18 February 2011

Historical Fiction Challenge 2011: There Must be Murder - Margaret C. Sullivan

Summary: Henry and Catherine Tilney are content with their married life: a comfortable parsonage, their dogs, and one another. The idea of returning to Bath a year after they first met there seems like it can only add to their happiness; but Catherine finds that Bath still
carries social dangers that she must learn to navigate. What is the nature of Henry's past relationship with a beautiful young woman? Why is a rakish baronet paying Catherine such particular attention? Is General Tilney going to marry the woman known in Bath as The Merry Widow—and what did she have to do with her husband's death? And will Henry ever be able to keep his Newfoundland out of the river? Revisit the winter pleasures of Georgian Bath with your favorite characters from Jane Austen's hilarious Northanger Abbey, and prepare for a bit of romance, a bit of mystery, and a very nice story indeed! (Summary
Source: Amazon)
Comments: I must say in the beginning, I love the way Mags writes, so take my effusions with a grain of salt if you must, but this is just such a wonderful story. Ms. Sullivan retains the main characters of the Tilney clan, which now includes Catherine Morland, as the wife of
the Reverend Henry Tilney of Woodston parish, and adds a new family known to the Tilneys, the Beauclerks, and some strong supporting characters.

Henry suggests to Catherine that they return to Bath on the anniversary of the day they met there one year previously. Traveling with MacGuffin, their Newfoundland, and Matthew, Henry's very intelligent and subtle clerk/groom, the couple venture to Bath. Unexpectedly, they meet General Tilney, Henry's less than delightful father, who is there with the intention, it appears, of courting Lady Beauclerk, a widowed friend of the family who inherited a good deal of money on her husband's recent death. Eleanor, Henry's sister, and her husband (Viscount) Lord Whiting, are also in Bath so perhaps all is not lost in the trip. Lord Whiting is charming, funny, and rather blunt. Eleanor is charming as ever and kind almost to a fault.
Lady Beauclerk has taken a place in Bath with her still unmarried though etherial daughter, Miss Beauclerk whose beauty and charm are enough to make poor Catherine feel clunky in comparison. Thankfully, Henry is always Henry and there is no hint that he's interested in
Miss Beauclerk and does his best to reassure Catherine. Catherine is also introduced to Philip Beauclerk, the nephew of Lady Beauclerk, who will inherit the Beauclerk estate.

Catherine must learn how not to let her love of Gothic mysteries get the better of her (as it did in Northanger Abbey) when Lord Beauclerk's slightly odd sister accuses Lady Beauclerk and Miss Beauclerk of killing their husband/father. 
Mags has crafted some charming characters including Matthew, who is intelligent, and a skilled "spy" for Henry. Lord Whiting is so real that when I last read Northanger Abbey, I expected him to be in the story.  Henry and Catherine are true to their characters, though perhaps Catherine is a bit wiser now. Would I be too terrible if I said one of my favorite characters is MacGuffin? I hope not. The illustrations are wonderful - Great job - Cassandra Chouinard. This is a great story and I highly recommend it.

Camellia in bloom

Camellia: This sweet camellia was in our backyard when we bought this property. It is large, probably 13 or so feet tall and was perfectly shaped. When all the pines went down during Ivan, the camellia lost it's back half. It looked perfect from the front, but completely flat from the back. Even after all that damage, it still looks great and has filled in since the 2005 storm. Here is a beautiful bloom photo I took today. 

17 February 2011

Spring is ...

springing - at least at my office. Maples are starting to bud out. Thank goodness. 

