Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A bit more romance-y than I usually read...

by Elizabeth Peters

Fortunately, following bilateral knee joint replacement last summer, 
I discovered Community Healthplex here in Indianapolis. 
This facility has the only heated therapy pool in the city with group classes 
and individual medically supervised exercise (MRE) programs.
And now...it has a lending library and a new book club! Whoo! Whoo!

This is the second book 
I have borrowed from that library. 
I did not know until just now that 
Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels 
are pseudonyms used by Barbara Mertz!
She died in 2013 at the age of 85.
This particular book is the second in her 
Vicky Bliss Murder Mystery series of 6 novels 
and was published in 1978. 
It was simply a bit too romance-y for me, 
though I did find the mystery rather compelling. 
I felt the characterization was a bit shallow, 
lacking true depth. 

Though I would say I enjoyed reading this book, certainly not enough 
to purposefully seek out others in the series.

I did rather enjoy the interplay between Vicky and John. 
But I did wonder at his valiant rescues when he was really one of the criminals...
Vicky and I are built nothing alike, as she complains that
...it isn't easy to convince people that you've got a brain when all they can see are curves and flowing blonde hair. (4)
I personally would have no idea about that! :) She continues,
When people look at me, all they see is a blown-up centrefold. Nobody takes me seriously.
When I was younger, I wanted to be little and cuddly and cute. 
Now I'd settle for being flat-chested and myopic. 
It would save a lot of wear and tear on my nerves. (4)
She meets with a police official regarding a dead body 
that had been discovered...
He kissed my hand...I enjoy having my hand kissed. 
I can't imagine why American men haven't taken it up, it gets even us feminists. (10)
That did make me chuckle.

Vicky is sent to investigate this man's murder for the museum and with her travel plans made, all that was left was to select lodging.
It didn't take me long to decide. People on expense accounts don't stay in pensions or hotels. 
It wouldn't look good. I felt I owed it to my employer to check into the best hotel in town. (17)
That did elicit yet another chuckle from me!

Although Vicky believes herself to be a whiz-bang investigator, she really isn't all that tricky, and unfortunately for her, John is immediately on to her. 
Though he does end up rescuing her later. As they run from one room in a cellar, two of the criminals run into it and John uses the excuse of needing to make sure they are completely silent to kiss her...
His lips and tongue blocked my mouth just as effectively as the gag had done--and a lot more distractingly. In its inception, it was a purely practical kiss; he had to shut me up, without a second's delay, for Antonio and Giorgio burst into the room we had just left. Their voices sounded as if they were only a few feet away, but it was clear from my companion's behaviour that they could not see us, though they could hear us as easily as I could hear them. 
My eyes were still blindfolded,...and as that crazy embrace continued, 
I became less able to concentrate on essentials. As kisses go, it was memorable. 
After I started to cooperate--which, I am ashamed to admit, occurred almost immediately--his participation became less practical and more enthusiastic. (43)
These were the best parts of this book, in my humble opinion.

The mystery had twists and turns, with an ultimate betrayal at the end, 
though admittedly, I did have it figured out.
I would recommend this book and/or series if you really wanted a mystery 
that leaned toward cozy and felt a bit like a romance novel.

Have you read any of the books in this series?

I did read one of the Amelia Peabody mysteries years ago and enjoyed it, 
though for some reason it didn't interest me enough to continue reading 
more in that series.

Happy reading!!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Beyond the customary Italian vehicle...

by Alexander McCall Smith
Fortunately, following bilateral knee joint replacement last summer, 
I discovered Community Healthplex here in Indianapolis. 
This facility has the only heated therapy pool in the city with group classes 
and individual medically supervised exercise (MRE) programs.
Additionally, they have virtually any equipment you can imagine to exercise!
And now, thanks to one of the long-time members, there is a lending library. 
And that is where I discovered this "new-to-me" stand-alone novel! 
Thanks to that same member, there is also a brand new book club,  
the first meeting of which was held on Friday, August 10th!
'Cause, you know, I need yet another book club in which to participate! :)

Becky Anderson's interview with Alexander McCall Smith 
about My Italian Bulldozer.

Let me just begin by saying that Alexander McCall Smith is 

one of my absolutely favorite authors! 
I adore his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series
his Isabel Dalhousie and the Sunday Philosophy Club series
his Corduroy Mansion seriesand the stand-alone novels I have read. 
I really should get started purchasing, reading, and reviewing his children's books
so I can then gift them to my grandchildren. 
I will admit that although I have read the first three installments in his Von Igelfeld series
I found those to be a bit too dry for my taste. 
I did rather recently read the first in the 44 Scotland Street series and felt 
I didn't connect with it nearly as well as with the first three series listed above. 
But I digress...

This book did involve romance to a great degree and yet not in the typical 

"boy meets girl, boy gets girl" way!
I found this story to be much more realistic without bogging down. 

