06 March 2009

Books Read Since February 11

• The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, Lauren Willig
The fifth entry in Willig's "Pink Carnation" series finds her modern heroine, graduate student Eloise Kelly, getting on swimmingly with her new beau Colin—if she can ignore the references to "spies" that have been leveled at him by a jealous old girlfriend. Could Colin be following in the footsteps of his ancestor Richard Selwick, the "Purple Gentian"? The Napoleonic flashbacks in this entry are more about perceptions of the world and oneself than the previous romance-novel complications as Robert Lansdowne returns to England to right a wrong and finds himself falling in love with his bookish cousin Charlotte (close friend to Henrietta Selkirk Dorrington), whose idea of love is full of more fantasy than reality. Those longing for flaming sexual tension will have to look elsewhere; Robert and Charlotte are a charming couple, but their courtship is strictly low-key. However, the story about King George's possible lapse into another fit of madness and Robert's involvement with a creepy "Hellfire Club" will keep the pages turning. These books are all fun, but I felt real kinship with Charlotte despite her naiveté.

• Quoth the Maven and Spread the Word, William Safire
The usual entries in Safire's collections from his "On Language" column. If you're interested in the use of words, the misuse of words, and other lexicological matters, these volumes are a continuation of a good thing. My favorite part of all of these books are the responses Safire includes with the entries, pointing out his own errors or arguing usage with him. Some of them are very funny and come from familiar sources, such as Alistair Cooke.

• Raisins and Almonds and Murder in Montparnasse, Kerry Greenwood
Dani has chatted so much about the Phryne [pronounced "Fry-nee"] Fisher mysteries in her book blog that I was quite eager to try one or two. Sadly, the Cobb County library system has only three of the series (which numbers around eighteen now) and none of those the first book. So I tried these two, numbers #9 and #12 respectively. Since I didn't read the first story, I have had to glean knowledge of Phryne's history: apparently she was brought up in a hardscrabble Melbourne, Australian household, then inherited money from distant family in England. Now she lives in Melbourne again, comfortably rich, a free-spirited flapper with servants, two wards (girls she rescued from squalid conditions), a secretary, a police contact, an exotic Hispano-Suiza motorcar, and a Chinese lover. She operates as an inquiry agent/detective, drove an ambulance during World War I, and, oh yeah, has an active sex life.

Phryne is an intriguing character surrounded by a stable of other interesting supporting characters. The books are great fun. Raisins and Almonds involves a mystery in the Jewish community while Murder in Montparnasse reunites Phryne with an acquaintance from her postwar years. However, I did get a bit tired of the description of Phryne as a "Dutch doll" (do most modern readers even know what this means?) and I guess I'm a prude, but it bothered me that Phryne is continuing to be someone's lover after he's married, even if it is an arranged marriage and the future wife doesn't mind. YMMV.

• Among the Mad, Jacqueline Winspear
Sixth in Winspear's series about Maisie Dobbs, private investigator and psychologist, whose cases usually involve some form of aftermath from World War I. Following an incident involving a war veteran on Christmas Eve 1931, Maisie's name is mentioned in a note to the Prime Minister threatening great loss of life. She is cleared by the police, but is drawn into the investigation as mysterious events begin to happen, like the hideous death of some stray dogs, as the mysterious correspondent insists something be done for war veterans. In the meantime, she also tries to help Doreen Beale, wife of her assistant Billy, who has sunken into debilitating depression after the death of her child.

This is quite a chilling novel as the suspense is notched up chapter by chapter and a madman's plot is slowly exposed. If the mystery itself isn't creepy enough, Doreen's treatment in a psychiatric hospital will certainly make you glad you live in this century and not the last.

And...sigh...as excited as I was about the Astaire/Rogers mystery, I gave up on it not even halfway through. It was about communists and the murder of a Russian, lots of Sol Hurok malapropping his way through conversations, and name-dropping. I may not have been in the mood.

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