**spoiler alert** A Bucket of Ashes appears to the finale to the Nell Sweeney Mystery series.
Part of the appeal of historical fiction is the setting,**spoiler alert** A Bucket of Ashes appears to the finale to the Nell Sweeney Mystery series.
Part of the appeal of historical fiction is the setting, a chance to peer into the past. Part of the appeal of a mystery series is the characters, getting to know and like them. In a historical mysteries series, often times, the "mystery" is merely the form. It gives the characters something to do as their personal lives play out amid historical details.
This series is like that. Every book Nell and Will investigate a self-contained murder mystery. Over the whole series, their slow-burning romance plays out. Now it is over, both of their arcs cumulating in a wedding.
From the moment, early on in the series, when Nell confessed that her injuries had rendered her infertile, I knew exactly where this would end. And I was right. Everything is wrapped up. All snags are unraveled and all loose ends tied.
I'm not upset with how it ended, at how everyone gets a happy ending wrapped up in a neat little bow - that's fine. I'm very pleased that Nell got everything she ever wanted... but it all seemed to happen so quickly, so bloodlessly.
Nell's life would be ruined if anyone found out she was "expecting?" No one who finds out cares and those who would care don't find out. Mrs. Hewitt would freak out if she found out about Nell's convict husband? Nope. She's fine with it.
Duncan refuses cooperate with a divorce? Nope. He changes his mind. An 1870 divorce could take years and years and years? Nope. Mrs. Hewitt bribes it through in WEEKS. Nell's deeply ingrained and sincerely held religious convictions preclude a divorce? Nope. She just changes her religion.
Will left for war at the last book, to be gone for a long time? Nope. He's back. He's horribly injured? Ah, not important. Dr. Greaves gives him a miracle cure. Dr. Greaves wants to marry Nell himself? Uh oh, love triangle? Eh. He steps aside almost immediately.
For example, take Nell's growing doubts about her religious beliefs, seeing as how they tied her to a brutal prisoner. All fine and good. But she had previously been portrayed as someone deeply devout, not just in general but to a specific church with a specific doctrine. She's totally allowed to change her mind, of course, but realistically there should have been some anguish, or guilt, or regrets. The second someone offers her an alternative she's like "oh whelp, I guess you're right about that." Even her PRIEST is like "eh, whatever."
Also, this is 1870 Boston. Nell should have been far more worried about her pregnancy. Instead, she's says "Huh. This will be a problem. But, Yay! Baby!" This book, more than any of the others, suffers from a transplanting of modern values into a historical setting. I realize that she was a pragmatic, unemotional heroine - and I liked her for it - but this laissez-faire attitude is taking it too far.
In the end, A Bucket of Ashes ended a pleasant series well, but far too abruptly. ...more
I found this to be a very interesting, even-handed biography. Of course, it was first published in 1982 and felt to be to be a little old-fashioned. SI found this to be a very interesting, even-handed biography. Of course, it was first published in 1982 and felt to be to be a little old-fashioned. Sometimes, it's kind of stuffy and scholarly. At other times, it is also very personal, as the author had personally known her subject (being a friend of his daughter's). Kind of a weird mixture, but it mostly works. (I have to admit that I did skip a lot of the "literary analysis.")
The best part were the quotations from his own letters and diaries, especially those to his beloved wife and daughter. It includes a very balanced account of his controversial wartime broadcasts. The author, while clearly in his corner, also manages an fair-minded evaluation of the whole sorry mess.
Sometimes, Donaldson makes references and does not explain them, assuming her audience is as savvy as she is. For instance she makes a statement and says "Kipling was an obvious example" in support of it. Or she says "they are not the aunts of Saki Munro," imagining her audience nodding along going "of course!" In fact, across the pond and 30-odd years later, I know little about Kipling and less about Saki, so the comparisons are not as striking as she meant them to be. But I'll take her word for it.
But that said, it paints a very clear and affectionate picture of a beloved author, with all his eccentricities and foibles, and it doesn't shy away from his mistakes. Although slow-going at times, I enjoyed it in the end. ...more
Christmas With the Savages is a kind of fictionalized memoir. The characters are about eleven children between the (implied) ages of 4-12. The settingChristmas With the Savages is a kind of fictionalized memoir. The characters are about eleven children between the (implied) ages of 4-12. The setting is an Edwardian, English, upper-class Christmas gathering. This comic novel was first published in 1955, and was an attempt by its author to show her own children what her childhood was like. Most of the characters are based on her own family members.
In the novel, eight-year-old Evelyn is sent to spend Christmas with family friends, including three sets of cousins (the Savages, et al.). She is both repelled and attracted by their exuberant behavior and misadventures. No lessons are learned - it's not that kind of book. It's about nostalgia, and humor.
The humor, though, must have worked better on its original audience, those who had grown up in that world. I kind of felt like a stranger, not quite getting the jokes, not exactly understanding the references.