In attempting to help Paul deal with the departure of his live-in girlfriend of four years, 

his "editor," Gloria states:
...it's not your fault. Fault doesn't come into it. (5)
It is at this point that Paul realizes
[Gloria is] one of his closest friends, in a rather curious, slightly old-fashioned way. 
Dependable Gloria...always there, always positive. (4)
Smith does an excellent job of depicting the great confusion and indecisiveness 
that can result in the aftermath of such a relationship breakup. 
Paul is definitely NOT an extremely self-assured person overall, 
and dealing with your partner 'running off' with her personal trainer 
destroys whatever equilibrium and self-confidence he may have had... 
Paul considers all those same questions as most of us do in such situations:
What did I do wrong? What did I not do? 
How did I succeed in allowing and/or motivating 
my long-term partner to simply abscond with someone else?
And, finally...why?!? Why? Why? Why?
AmIright? ;)

It is her advice and suggestion he follows regarding the completion of his 10th book, 

Paul Stuart's Tuscan Table.
Yes, his 10th book! Obviously, he has been quite successful!
To the point at which he now employs a part-time researcher 
so he can spend more time actually writing and less reading/searching for information.
Gloria suggests that he actually travel to Italy to get him out of his usual routine 
and so he can totally immerse himself in completing this manuscript 
which is already somewhat overdue to the publisher. 
Gloria makes all his travel arrangements and off he goes!
Though all does not go well upon his arrival...

I fully admit that I rarely laugh out loud while reading one of Smith's books, 
though I spend much time amused, smiling and chuckling to myself...
And that was exactly my reaction as I read of Paul's arrival in Italy and the way 
he was tricked by the clerk working at the rental car company into 
being accused of and arrested for stealing a rental car that he was unable to locate!! 
And so had never even seen! And here is a good lesson in being kind and congenial to strangers.      If not for the man he had met on his way to Italy, 
he might never have seen the light of day again! Or at least not for a long time! 
Be that as it may, the Professor rescues him and 
Paul is released from jail with no accusations to face. 
Additionally, the Professor hooks him up with his friend Claudio who owns and runs a vehicle rental business himself. Though he currently has no more cars to rent, 
he does have just one vehicle left...a...b-b-b-b-bulldozer!
And implausible as it may seem, Paul ends up driving a bulldozer through the Italian countryside! I personally found it a tiny bit unbelievable that someone totally 
unfamiliar with such heavy equipment was able to operate this machine at all, 
let alone maneuvering it without incident! Although I suppose it is possible...
And Paul was able to go where he pleased.

As with most Smith books, of course, the protagonist ends up meeting 
thoughtful, kind, and generous folks! 
Although Paul ends up breaking the law for the first time in his life just to 
maneuver a parking space for his bulldozer once he arrives at his final destination.

He meets Anna and begins to realize that even if Becky 
had not run off with her personal trainer, 
...he thought it likely that they would have drifted apart; the magic, the chemistry, the spark--
those ingredients that had provided the seasoning for their relationship--had begun to fade...
Love was a souffle that could only too easily collapse and could rarely be revived. (168)
Ah, yes...so true! And now that he had met a person like Anna,
...tactful, intelligent...who could excite him intellectually... (168)
in a way Becky never did... 
Well, he just didn't see himself ever being happy with someone like Becky ever again! 

And, as so often happens, he discovers that a person with whom he would like to 
spend time and perhaps initiate a relationship with 
is not so far removed from his daily life after all!

Just another brilliantly and simply written feel-good novel by McCall Smith! 

So glad I read it!
What have you read lately that left you feeling good? Or at least better?

Happy reading!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Literary Wives #34


First Love by Gwendoline Riley
I admit to being mostly bored by this novel.
I am glad it was short, though I had to force myself
to finish reading it and I admit the last half went 
much more quickly for me than the first half. 
There is little to no plot and very little action, 
and while I typically read for characterization 
and enjoy books describing relationships, 
I just didn't connect with these characters. 
Perhaps I wasn't in the mood to read about 
another totally dysfunctional and dissatisfying marriage relationship? Or perhaps it hit a bit too close 
to home for me, having experienced 
 a rather similar long-term relationship... 
Perhaps a combination of these reasons and more? 
I don't know. 
I would say this was a rather bleak read overall for me.

