BOOK & BLOG
February 10, 2008
Books of the Week: THE SWORD-EDGED BLONDE, by Alex Bledsoe, and THE COMPANION by Ann Granger
These are two diverse books, but both are rather short and easy reads. THE COMPANION is a period mystery, combining elements of Anne Perry’s Victorian series and perhaps a touch of “Jane Eyre.” Lizzie Martin, daughter of a doctor, is taken in by a distant connection when she is left destitute at his death. Mrs. Parry needs a new companion because her previous one, Madeleine Hexham, has vanished without a trace. Mrs. Parry has received a letter from Madeleine that implies Madeleine has eloped and does not any longer want her clothes or other possessions.
As another poor woman, Lizzie finds that almost impossible to believe, and she fears something worse has befallen the previous companion. Her fears are proved true when a policeman arrives to tell Mrs. Parry that a body has been found that may be Madeleine’s. When her identity is confirmed, everyone in the house comes under some suspicion.
Though there are some coincidences in the books that are a bit hard to swallow, THE COMPANION is really a pleasant read, and the period is portrayed very faithfully.
THE SWORD-EDGED BLONDE is pure fantasy, and I was surprised to find that it’s Bledoe’s first published book, though he’s written numerous short stories and articles. It’s actually a detective novel, too. Middle-aged sword-for-hire Eddie LaCrosse is summoned to solve the crime of a queen who supposedly murdered her only child in a particularly grisly way. The only one who doesn’t believe it? Her husband, the king. The queen herself remembers nothing. In fact, she doesn’t even remember her life before she met the king.
When Eddie is allowed to interview the alleged murderess, he gets a huge shock. He knows her, or rather he knew her, in her previous life. Yet she says she’s never met him. And she also says she doesn’t think she killed her child.I enjoyed this book very much, and I look forward to reading more of Bledsoe’s work.
I liked the blog I wrote for the Femmes Fatales website so much that I’m using it here, too. In case you haven’t visited the website, please give us a look. We change blogs twice a week, and all of us have something interesting to say. We’re at http://www.femmesfatales.typepad.com. I wrote this blog after reading my friend Dana Cameron’s entry about treasures she found when she cleaned out some shelves.
Since Dana's talked about treasures from the past, I'm reminded of one of my favorite pastimes, one I don't often get to indulge these days. I'm talking, of course, about re-reading. I have so much to read these days, so many new things, that I don't get to experience books twice the way I used to. When I was young, I read books two or three times, and there was nothing extraordinary about it. Our library was limited, especially for a voracious reader like me. I must have read "Jane Eyre" seven times, and "Pride and Prejudice" at least that many. I was also very enamored of Lloyd C. Douglas's sentimental "The Robe," and "Gone With the Wind" was a big favorite, too.
My reading time is shorter now, both because I work and have the running of a household, and also have older eyes that can only take so much computer screen/book page time per day. My shelves are piled with TBR books, and they're on the shelves for a reason; they sound good to me, or maybe they're by writers I've enjoyed in the past, and I really want to get to them. None of them are what I used to think of as "filler" books -- things I read because I couldn't find anything better.
What's gone by the wayside is the luxury of slowly re-reading books that I loved the first time around. This second perusal serves a lot of purposes. First there's the sheer pleasure of it. Second, there's usually a reason I want to look at the book again; I've learned something from the way it was written, a lesson I want to make sure I've absorbed. (More about that later.) Third, there's my sense of the writer's full body of work, and details that make up the portrait of the protagonist I want to be sure I've included. That's why I'd like to read all of Kim Harrison's books again, and someday I'd like to take Lee Child's books in order, slowly; Jim Butcher's, too.
Scenes I go over with a microscope include such diverse ones as: the dragon Temeraire meeting his 'human' for the first time in Naomi Novik's excellent HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON . . . Lestat the vampire talking face to face with a member of the Talamasca, in Anne Rice's THE VAMPIRE LESTAT . . . Connie Willis's time traveller in THE DOOMSDAY BOOK, when she realizes she has come to the wrong time . . . Jane's meeting with the ruined Mr. Rochester after the fire in Bronte's JANE EYRE. I could go on and on. These scenes have taught me something about writing, or something about the human condition, that made me feel like a better craftsman or a better person for having read them. I'm sure you could all name similar scenes, or revelations you've had after reading books, that made you want to read them again and again.
The best time for second-time-around books is on plane trips, or any trip, for that matter. I travel a lot, beginning in the spring, and ending with the end of summer. Some of those travels are professional, when I'm on book tour, and some are personal, when I'm watching our daughter play tournament ball in the summer. Either way, a book I've already broken in is perfect. I'm not so intent that I miss a gate change (I've done that before) and if I lose my place, it's not a huge problem to find it again. I have big plans for this summer's reading program . . . and I hope you do, too.
© 2009 Charlaine Harris