Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Time Apart by Diane Stanley

The first book I read and loved by Diane Stanley was Bella at Midnight.  After I read that one, I ordered several more books by her, including this one, which is, I believe, the first one she ever wrote.

This is very different from Bella. This one takes place in a modern year (published in 1999) and tells the story of 13-year-old Ginny who must go from her home in Houston, Texas, to England to stay with her dad (whom she does not know well) while her mom undergoes treatment for cancer. This is difficult enough, I suppose, but Dad is currently staying in an Iron Age village for a university project and Ginny must join him there, giving up all the trappings of modern life.

One of the reviews quoted on the back of the book calls this a coming-of-age tale. I don't like that label--I find it off-putting. But what it means in this book is that Ginny adjusts and makes some discoveries about herself and others. She works hard, and matures, and ends up rediscovering her dad--something they both embrace. I think it's interesting that this plot depends quite a bit on the whole lack of communication thing that so many plots are built around. If Ginny's mom had communicated more honestly and clearly in letters... if her dad had communicated at all... If Ginny herself had been able to honestly ask questions and get desperately needed answers.... Good communication would render many books and movies completely uninteresting. I know I've mentioned this before, but occasionally it really stands out to me again.

I liked Ginny a lot. I also found the Iron Age setting interesting--fun to imagine living in a setting like that even though in reality I think I would seriously dislike it. If I could have the quiet and serenity, the close-to-the-earth living along with indoor plumbing and toothbrushes, books and shampoo, I think I'd do alright. Diane Stanley skips over some of the more earthy details of living in this Iron Age setting (did they get to use toilet paper or was that cheating? These are things I'd like to know), but makes the setting as authentic as possible due to her research into an actual project just like this one in England in the 1970s (well, as she points out, it was for a TV series rather than a University project).

It was an engaging book to read, not too emotional and with a satisfying ending--a good book for young teenagers, perhaps, although I found it interesting as well. I really like Diane Stanley and look forward to reading more by her.

Dear Tiz by Aslaug Gorbitz

Sorry about the tiny picture. This is an ebook by a first-time author. She asked me to read and review her book.

This book was presented to me as a Christian romance. I do not know if I would categorize it as such. It is primarily historical fiction, I guess, with some adventure and romance thrown in. It's about two 17-year-old girls who find themselves transported into each others' centuries.

This book is built around a great idea and is neatly organized--almost symmetrical (a pattern that I really like, as a matter of fact. Symmetry always makes me happy). It is a long book, with a lot of back story that can bog down the reader. I picked up the book and put it back down a dozen times during the first half of the book. The second half of the book engaged me, though, and I read it through without stopping until I reached the end.

I found a lot of problems in the writing--some weak/confused characterization, blurry settings, a stilted voice, too many things going on, too many "coincidences".... but the basic story stayed in my imagination for days. If you are interested in this type of story, take a look at this book and give the author your feedback. You might find the storyline as memorable as I did. [Note: there is a teenage "bedroom scene" a la Stephanie Meyers' Twilight--where the characters sleep together with no sex. Didn't particularly like that. You may also find some of the religious imagery a little bit heavy handed in places--and totally absent in others].

Be Buried in the Rain by Barbara Michaels

Barbara Michaels' suspense/adventure novels (with a dash of romance thrown in) are just my speed. I don't care for truly scary stories and I don't always appreciate a suspenseful nail-biter as much as the next guy, I guess. But Barbara Michaels reminds me of Mary Stewart or even a more down-to-earth Victoria Holt--suspense, atmosphere, mystery, but also a book you can put down at bedtime AND still sleep nightmare-free.

In this tale, medical student Julie Newcomb reluctantly returns during her summer break to her grandmother's ranch to care for the old lady after she's suffered a stroke.  Not only does her return to the ranch drag up old memories (none of them good), but it also seems to bring with it a new and present danger.

While I like Mary Stewart (and Helen MacInnes and even E. Phillip Oppenheim) better than Barbara Michaels, I really did like this story. I didn't particularly care for Julie--I so often mildly dislike Barbara Michaels'/Elizabeth Peters' female characters (all too often they seem rather self-centered and overly feministic to me)--I was firmly allied with her in her dislike of her creepy grandmother and her distrust of some of the old family retainers, and I admired her commitment to care for her grandmother despite the years of abusive behavior grandma had previously dealt poor Julie. Note: There was one episode of unmarried sex with no description of said love scene.

I like Barbara Michaels a lot. This woman has about a million stories in her head and I'm happy to read them all.

Death of a Chimney Sweep by M.C. Beaton

There was a time when I collected every single Hamish Macbeth mystery that M.C. Beaton wrote. Now I'm 6 or 8 behind, so it's been quite a few years since I've read one of this series.

Hamish Macbeth, the lone police officer in the small Scottish village of Lochdubh, ends up solving a mystery that stretches far outside of the boundaries of his little town. He is, as usual, romantically stunted and underappreciated and misunderstood by just about everyone. He's also just as unmotivated as ever. He still hangs out with the regular cohorts, all of whom exhibit basically the same behavior as ever.

I don't know if my tastes have changed or if M.C. Beaton is just running out of steam, but I didn't find this book as satisfying as I have found her previous ones to be. Beaton's mystery plotting is still as full of twists and turns (some quite clever) as ever, but her writing feels stilted and even a little bit forced (it's going too far to suggest that Beaton is "phoning it in", but that phrase keeps running through my head). Hamish isn't growing as the years pass--he is the same as ever. In a series that's been going on as long as this one, if the main character doesn't change a little, I think the books get stale. I won't return again to Lochdubh, unless I'm re-reading the first dozen or so books, which I remember enjoying so much.

If, however, you are just discovering Hamish Macbeth and his activities, and are gobbling up every book in the series, you will find this an inoffensive (Note: Hamish considers allowing himself to be seduced, but then rejects the idea and he also commits a crime that he hides) and consistent addition to the accounts of this village policeman.