I did feel sympathy/empathy for Neve. I don't believe she had any idea what she really wanted out of life nor did she appear to have much motivation to change her life. And from what little is revealed of her family life as a child, this was, perhaps, understandable. Neve, her brother, and her mother, were all scared of her father. There wasn't much detailed description of his specific actions (at least that I can recall), but he was evidently at least physically abusive. Neve's brother quit visiting their father at age fifteen when his father punched him in the face. Though Neve was expected to continue visiting for another year to "keep the peace," according to her mother. It was during this time that her father commented to his friend, Con, 
 Women just aren't naturally clean, are they? (43)
I only note this quote because Edwyn seemed obsessed with criticizing Neve about her lack of cleanliness. He just continued where her father had left off. :( As a young adult, she finally informed her father she was no longer interested in a relationship with him. I totally understood and agreed with her, but isn't it sad that he didn't love her enough to try to get along with his own daughter? 

Her mother was apparently the queen of landing herself in abusive relationships with men. She appeared to be quite the 'flake,' in my opinion, and definitely very little positive influence upon Neve, but rather a role model of mostly negative characteristics and behaviors. She could not understand all the fuss regarding sexual assult: 
Back in the seventies every girl was gripped, groped and raped, said she, lifting her chin,
her accent getting coarser... I was raped, when I was university, I was more or less raped in
Liverpool when I first moved back. It didn't ruin my life. Why do they always have to say, 
Ooh, it ruined my life? And everything I went through with your father, I mean, 
if that didn't ruin my life, why are they saying their lives are ruined? (87)
Having been a teenage female in the seventies, I could rather understand this mindset, though unlike Neve's mother, I am thrilled to see those who assault others over whom they have power held accountable for their crimes. (Too bad this doesn't seem to be the case for our current POTUS...)

Of her parents Neve comments...
Time doesn't help. You forget, for years, even, but it's still there. A zone of feeling. A cold shade.
I barely drink now, but when I do, sometimes I see so clearly how nothing's changed. 
Not one thing. About who I am and what I am. I don't have to be drunk. 
When I least expect it, my instincts are squalid, my reactions are squalid, vengeful. 
And for what? What am I so outraged by?...My parents were hopeless. And?
Helpless, as we all are. Life is appalling. My father ate himself to death. Isn't that enough? (121)
I do agree. We are all helpless in different areas and to varying degrees. But I can also commiserate with her inability to 'let it go' sometimes. Especially with regard to our parents. A meme I saw the other day:
Adulthood: the years spent getting over your childhood!
Neve does admit to having spent fifteen years drinking until she vomited and/or passed out very often. Awaking in a strange place with a 'stranger' or in her own bed/bedroom with a stranger. She definitely did have a "drinking problem" prior to moving in with and marrying Edwyn. I really wanted to know exactly how they met, but unless I missed it, that information was never given.

Edwyn, Neve's husband, definitely exhibited passive/agressive and verbally abusive behaviors. I personally felt he could basically be diagnosed with a mental illness. He mentions several times that he is constantly "in pain" and has a heart condition, having suffered a heart attack in the past. However, I felt he was using this as an excuse for his behavior and/or to evoke sympathy from Neve. He kept haranguing to Neve about the one night (Not the first of more-than-one night, but the only ONE!) she got very drunk and evidently vomited in virtually every room of the house once they arrived home. The descriptions of his physical maneuvering of her body during that night indicated he had basically tossed her body around with little regard to her drunken condition or safety. I always felt as if physical abuse was a definite possibility when he would become cantankerous and uncooperative. Edwyn used criticism and derogatory descriptors (e.g. "cunt"-a word which I personally abhor) to abuse Neve. I think what bothered me most about him was the randomness of such tirades, much as one who would physically abuse the other person. Much like her own mother had always done with their father, initially in her marriage, Neve would "simper" and say anything to try to appease Edwyn, though many times it was impossible to do so. (Another behavior exhibited by physical abusers.) Though eventually Neve did learn not to apologize all the time and try so hard to appease--to respond less often. In considering her treatment of Edwyn, Neve rather regrets or perhaps feels a bit guilty about "managing him, in a way." 
Beyond bringing him out of himself, or my genuine interest; that I was maintaining this keen 
and appreciative front as a way to keep him calm, or to distract him. Like--I don't know--throwing
some sausages at a guard dog. This was someone I was supposed to be close to. 
And wouldn't he be horrified if he knew that was how I saw it? 
His scorn would finish us both, I was sure...I was very much without bearings, that first year. (109)

But then Neve also described times that Edwyn was particularly kind and caring in his physical and verbal treatment of her. For example, their pet names for each other: Mrs. Pusskins and Mrs. Pusskins. I admit I almost gagged when I read that! I might use "sweetie" or "honey," but that's the extent of my pet name vocabulary!  

