|A weird weather year - icy cactus in Texas - posted to Facebook by Texas Hill Country|
Two Unusual Books
I avoid writing reviews - it's time-consuming, and frequently I know the authors personally and don't want to fall into the trap of favoring one over the other. But this week I have to mention two books I stumbled across, thanks to Amazon blurbs, that were so unusual they managed to distract me from the turmoil of re-plumbing and living in chaos until my bedroom finally had a carpet again, and the zillion books, too many clothes, and various oddments could be restored to their rightful places and my house begin to look normal. (Truthfully, all the books are still in ten blue trash bags in the garage, waiting to be re-shelved, while I write this blog, but we're getting there, looking infinitely better than yesterday at this time.)
Both books are magnificent examples of the art of Characterization and should be read for that, if for nothing else. One is a Romance, the other - for lack of a better word - Women's Fiction. And both are examples of books written by authors with special knowledge. True Pretenses by an author with an understanding of Judaism. The Disenchanted Widow by an author familiar with Ireland during the Troubles.
True Pretenses by Rose Lerner.
As an author of multiple Regency novels, I can only say that this one is truly different. Yes, we all strive to come up with a new angle, a new twist, a fresh bit of dialogue in a genre with thousands of facets, but this one actually does it. Your classic beleaguered Regency heroine is paired with a con artist of Jewish heritage who, though he has not practiced his religion in years, has not forgotten his roots.
This is a tale not only of romantic love but of desperation, devotion to family, loyalty, redemption, and hope. As a character study, as a love story, as a peek into the lives of people who are not titled members of the ton but a thief and a young woman of the gentry struggling to find their places in the world, I cannot recommend this book too highly.
The Disenchanted Widow by Christina McKenna.
The title sounds like a traditional Regency, right? Well, it's about as far from it as you can get. The setting is Ireland in the Eighties, when the Troubles in Northern Ireland were at their worst. (As there was a flurry of the old troubles the night before I arrived in Belfast many years later, I got a taste of what that era was like. We didn't even venture out of the hotel to try out the inviting-looking pub across the street - with a strapping security guy constantly guarding the door. The next day, after a bussed tour of the town, where, among other things, we saw chainlink fences three stories high, topped with barbed wire, around the schools - and only when we were about to head south out of town past the gun emplacements in the hills - our guide told us we'd just spent the night in the most bombed hotel in Europe! )
This then is the setting for The Disenchanted Widow, a woman, wounded to the soul, who has suffered two generations of alcoholism and abuse, and now finds her life threatened by an IRA enforcer. She takes her eight-year-old boy and runs from Belfast, ending up in a small town peopled by an absolutely astonishing variety of characters. And where she finally discovers there are good men who think of others besides themselves. (The why and wherefore of shoppers suddenly finding themselves surrounded by the bomb squad is simply too good to be missed.)
If I found the book a bit long at times, when I put on my editing hat and asked myself what I would cut, the answer was "nothing." The picture of rural Ireland was too priceless to pare down to just a tale of what happened to our heroine and her son. The "hero," by the way, is a small-town-boy-made-good, now an art restorer in Belfast and also threatened by the IRA. (Secondary characters include a transvestite mechanic, a hopefully singular priest, and a loquacious countrywoman of a certain age.)
If you require an HEA ending, then perhaps this book isn't for you. But if you'll settle for hope for the future, for using your imagination and a bit of "what if," don't miss this one. It's priceless.
~ * ~
Thanks for stopping by.
For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.
For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.