? ‘May cause headache, anxiety, mood swings, sleep disturbance, or general feelings of wanting to stab something.’ ”
“If we don’t stick up for the ones we love, then what are we good for?”
Murder in the Dark–at the “Last Great Party”???
Murder in the Dark
by Kerry Greenwood
I read Murder in the Dark intermittently in the midst of traveling and chaos, but I always looked forward to returning to it and was never disappointed. Invariably, the character of Phryne Fisher as a sleuth is delightful. In this book, the regulars of the series play a role, but a minor one, as little action occurs in Phryne’s home setting, but at an old rented estate where a rich and magnetizing brother and sister are holding what they bill as the Last Great Party of the year. Phryne has been invited to stop a threatened murder of the host. She has also been personally warned away from the affair. Anyone who knows Phryne understands that such threats only serve to ensure her attendance.
These mysterious warnings are entwined with other puzzling events once the weeklong party begins. Phryne must use her deductive and social skills to solve the mysteries. She also enlists the help of a variety of people she encounters, both servants and other guests. The resolutions of the mysteries are surprising and not without action scenes. I love that Phryne spends her spare time at the event reading an Agatha Christie novel.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Mystery, Historical Fiction
- heavy doses of drug use, sex, and gender transposition
- #16 in the Phryne Fisher Mystery series
Publication: May 2, 2017—Poisoned Pen Press
“Dot has a talent for being happy.”
Phryne didn’t believe in rigid routines. They robbed the day of spontaneity.
Her childhood had been so poor that Phryne still got a vague thrill when she turned on a tap and hot water came out.