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Category: reviews

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

In a comment to one of the posts on our Fen Rivers Way walk, Ros pointed out that The Nine Tailors was set in the Fens and described it as one of the best descriptions of the area she knew. I had completely forgotten that not only did Sayers set novels in the area, Lord Peter Wimsey’s brother is the Duke of Denver. As in Denver the town and Denver the sluice. Good grief, how did I not remember this? TheHusband did, but we didn’t talk about it on the path.

Nine Tailors cover

I pulled out my copy of The Nine Tailors a couple of weekends ago and started reading. It has been described as one of Sayers’ best novels, even the best by some. All I remembered about it was that there was a lot of information about bell ringing and bells played a major role in the story. But as soon as I started reading I realized how much more than that it was. Sayers spent part of her life in the Fens and was very familiar with the villages and the agricultural life of the area, and it shows.

Lord Peter and and his man Bunter have an automobile accident on the way to a house party during the holidays and wind up in the village of Fenchurch St. Paul. They are put up by the vicar and his wife and Lord Peter becomes drawn into the vicar’s (and the village’s) central passion, which is bell-ringing. The church is famous for its bells, and on New Year’s Eve Lord Peter helps out the village’s group of bellringers in their effort to set a new record.

On their way out of town after the car is repaired the two encounter a man who is looking for work, speak with him briefly, and go on their way. Lord Peter notes his condition and the discrepancies between who the man says he is and what his appearance suggests, but thinks little more about it until he is contacted by a young member of the village for help in identifying a body that was buried where it shouldn’t have been.

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The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

I don’t read much chicklit or romcom, which cuts down on my romance-adjacent reading these days since they’re among the more popular and talked-about sub-genres. But when a number of my romance friends raved about this 2019 and Janine specifically suggested it to me, I put it on hold at the library and read it when the hold came in last week. I can see why it’s on a number of best-of-year lists, because it’s quite sweet and charming at times and has a great premise.

This is the ultimate high-concept novel. The main characters meet when they share a London flat, but it’s not just any flatshare: they divide up time, not space. Tiffy is an editor of craft books who needs to get away from her controlling, abusive boyfriend and find an inexpensive place to live in London. Leon is a palliative care nurse who works nights because he needs to pay a solicitor to appeal his brother Richie’s wrongful conviction and imprisonment for armed robbery. Leon’s solution is to rent his flat in the hours he’s away at work and spend his days off with his girlfriend, Kay. Tiffy convinces herself and her worried friends that sharing the flat will work out. It’s small but comfortable and convenient, and Leon doesn’t seem like a serial killer.

The story unfolds in alternating first person POV, present-tense chapters. Tiffy and Leon communicate via post-it notes and don’t meet for the first half of the book. Tiffy is quirky and outgoing (not quite Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but uncomfortably close), and Leon is reserved and the opposite of talkative. Leon’s character is conveyed through a particular and stylized form of expression: his interior monologues are written in sentences in which pronouns and articles are omitted. For US readers of a certain age he sounds weirdly like George HW Bush at times. Linguists call Bush’s omissions of pronouns, especially “I”, left-edge deletion. Leon’s more general conversational deletion occurs throughout his written and unspoken thoughts. Tiffy, by contrast, is verbose in all her forms of communication. These authorial choices highlight their personality differences, but they also come across as stereotypically gendered and quite a few readers (on Goodreads, at least) found Leon’s sections difficult to read. On the plus side, though, the 21stC epistolary form of post-it notes back and forth were quite charming and did a good job of establishing their growing understanding of each other.

Leon, being emotionally reserved and taciturn, has no friends, although he talks regularly to Richie and has warm relationships with his hospice patients. Tiffy, being emotionally open to the point of oversharing, has strong friendships at work and outside it. Her best friends are Gert and Mo from college and Rachel at work. Each of them fulfills a stereotype and all three of them, and really all the supporting characters, are depicted almost entirely in terms of their relationship to and function for Tiffy.

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for December: The Boys of Christmas by Jane Lovering

It’s the last TBR Challenge post of the year and I’m actually on time. Before I get to the review, though, I want to thank Wendy for organizing the challenge and encouraging us to participate in it in whatever way works for us. This is the first year I’ve managed to fulfill every month’s post (eventually) as well as stick to the categories for the most part. A few weeks ago Wendy was up in the air about whether she would continue, since the number of romance bloggers has dwindled considerably. I didn’t get a chance to weigh in but I am so glad and grateful that she has decided to keep going. Plans for the 2020 Challenge are posted at her blog and I’m absolutely in for the year. Even though I don’t read as much romance anymore, I still enjoy being on the fringes of the community and keeping contact with romance readers and old friends, and I won’t be running out of TBR possibilities any time soon. So thank you, Wendy, for continuing to center romance blogging and reviewing. And if you’re not blogging but you’re on social media, you can join and contribute through those platforms as well.

