My Dearest Enemy (CBR9 #47)

Image result for my dearest enemy connie brockway

This week in the Romance readers back channel one of the many tropes that drives us nuts came up: “this whole manufactured conflict of a couple hundred pages could have been solved by a SINGLE DAMN CONVERSATION.” (h/t kdm). In some ways, that describes the entirety of My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway. At the very core of Romance novels, there is often a single fundamental understanding, and in this one it’s the placing of the two main characters as antagonists to each other by an outside, dead, force.

The book is based around the relationship between Lillian Bede and Avery Thorne. Lillian is shocked to discover that someone she is barely  acquainted with has tapped her to run the affairs of an exquisite country manor following his death. But, there is a catch, she must run the estate for five years and show a profit in order to keep it in perpetuity.  She accepts the challenge, taking the opportunity to put her politics into practice. There’s only one snag: Lily’s inheritance comes with an adult ward, the infuriating, incorrigible globetrotter Avery Thorne who was expecting to inherit from his uncle.
 “Dear Mr. Thorne, For the next five years, I will profitably manage this estate. I will deliver to you an allowance and I will prove that women are just as capable as men.”
“My Dear Miss Bede, Forgive me if I fail to shudder. Pray, do whatever you bloody well want, can, or must.” Avery discovers his inheritance is on hiatus—and his childhood home is in the hands of some overbearing usurper. He handles it in the only gentlemanly manner he can come up with, he leaves with friends on a series of expeditions around the globe. After nearly five years he finally returns, and Avery finds that his antagonist is not all what he expected. In fact, Lily Bede is stunning, exotic, provocative—and impossible to resist. We the reader discover that in truth,  this world-weary adventurer comes home in large part by the pull of the relationship that they have developed over years of battle-heavy correspondence.

There was a time I thought I didn’t enjoy epistolary novels, or their tropes. I was wrong.

But back to my original thought, the entire conflict between Avery and Lillian is about the inheritance of Mill House. But as they spend time together the relationship they developed on paper becomes real, and for the back half of the novel we are waiting for the truth of that to be made clear. The characters circle it, fight over it, and walk away from each other over it. And after one final tearful conversation it is put to rights. This should all be terribly frustrating, but in the larger context of the slow burn that Brockway crafted, it somehow works charmingly.

Many thanks to emmalita for pointing me in this book’s direction. 3.5 stars rounded up.

 

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. We read what we want, review it how we want (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (CBR9 #30)

Image result for the guernsey literary and potato peel

I have had this book on my to read list since CBR5 in 2013. This year I decided as part of my overall Cannonball goal of 78 books, that I was also going to work my way through my audiobook and owned book backlog. A little. With that goal in mind I set up a monthly goal list, with a book or two I already own, a book or two I have in audio form in Audible, and then I pick a couple more to take out from the library.

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In making up April’s goals, I came across The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in my Audible account and put it on the list. I promptly pushed it off the list to May and here we are. The fun thing about putting a book on your to read list five years ago and purchasing it two years ago means you often go into it completely forgetting why you added it in the first place. I mention this to say that I went in with zero expectations of what this book would be like, or what its format was.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is an epistolary novel, made up of letters, telegrams, and notes created by the characters inside its pages. I am generally unsure about this style, although I’ve quite enjoyed Sorcery & Cecelia, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and Attachments (yes, that one counts). Which must have been why I decided to try it in audio with a full cast, since that approach has worked for me in the past. It worked this time. I will never know if it was the great narration or simply the beautiful language that pulled me in, but both are worth your time.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is structured around Juliet Ashton, an author who survived the Blitz in London, and her various relationships with old friends and new. The new friends are all on the isle of Guernsey, where one of her books ends up. Its new owner, Dawsey Adams, reaches out to Juliet for help in tracking down more books by the same author and the plot is off to a running start.

