Review 1741: Classics Club Dare 2.0: The Bride of Lammermoor

If you’re not familiar with the plot of The Bride of Lammermoor, you might be wondering why I picked it for the Classics Club Dare 2.0, Time to Get Your Goth On. It’s not a gothic horror story common for the time but one of Sir Walter Scott’s historical novels about a doomed love. However, the ending, which I’m not revealing, puts it in a more appropriate category as do the dark local legends and prophesies of withered old dames (perhaps witches), not to mention the ruined tower.

Edgar, Master of Ravenwood, is from a proud Scottish family of distinguished lineage. His profligate father, however, did his best to waste the family estate and finished things off by fighting on the wrong side of the revolution. With other parties in power, lawsuits filed against the estate by William Ashton, Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland, have resulted in almost all of the Ravenwood property being turned over to Ashton and in an early grave for Ravenwood’s father. The impoverished Master has sworn vengeance against Ashton.

Ashton, however, is a politician, and he hears that the political situation is changing. Things may be looking up for the Marquis of A___ and thus for his relative, the Master. After the Master saves Ashton and his beautiful daughter Lucy from a wild bull, Ashton tries to befriend him, even encouraging him to spend time with Lucy and Ashton himself considering the benefits of a marriage between the two. Against the Master’s better judgment (and supernatural warnings), he begins to fall in love with Lucy. They become betrothed, but Lucy wants it kept secret from her family.

Some meddling from a neighbor who is not a friend of the Master’s leads Lady Ashton, staying with friends away from home, to hear the rumors that her daughter is engaged to him. She is his implacable enemy, so she swoops home to Ravenwood Castle just as the Marquis of A___ comes for a visit. The Master has been residing there at Ashton’s invitation, but Lady Ashton unceremoniously throws him out. He has already agreed with Lucy, however, that he will consider himself betrothed until she herself releases him. Then he goes off to make his fortune.

This novel was quite hard going for me at times, particularly in the sections and whole chapters that are in Scottish vernacular. These are the parts concerning the common people, and some of them are supposed to be funny, especially the ones about the machinations of Caleb Balderstone, the Master’s only servant, as he tries to hide what everyone already knows—that his master is destitute. I just felt they slowed down the action as well as being hard to understand and not that funny.

The action, however, eventually gets going and really picks up toward the end of the novel. I read the second half twice as quickly as the first.

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Review 1721: Winter and Rough Weather

According to the Foreword of Winter and Rough Weather, it is related to two other books by D. E. Stevenson, Vittoria Cottage and Music in the Hills. It has been a long time since I read Vittoria Cottage, and none of the characters in Winter and Rough Weather rang a bell. I finally had to look up my old review to find the link between the two is James, who is a minor character in this novel.

Jock and Mamie Johnstone are preparing for the arrival of their nephew, James Dering Johnstone, and his bride Rhoda. James and Rhoda will be occupying Boscath, the farm adjoining the Johnstone’s Mureth, except separated by a river that can at times be raging.

Rhoda has abandoned a promising career as an artist to marry James and at first finds herself unhappy in their remote farm that doesn’t have a telephone and can be cut off by weather. After a while, though, she makes friends in the area and begins painting again and teaching a promising youngster named Duggie, who is the son of Lizzie, the Mureth cook.

This novel has a firm sense of place in the border country of southern Scotland and has a host of mostly likable characters. It is about everyday post-war life there, although it has a few subplots—Adam and Nan Forrester, the village doctor and his sister, both have unhappy love affairs. The neighboring farm to Mureth, Tassieknowe, has been bought by a rich man whom everyone dislikes and who is running his farm poorly.

I enjoyed this novel and mean to look for the other one, Music in the Hills, which I believe comes before this one.

I received this book from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1671: Now We Shall Be Entirely Free

In 1809 during the Napoleonic Wars , Captain John Lacroix returns from Spain ill and wounded. As he recovers, something is troubling him, but we don’t know what. Before he has fully recovered, he is summoned back to his regiment, but instead of returning, he sets out on a journey to the Scottish islands.

Back in Spain, a tribunal is being held about the sacking of a Spanish village by British troops. On the word of one man, Corporal Calley, the tribunal finds Captain Lecroix guilty of being the officer in charge of those troops and the man who cut off the hair of an innocent woman. The Colonel then sends Calley to find and kill Lecroix accompanied by a Spanish officer, Lieutenant Medina, to make sure he does it.