On to the book. I have a few Lovering titles in my TBR but they’re dwindling because they are the perfect reads when you want a book set in a charming place which features characters who feel down to earth and realistic. The Boys of Christmas is no exception. Mattie has left her controlling, psychologically abusive boyfriend Simon and is figuring out her next moves when she receives an inheritance from her great-aunt Millie. It’s a big, rundown, somewhat scary house in a Dorset village rejoicing in the name Christmas Steepleton (and if you think that’s unlikely, I suggest you look at a map and check out village names in England). And it’s Christmastime! She decides to down to check out her new acquisition, accompanied by her supportive friend Toby.

The weather is as forbidding as the house, and just as cold, but Mattie and Toby make do and set about planning a last-minute Christmas celebration. Mattie is also occupied with meeting the condition of her inheritance, which is to sprinkle Millie’s ashes over “the Boys of Christmas.” Now she just has to figure out who they are. Unraveling this mystery introduces her to a variety of village residents and visitors, and spending her days with Toby deepens their friendship. Toby gently chivvies Mattie into acknowledging and returning to the person she was before Simon drained her of her self-confidence and cheerfulness.

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for November: The Memory Collector by Fiona Harper

I’m almost on time! Yeah, not really, but I was away for a week and mostly offline. This month’s challenge was sweet/spicy, i.e., you pick a TBR book that is at one of the ends of the explicitness spectrum. At least that’s how I interpret it. I went for sweet and chose a women’s fiction book by an author whose work I’ve enjoyed in both her Harlequin and single-title incarnations.

Memory Collector cover

The promo for this novel said that it was for fans of Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, a book that I had very mixed feelings about (my review is here). But I thought that Harper was likely to provide me with a good read, so I bought this last year soon after it came out. It’s women’s fiction with a romantic storyline, with a narrator who is 32, single, and struggling with issues. For those of you who have strong feelings about this, it’s told in 1st person present. I didn’t notice it right away but once I did I couldn’t stop noticing.

Heather Lucas looks to be getting along OK. She has a good job, albeit a contract one, as a documentarian and archivist for private collections, she lives in a flat she likes, and she gets along reasonably well with her sister Faith and loves her niece and nephew. But it’s clear from early on that Heather doesn’t have things under control. Her flat is unnaturally pristine except for a spare room which is packed to the ceiling with stuff. And she visits Mothercare a bit too often for someone who doesn’t have children who need what the store sells.

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for October: Every Secret Thing by Susanna Kearsley

I know, I know, it’s November so I’m really late, but I did read it (late in October but still October!). So here you go.

Kearsley is one of my favorite authors, but shockingly, I haven’t read all of her available books yet. This one has been in my print and ebook TBR piles for years. TheHusband read it quite a while ago and liked it a lot, but I kept saving it for later. The theme of this month’s challenge is Paranormal/Romantic Suspense, and this novel is at the edge of RS, but Wendy is always saying readers don’t have to follow the categories. Anyway, it’s mysterious and somewhat suspenseful and while it deals with the past, it’s not a timeslip or two-era storyline.

Kate Murray is a Canadian journalist living in London. She is just finishing up covering a trial when an old man approaches her and says he has an important story. She brushes him off, politely but still a brushoff, and as he’s walking away he is hit by a car and dies. Her remorse leads her to try and find out more about the man, Arthur Deacon, and the story he wanted to tell her, which was about a long-ago murder. She has a couple of strange encounters in England which put her on her guard, but it’s when she goes back to Canada that the story really heats up. Her beloved grandmother turns out to have some tantalizing bits of information that fit into Kate’s puzzle, but there are any number of people who don’t want that information to come out.

Kate becomes determined to search for the truth of what Deacon was telling her, a search which takes her back to Europe and to sites of events during World War II. She learns much more about her grandmother’s wartime life as a young single woman, which includes a stint in New York City working for the Canadian version of MI-6, and she finds that she is connected to Arthur Deacon in ways she could never have anticipated. Along the way she meets a mysterious man who is also seeking information on Deacon and the events he described, and they keep running into each other while they are conducting their respective interviews and searches for documentary evidence. Is the man a threat or on her side? It takes a while to find out and I wasn’t sure at all what was going to happen.

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