Monday, September 28, 2015

For the Love of Pete

The title: For the Love of Pete
The author:  Julia Harper (aka Elizabeth Hoyt)
Publication: Hachette, 2008
Got it from: Barnes and Noble, Buffalo, September 2015

Elizabeth Hoyt once again proves she can write like magic with this just-what-I-needed sequel to Hot.  Special Agent Dante Torelli, last seen as the hero's partner in the previous book, is on assignment in Chicago.  His job is to protect a witness testifying against a mob kingpin.  Unfortunately something goes terribly wrong.  His partners are killed and a hitman takes off with the witness's baby girl, Petronella, or Pete for short.  Pete's aunt Zoey happens to be outside when the baby is taken - she's living in the same apartment building as her rough-around-the-edges sister and brother-in-law.  She's also one furiously protective aunt and insists on accompanying Dante as they chase after the hitman and her niece.  This being Elizabeth Hoyt, things get a little crazy when two little old Indian ladies being blackmailed by the mob accidentally end up snatching Pete from the hitman.

As in Hot, the author manages to just skirt the edges of a too-crazy plot to make it believable, satisfying and fun.  I love a road-trip romance story and this one has one in winter - even better!  The story really shines in the middle, when Dante and Zoey are arguing and learning about one another and fighting their mutual attraction (as you do in a romance novel road trip).  The action was fast-paced and sometimes too violent, but it really held my attention, which isn't easy for a book to accomplish these days when my life has gotten crazy and stressful.  As much as I love Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, I wish she would write more contemporaries if they're all as good as this.

A Tangled Web

The title: A Tangled Web 
The author: L.M. Montgomery
Publication: Seal, 1988 (originally 1931)
Got it from: PEI, early 1990's

I've been slowly re-reading a lot of Montgomery's works for the first time since childhood, and my recent foray was with one of her few adult-oriented novels, A Tangled Web.  This story focuses on a tight-knit community ruled by two proud families, the Darks and Penhallows, who have fought and married each other for years.  Yes, they're incestuous, but it was pretty common back then.  As the story opens, family matriarch and queen bitch Aunt Becky is dying and is about to announce who is going to receive her legendary heirloom jug.  Every member of the family is dying to have it, but Becky, who can't resist being awful even as she's dying, makes them wait a year and dance to her tune before they can find out who gets it.

In typical Montgomery fashion the book is very character driven.  Each family member has his or her own back story that has to get resolved before the end of the year.  It's not exactly a secret who the "good" and "bad" characters are.  Montgomery is pretty clearly on the side of the romantic, old-fashioned Victorian folk, she has no patience for the moderns.  Consider one of the heroines, Gay (her name is Gay, people!), a throwback Gibson Girl and professional romantic whose fiancee is stolen by her cousin Nan, a boyish flapper who oozes nastiness from her pores.  There's also the tragic story of Hugh and Joscelyn, separated on their wedding night ten years ago. Joscelyn's growth as a character comes from her realization of her true love for her traditional husband and his old-fashioned farm.  But even if she's hard on the non-homebodies, some of them still get their happy endings.  Peter Penhallow, the family's globe-trotting explorer, is a moron, but manages to win his true love in the end (although it should be noted that his and Donna's story is the most underdeveloped and fizzles out at the end).  

There's little touches of humour sprinkled throughout the book, especially in the scenes involving Big Sam, a wee fussy man, and the gigantic Little Sam, roommates who fall out over a naked goddess statue.  Overall though, this book feels more tragic than what I'm used to from Montgomery.  It was written in during the early stages of the Depression when the author's own life wasn't going so well, and it shows.  It isn't one of my favourites of hers, but I liked it pretty well.  That is, until the very last paragraph, when she trots out something so racist I did a double-take.  You were so close, Maud!  You almost made it.  It's too bad the ending had to leave such a bad taste in my mouth, but then again it's not the first time she's done this to me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Town That Drowned


The title: The Town that Drowned 
The author: Riel Nason
Publication: Goose Lane, 2011
Got it from: SC, Xmas 2014

The Town That Drowned is a difficult book for me to pin down except to say that I enjoyed it.  I tend to find most Maritime lit to be too weird and depressing for my taste, and despite the fact that this book had a little bit of both, it was still very good.  It's told from the perspective of 15-year-old Ruby Carson and based on the real-life building of the Mactaquac Dam in the 1960s.  Ruby's village of Haventon is being appropriated by the government because it's in the flood plain.  In the book and in real life, the town is literally drowned.  How the townspeople cope with the loss of everything they know is the focus of the story.

I spent my early childhood (and some my adulthood) in a similar village along the Saint John River valley, so this story felt very real to me.  I have driven by that area of the river dozens of times in my life but never knew the story, nor that many of the houses at King's Landing Historical Settlement were from the lost towns.  Even though it's sad, it's also fascinating.  I loved the characters in Ruby's town because they felt so much like neighbours I've grown up with.  Everything felt so familiar to me, including the log cabins, the bonfires, the legion, the farms and of course the river itself.  

Being from the perspective of a teenager, this book had a strong YA flavour.  It is the kind of book I would have loved when I was about 12 or 13, but I love it now in a different way.  The writing never seemed to drag and there was even a romance or two thrown in to make things interesting.  I liked the way the story delved into the different ways people coped psychologically with their impending loss - everything from complete denial to opportunistic adavancement. You definitely don't have to be from NB to enjoy this book, but it sure helps.