Cannonball Read’s own J Coppercorn mentioned to me on Twitter that this one reminded her in feeling to Anne of Green Gables, and I cannot disagree. It has the same unfolding feel of life on a country island. I also mentioned its similarities to Sorcery & Cecelia, but I’m leaning more towards Tall Pine Polka now that I’m done. In her only book, Mary Ann Shaffer balances between the realities of loss and suffering the island of Guernsey suffered during occupation in World War II, and the ramifications for her characters, but she also layers in the more lighthearted and humorous. That is one of the qualities I most appreciate about Lorna Landvik’s book.

Finished by her niece Annie Barrows after she passed, Mary Ann Shaffer is also working through what reading means to people in this book. So many of the members of the Literary Society were not readers before the alibi became a truth, that we as the reader (and likely word lover) get to experience the discovery of the solace, the enrichment, and the joy of books with these characters.

And for me, it doesn’t hurt a bit that there’s a little love story woven in as well. Get in now if you haven’t already, its currently being filmed and a movie version will hit theatres next year.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Sorcery and Cecelia (CBR5 #18)

There was something about the description of Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer that drew me in – cousins in 19th century England encountering boys and magical intrigue? Sure, why not.

This novel’s main characteristic is that it started its life as a letter writing game between two writer friends as an exercise to hone their skills. The plot of the story was not discussed between the authors, they simply took turns writing from their particular character’ perspective laying out the various components as they went. What this does for the reader is to create two novels happening simultaneously with shared characters while also delivering a cohesive plot.

I promise it’s better than that description makes it sound. As an amateur writer who scribbles for fun the very idea of embarking on such an exercise scares the bejesus out of me. Not only did Patricia Wrede to and Caroline Stevermer publish this story but they continued on with these characters for two more books. This is the case of two writers finding a perfect match and defining clear character voices in Kate and Cecy keep the reader interested and able to separate the different voices.

The only detractor I can really lay out (besides some rather stupid decisions by the antagonists, but really – aren’t they supposed to make stupid decisions every so often?) is that since most of the secondary characters are already known to our two leads they do not do a great job of making them distinguishable for the reader.  For the early part of the book I had a tough time telling the difference between the various aunts and gentleman callers.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (CBR5 #7)

Epistolary books are simply not my cup of tea. However the wacky, satirical characters which inhabit Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette are exactly to my preference. At the start, it all seemed a bit too cutesy, I couldn’t understand how I was going to become interested and invested in these characters. But, about 50 pages in, I was hooked.

 

So much so it seemed to me that Bernadette Fox, her husband Elgin Branch and their daughter Bee were written with me, and people like me, in mind. Bee is exceptional is almost every way and excels in school. Bee is scholastically successful to the point that her parents have to keep their promise of a trip to Antarctica for a perfect middle school record. It is the time around planning this trip that Bernadette takes off.

 

The book is structured as Bee’s study of her mother’s disappearance, piecing together the events using email messages, official documents, secret correspondence (and faxes!) to piece together the narrative. Bee’s voice links the various epistles together. And truly, without Bee these pieces of information would not give the reader as much to hook into. Initially I couldn’t divorce myself from the idea that Bee wouldn’t have access to any of these sources but Semple writes herself out of that conundrum pretty well, but it is left until late in the novel. The novel also switches form in the latter sections, leaving behind the epistolary format and instead leaving the reader with a highly distraught Bee.

 

Where the novel falls down for me is that Semple chose Bernadette to be the star of this story. The reader is supposed to identify with and root for Bernadette and all the wacky choices she’s made and the life she is living. As much as I did identify with and root for Bernadette, it was Bee that I was more intensely tied to. I wanted the story to be more about Bee and less about Bernadette. The story is summarized as being Bee’s search for her mom, but it’s not. It’s the documenting of a life out of control and the magical realism way in which that life is brought back under control.  And I say this while falling a little in love with the book as it is.

 

Particularly because it uses the word troglodyte.