The one thing that struck me in this relationship was Edwyn's insistence that Neve NOT kiss him. He didn't like to kiss and became especially angry at her for trying to initiate a kiss. Wow. This brought back memories of my first husband. I will never forget walking up to him one of the first days after I moved in with him and hugging and kissing him. He literally stumbled backward as if shocked, asking me, "What are you doing?" I replied, "I'm just hugging and kissing you!" He explained that he had NEVER had anyone just walk up to him at any time in his life and do that. Nor had he ever witnessed his own parents or anyone else doing that. I knew that was a sign...but was certain it would work out eventually. He would get used to it. And to his credit he did seem to. However, public display of affection was never allowed...though that didn't keep me from holding his hand or giving him a quick kiss or hug once in awhile in front of other people! :) Edwyn did not like to kiss, but at least he would cuddle, unlike my ex-husband who hated to cuddle. (Definitely some red flags there!) 

We do learn Edwyn is an only child. He founded a Nature Club at his school, but refused to allow other students to join as members, only as "helpers," stating that he couldn't "trust them." Aw...a bit of a control freak? I did chuckle at one of his "early romantic error[s]" when he "gave half an Easter egg each to the two girls in his class who liked him." He believed they would be thrilled, but "they didn't think much of that," and he "went from two girls to no girls!" 

Riley gives us some information regarding Neve's "first love," Michael, though not much. This reminded me somewhat of Dexter and Emma's relationship in One Day by David Nicholls as Neve and Michael were never feeling love for one another at the same time when they reconnected through the years. Unlike Dexter and Emma, Neve and Michael never did end up in a relationship. 

Interestingly, when Neve sees Michael off at King's Cross the last time they're together, she says 
I hunched my shoulders to push through [the streams of people] to the street. (67)
While at the end of the book, Neve and Edwyn walked together,
At Marble Arch, we said goodbye. I stood and watched him go, head down, rushing.
Oxford Street was so crowded. Edwyn hunched his shoulders, braced, dodged, 
and soon enough he disappeared. (166) 
I couldn't help but wonder if this meant he disappeared from Neve altogether, or just until his return. I felt she would be better off without him, though I believe much of her reason for remaining in the relationship was for her own financial security since she was a "writer," though I don't believe she had ever been published. 

Here is the New York Times review and The Guardian review. I believe Stuart Evers in The Guardian captured my reaction to this book moreso than did James Lasden in The New York Times. 
Now for the Literary Wives question: 

What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?  

Please make sure you read 
the other hosting bloggers' reviews:

Naomi of Consumed by Ink
Kay of whatmeread

It is not as if Neve had an example of a healthy long-term relationship during her childhood.  I still sympathize that Neve has fallen into the same trap as her mother did  with both of her marriages--dealing with an abuser. 

Edwyn makes it Neve's fault, no matter the circumstances:
What makes you think you can treat me like this, hm?
When I'm making the money, I'm paying the bills, I'm making your life possible. (128)
All I could think was--"Are you kidding me?!?" How archaic is that?!? He continues until he finally softens a bit,
You can't help it...I know you can't. Women are sexobsessed. I know it's all they think about. 
It's all they give a fuck about, really. (128)
All Neve can think is "If I [can] just talk him down..." But, of course, Edwyn is using his 'I'm in pain all the time' excuse for his overbearing obnoxious behavior. 

As Edwyn walks away at the end of the book I'm really hoping for Neve's sake that he 1) dies of another heart attack, 2) just never returns, 3) miraculously has a total change of behavior and no longer abuses Neve. 

At one point Edwyn describes how any relationship just goes to "shit" with time. He "blames himself." Neve was just "so sweet" and seemed to "want it so badly." Again...GAG! Ugh! Get over yourself, man! You are not such a great catch! 

But then when Neve returns from visiting her mother Edwyn says to her in bed:
I love you. Little one. Little Neve. I do. 
[Neve's reply]:
I could have been asleep. I let some peaceful seconds pass, before I said it back. I love you. (141)
I kept asking myself throughout this book: Are these few and far between good moments enough to offset all the other frustration dealing with Edwyn's abuse? 

I could particularly appreciate Neve's self-coaching regarding saving money so she could leave when he got nasty and
Stand up for yourself but don't waste your energy. This is your time and your energy. 
Don't try and 'manage' him. Be natural and let him be natural. That's what love is. 
No more cramped feelings, on either side. (146)
Aha! I would agree. I am happy to have found just such a relationship the second time around. We can both be ourselves and still love each other. No need to 'pretend' or 'act' differently than who we are. That, in my opinion, is a "good relationship." But I seriously doubt Neve is ever going to have such freedoms with Edwyn. She will always need to be alert to the need to "manage" him. And I feel sorry for her. Though I can relate to the fact that she does love him and wants it to work. Definitely not a win-win... Though it seems in the end that she begins to carve more time for herself into her life. She starts spending time with friends, etc. That has to be a good thing for her own mental health and well-being, though it would be interesting to know how well Edwyn handles her having a social life that doesn't include him... 

Have you read this book? 
What did you think of this marriage?

Join us on October 1st for An American Marriage by Tayari Jones!
I am really anxious to read this one!

Happy reading!