Although a lot of the tropes were foreign - the politics of nannies are quite outside my experience - I will say that Christmas with the Savages does one thing very well. It effectively evokes the exasperated stress of a group of children who may not necessarily know or like each other, being shoved together and told to go play.
I think my favorite part was when the children explored the attic and discovered a crawlspace through the rafters. This, I could relate to, since it was something I had always yearned to do as a kid. Alas, my grandparents lived in ranch houses and bungalows and no one had a real attic.
I might have liked it better if the children had been more likable. Evelyn declares that she treats he own nanny "like mud" and doesn't care a bit. The others aren't any better. As it is, they are kind of brats - or, at least, young people who have not yet developed a sense of empathy. ...more
**spoiler alert** Strangers on a Train was a very creepy read at first. I thought the second half dragged some, and the ending was anti-climatic.
So Gu**spoiler alert** Strangers on a Train was a very creepy read at first. I thought the second half dragged some, and the ending was anti-climatic.
So Guy Haines is on a train whereupon he meets Charles Bruno and they get to talking. Guy is exasperated by his soon-to-be ex-wife, Miriam, and Charles hates his philandering businessman father. Charles suggests that the two of them exchange murders. He will kill Miriam and then Guy can kill his Mr. Bruno and they could both get away with it since the police would be baffled. Guy laughs it off - until Miriam ends up dead.
Then Charles comes calling, demanding Guy hold up his end of the bargain. You can see why it appealed to Alfred Hitchcock. This is completely in his wheelhouse: totally innocent man dragged into something evil. It could have been written for him.
I have not seen the Hitchcock film, but I understand that it sticks to the first half of the novel, then rewrites the ending to make it happier. I get this, because the first half is the more enjoyable.
The narrative switches between Guy's point of view, and Charles's point of view. Guy is understandably horrified by what happened. Yet he doesn't go to the police, for a variety of reasons. Then it is too late. The stress and anguish and pressure build up until he finally cracks. Charles, meanwhile, latches onto Guy as his new best friend. It's all very tense and chilling.
It is after the second murder that I kind of lost interest. I kind of didn't believe that Guy would stoop to murder, no matter what Charles said or did. Charles's mental breakdown was interesting at first, but it is interspersed with Guy's increasing whining. I quickly got tired of all Guy's endless, stream-of-consciousness philosophizing and musings on guilt and dopplegangers and I don't know what else.
In the end, Charles drowns sorta accidentally and Guy sorta confesses to the police and the book ends without telling us what happened to him. ...more
In short, The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobb is a quick and decent read.
I think anyone would be forgiven for suspecting that this was a "rush job,"In short, The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobb is a quick and decent read.
I think anyone would be forgiven for suspecting that this was a "rush job," of sorts, commissioned by a publishing house to capitalize on the popularity on the juggernaut of a musical, to exploit the current intense interest in the Hamiltons. The cover designer certainly thought so.
On the other hand, I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for an author to plan and research and write and write and write and fact check and edit ... only to be eclipsed by someone else with the same idea. I suspect that is what happened here, a case of "simultaneous invention," as it were. The novel hits the same beats as the musical, but in more historically accurate fashion (as far as I know).
It is not epic, with no literary pretentions. It is a decently written, fast read, albeit a bit spotty on the plot, skipping over many years, skimming over supporting characters. The Hamilton Affair takes a "greatest hits" approach - giving the reader a sample of vignettes (chronologically ordered) about the lives of Alexander and Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, beginning in late childhood. Then it continues through the Revolutionary war, their courtship and marriage, careers, affairs, reconciliations, duels, etc.
Oddly, many of the "action scenes" are skipped (especially early on). The hurricane is not described, and barely mentioned, for example. Another chapter is spent with Eliza and her family worrying about what to do if Redcoats attack their farm. Later we learn that they did attack and the family did flee, but we are given no details.
Well, maybe not so oddly. The focus of the novel is on the Hamiltons' relationship and everything else sort of blurs away. Whether or not this is a good thing or not depends on what you are looking for.
I would say that this book is a good first step for those seeking more information, but not yet ready to tackle a massive biography, or for those who prefer the immediacy of a fictional approach. ...more
I have read many, many books about everyday life during the medieval era (okay, maybe half a dozen or so). This one is up at the top.
The Time TravelleI have read many, many books about everyday life during the medieval era (okay, maybe half a dozen or so). This one is up at the top.
The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England is very thorough. It goes into details that I don't remember any other author going into before, like weights and measures, time-keeping, and law enforcement.
Most "everyday life" type books do illustrate what houses looked like and what people ate, but this author goes beyond that, not only differentiates between country and city, but between various (many various) different social levels too. He describes not only clothing, but things like underwear and jewelry and the order in which they are put on.
Written in a very informal and dryly amusing manner, the book takes the point of view of the reader, describing what YOU would notice, what YOU would find odd - that kind of thing. Yet at the same time, the author makes the medieval person's point of view very clear, explaining how they were not stupid or ignorant, but were merely operating on a different world view with different sets of information and priorities. It's a very appealing and effective combination of techniques. ...more