As Lacroix unwittingly travels to a small island and becomes involved with the people living there, Calley pursues him, behaving like a deranged animal to the innocent people he thinks may know where Lacroix is. Lacroix certainly has a shameful secret about war, but is it what he is being pursued for?

This novel is atmospheric and deeply engaging. As it nears its conclusion, it is also truly exciting. Although I did wonder how likely it was that the army would have sent an execution squad against one of their officers, the novel is a wonderfully written adventure story that reflects on the nature of war and redemption. I read it for my Walter Scott prize project.

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Review 1659: The Less Dead

When Margo gets in touch with her birth family, her Aunt Nikki, Nikki tells Margo that her mother, Susan, was a prostitute and a junkie who was murdered in an alley at 19. Then she tells Margo she knows who did it and tries to get her to help find evidence. She is asking Margo to break the law and endanger her position as a medical doctor. Margo is horrified by the story and the request and gets away as fast as she can. What she doesn’t know is that meeting Nikki has brought her to the attention of Susan’s murderer. Soon, she has received a threatening letter like the ones Nikki has been getting.

Although set in the gritty neighborhoods of Glasgow like most of Mina’s fiction, The Less Dead is less grim than her earlier work, populated by likable characters such as Margo’s ex-boyfriend Joe and her bestie Lilah, as well as, eventually, Nikki and her friends. It is definitely creepy, though, and a satisfying thriller. Mina always knows how to spin a tale.

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Review 1633: The Distance Between Us

Jake, a Hong Kong Brit who has never been to Europe, is out with friends on Chinese New Year when they are caught in a crush. His girlfriend Melanie’s best friend is killed, and Melanie is gravely injured. Doctors say she will not live, so when she asks him to marry him, he reluctantly agrees even though he has only known her for four months. Of course, she does not die. The next thing he knows, he is in England staying at her parents’ house, and her mother is planning a formal ceremony for them. Having always wanted to find out about his Scottish father, he leaves for Scotland.

Stella’s too close relationship with her sister Nina is one she has to escape from sometimes. The roots of this lie in a horrible incident years ago. On one of her escapes, she takes a job at a hotel in Scotland.

This novel travels back and forth to relate incidents in both Jake and Stella’s lives and in the lives of their parents and grandparents. O’Farrell has a way with making you care about her characters as well as a gift for lyrical prose. This is another great book for her, and thus for her readers.

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Review 1631: Mrs. Tim Gets a Job

It turns out that Mrs. Tim Gets a Job is part of a series. Unfortunately, because I’d rather read series books in order, I never find this out until I mark that I’m reading it in Goodreads. Luckily, the novel seems to stand perfectly well on its own.

The Second World War is over, but Mrs. Tim’s husband is still stationed in Cairo and won’t be getting home anytime soon. Mrs. Tim’s two children are off at school, and she finds herself at loose ends. So, without really consulting her, a friend arranges a job for her at a hotel in Scotland. At first, Mrs. Tim is inclined to turn down the job, but then she gets a letter from her landlord giving her notice to move out.

With trepidation, she sets out to work for Miss Clutterbuck, who she understands is a difficult person. Miss Clutterbuck has been forced to open her family home to the public, and she has a rude manner. Mrs. Tim finds that part of her duties is to talk to the guests, because Miss Clutterbuck can’t bear them.

This novel is written in a light style as a diary, reminding me very much of the Provincial Lady series except gentler and with less overt humor. We follow Mrs. Tim’s progress as she grows to appreciate Miss Clutterbuck, learns how to deal with a housemaid who hates her, and straightens out a guest’s love life. I enjoyed this book very much.

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Review 1605: The Hunting Party

Before I start my review, just a little note to let you know I am so far ahead on my reviews (lots of reading going on and not much else) that for a while, at least, I am returning to posting four times a week. I picked now to do it since it’s right after my anniversary post. The new posting day will be Friday, so that you can expect posts on this blog on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays for at least the next few months.

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The setup of The Hunting Party felt an awful lot like Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood—a group of old friends getting together in a modern open-plan house out in the middle of nowhere, mayhem to follow. However, I found this book to be much more suspenseful.

For one thing, almost immediately upon the novel’s opening, a death is reported by Heather, an employee of the lodge. But we don’t know who has been killed or under what circumstances. Then the novel alternates in time—in the present with Heather’s point of view and in the past with that of the others.