The Secret of Chimneys

The Secret of Chimneys ~ Agatha Christie ~ 1925
Summary: A bit of adventure and quick cash is all that good-natured drifter Anthony Cade is looking for when he accepts a messenger job from an old friend. It sounds so simple: deliver the provocative memoirs of a recently deceased European count to a London publisher. But the parcel holds more than scandalous royal secrets. It contains a stash of letters that suggest blackmail - and lead to the murder of a stranger who's been shadowing Anthony's every move. Discovering the dead man's identity means retracing his steps - to the rambling estate of Chimneys where darker secrets, and deadlier threats, await anyone who dares to enter.
Comments: No Poriot, no Miss Marple, but tan, educated, charming, intelligent Anthony Cade. A ner-do-well to be sure, but bound by a task and unflinching to complete it. Sigh.
Anthony Cade is the center of this story that starts in Africa and leads to London via the repercussions of the failing government of Herzoslovakia that will have an impact in many other countries, including England. Cade is leading a group of British tourists - a job he hates, but it pays the bills when approached by Jimmy McGrath, an old friend, who asks Cade to take the memoirs of Count Stylptitch to a publisher in London. Many, many, people want this memoir to disappear, so it's not a violence-free chore, but it could be exciting - much more so than touring a bunch of old people around. McGrath also asks Cade to take a bunch of letters to Mrs. Virginia Revel - letters that it appears she wrote to her lover while married. McGrath thinks that backmail may be involved and it would be the right thing to do to return the letters to Mrs. Revel. Now widowed, Mrs. Revel is an independent woman who speaks her mind. Though young, she is observant, intelligent and accustomed to getting what she wants. That's simple, since she's a beauty as well.
While I would love to go through the entire story in detail, that would defeat the purpose of my comments. There are several recognizable Christie characters in The Secret of Chimneys, or I should say characters in this book will become recognizable as types in later works. Cade is the independent man who you can trust even though you may not know his entire story. Virginia Revel is a type that is easily seen in other Christie works - this is not a negative.
I enjoy these types of characters. There are a couple of plot twists that I didn't expect and a romance that I did. The Scotland Yard Inspector Battle is sincere in his duties, intelligent and secretive, but still very likable. The French Inspector (involved because Count Stylpitch) died in Paris, Monsieur Lemoine, has some of the (slightly annoying) qualities of Poirot. There is an interesting sub plot to the two murders in the book - King Victor, the exquisite jewlery thief has recently been released from prision and may be at Chimneys to steal something left there, perhaps, many years ago.

One of my favorite parts in the book, I have to note since it won't give anything away. While trying to make heads and tales of all the things happened at Chimneys, Cade says, "Watson to your Sherlock, in fact?" "Detective stories are mostly bunkum," said Battle unemotionally. "But they amuse people," he added as an afterthought. "And they're useful sometimes." Love Christie's sense of humor. 
The Secret of Chimneys is a very good Christie read, while comfortably predictable in some ways, there were turns in other parts. A very enjoyable read.

16 February 2011

Austen Blogs I Enjoy

A modern Miss Austen*
I have a list of Austen and Austen-related blogs that I read on a regular (daily) basis. Sometime last year I wrote about contemporary Austen-fiction writers that I enjoyed (read that here) because I did not have a chance to express either to Miss Austen or Ms. Heyer how much I enjoy their work. That got me thinking about the blogs too. Books, fiction in particular, are one thing, but the blogs provide a different take on information - more and varied bits of info. Blogs, historical specifically, provide opportunities to think about things Regency, read samples of writing, find interesting bits of research information and historical context, and most importantly things that make you laugh and think.

I read a decent number of blogs about several different subjects, Miss Austen being one of my favorite subjects. Blogs provide me with lots to think about in Miss Austen's writing, her time period, her era's social customs and how different those are from our customs. I get to learn things, agree with authors, and laugh at people who don't quite get the Austen thing.

These are my current favorites devoted to Miss Austen:
Austen Blog - Margaret Sullivan
Austenprose - Laurel Ann
Austen Inspired Fan Fiction - Mary Lydon Simonsen
First Impressions - Alexa Adams
Jane Austen Today - Vic
Jane Austen Sequels - Jane Odiwe
Jane Austen Addict -Laurie Viera Rigler

Blogs also link people of like mind (to some degree) together in a community. That's a good thing. I plan on putting together a listing of family farm blogs, cooking blogs, and literature blogs that I enjoy in the future. 

*Photo credit: Theo Westenberg

February Challenge - 16 February

16 Feb - books

15 February 2011

Quote of the Day

Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult. 
 ~ Charlotte Whitton

February Challenge - 15 February

15 Feb - book

14 February 2011

Dose of Cute

What could be cuter than sleeping pups? Not much. 

February Challenge - 14 February

14 Feb - books

13 February 2011