I won’t enumerate all the guests, because there are nine, and some of them also seem oddly familiar if you’ve read Ware’s novel. There’s Miranda, beautiful but accustomed to getting her own way and horribly bitchy at times, and her husband Julien, who has some secrets. Emma is Miranda’s imitator and admirer, and her boyfriend Mark has a thing for Miranda. Katie, Miranda’s best friend, has been remote of late, to Miranda’s resentment. Aside from several other members of this party, there are an Icelandic couple, described as feral. Oh, and in case that’s not enough suspects, the gamekeeper, Doug, has periods of memory lapse and a violent past, and there is the Highland Ripper out there somewhere.

In any case, this novel pretty much nails you to your seat as it proceeds at a rip-roaring pace. Lots of nasty characters, lots of fun to read.

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Review 1544: Sealskin

Ever since I heard Joan Baez sing “Silkie,” I have been fascinated by stories of selkies. They don’t seem to feature very often, but a few years ago, I reviewed an intriguing one in The Sea House.

In Sealskin, Su Bristow explores the legend, in particular one about a man who finds a selkie and hides her sealskin so he can keep her. This novel is set in as realistic a way as you can get in a story about a selkie (except in The Sea House).

Donald is a misfit in his Scottish fishing village because of a skin disease. Although his uncle Hugh would like him to crew with him, he avoids going out on the fishing boat because of taunts from the crew. He spends most of his time avoiding the other villagers.

One night he goes crabbing and sees seals on a rocky ledge. They take off their skins and become young maidens and dance. Thinking of the value of the sealskin, Donald steals one, and when the maidens are frightened into donning their skins and swimming away, one cannot leave.

Donald captures the selkie and in a fit of madness, rapes her. When he takes her home to his mother, Bridie, she tells him he can’t send the girl back because she knows she is with child. Bridie tells him he must marry the girl, whom they name Mairhi, and pretend he met her months before in another village.

Mairhi cannot speak but shows she is very unhappy. Donald doesn’t want to marry her, despite his mother’s warnings, so he goes back to find her skin, but it is gone.

Although I have an objection to love stories that start with a rape—a technique that used to be used often in romance novels—Bristow handles this story of love and personal growth tremendously well. It’s a touching novel about consequences.

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Review 1542: Wild Fire

After a strange incident on the beach when kids taunted an autistic boy, that boy, Christopher, finds the nanny of another family hanged in an outbuilding on his family’s property. His parents, Daniel and Helena Fleming, have not found a welcome in the small village of Deltaness, especially since the previous owner hanged himself in the same outbuilding after they built their new house.

Jimmy Perez comes out to the scene and realizes immediately that the girl, Emma Shearer, was murdered, because there is nothing in the building she could have stood on to hang herself. She was the nanny for the Moncrieff children and had been with them since she was 17.

Jimmy summons the CSI team and his boss, Willow Reeves, to the scene. But when Willow arrives, she has news for him. She is pregnant, and he is the father. Jimmy, still confused by the death of his fianceé, Fran, has an unpredictable reaction.

Working on the case, the team has difficulty getting any sense of Emma. It is early established that she had a relationship with Daniel Fleming, but although he admits to having been obsessed with her, he claims they did not have an affair.

This was one of Cleeves’s difficult mysteries, especially as, although there are hints, the perpetrator is not very present in the book. Sadly, this is the last book in the Shetland series, but it’s possible that we’ll see more of Jimmy and Willow.

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Review 1536: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

Best of Ten!
I’m late to discover Maggie O’Farrell, but better late than never. I’ve read a few books by her now, and she just keeps getting better and better.

Iris Lockhart is contacted by a mental hospital, which wants to find out if she can offer a home to her great aunt, Esme, who has been incarcerated there for more than 60 years. The problem is that Iris has never heard of Esme and believes her grandmother to be an only child.

Her mother now lives in Australia and has never heard of Esme, either. When Iris tries to discuss Esme with her grandmother, Katherine, who is suffering from Alzheimers, she gets a fractured response that implies Esme is her sister. In particular, she says, “She wouldn’t let go of the baby.”

Through third-person narration from Iris’s point of view, Esme’s stream of consciousness memories, and Katherine’s more fractured ones, we learn how it came to pass that vibrant and unconventional Esme was abandoned in the hospital from the age of 16. Iris is shocked to learn that Esme was incarcerated for such outrages as insisting on keeping her hair long and dancing in her dead mother’s clothes. She learns that at the time women could be committed on the signature of one doctor.

This is a shattering, sad story about a girl whose life is stolen because she doesn’t fit in. It is spellbinding as it draws you along to learn Esme’s story. This is also fascinating tale about how sisterly love turns to jealousy and anger.

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