Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November Reads II - Part One


While trying to find a copy of Mary Sharratt's Summit Avenue at the Half-Price Bookstore last month, I found and bought The Vanishing Point. I'll keep looking for Summit Avenue as well as her The Real Minerva. Sharratt is an author I discovered after checking her Daughters of The Witching Hill out of the local library earlier this year.
The Vanishing Point is the story of two sisters in England in the late 15th Century. The elder, May, is a wanton creature who cannot stay true to any of the young men who catch her eye. Plain young Hannah is their physician father's helpmate - learning all he knows, even assisting him in operations. She could be a doctor herself except for one thing - she is a female.
When a distant cousin in America offers his son as a husband for May - a way out for all of them since her reputation will also hurt Hannah's chances - May journeys to the new colonies with Hannah's promise to join her after their father dies.
When Hannah does make it to America instead of the "Plantation" she expects, she finds only a half-wild brother-in-law living in the woods - and three graves - one of them her sister's, a second, May's week old daughter.
The brother-in-law, Gabriel's, story of how they died keeps changing. Then a neighbor tells Hannah the rumor that Gabriel killed May because she was unfaithful, is going around. By then Hannah is in love with Gabriel and expecting his child. She chooses to believe Gabriel's version of May's death until she finds a decomposing body half buried in the woods. The woman's remains are dressed in the wedding gown Hannah helped May stitch.
It is when Hannah goes to the marked grave of May and digs up the coffin to find it empty that she knows she must take her young son and start a new life.
I really enjoy well-written historical fiction. Sharratt's novels have a mysticism about them that make them extra fascinating to me. Reading about a time when our country was first being settled is also very interesting.


Rita Mae Brown has a new series set in Nevada - complete with a new cast of characters both human and animal. Brown's writing is light and entertaining - her mysteries ones that I even can sometimes solve. A Nose For Justice is the first Mags and Pete book in this series. They are helped by the canines Baxter and King.
This first mystery has to do with water rights in a very dry region. One of the things I like most about reading is learning something I would not otherwise have thought about. The laws governing water rights are not the same in every state. Water, or lack of, is not an issue for us here in the Midwest - yet. I wonder what our laws are??


I read Ruth Rendell's newest book: Portobello. She has been writing for forty years now and I've been reading some of her earliest works. This novel is not quite the psychological thriller as some I've read, though it is interesting how she can weave together a story beginning with the finding of an envelope of money and all the characters involved in getting the money back to the rightful owner.
The first page was probably the most interesting to me: "It is called the Portobello Road because a long time ago a sea captain called Robert Jenkins stood in front of a committee of the House of Commons and held up his amputated ear. Spanish coast guards, he said, had boarded his ship in the Caribbean, cut off his ear, pillaged the vessel, then set it adrift. Public opinion had already been aroused by other Spanish outrages, and the Jenkins episode was the last straw to those elements in Parliament which opposed Walpole's government. They demanded British vengeance and so began the War of Jenkins's Ear.
In the following year, 1739, Admiral Vernon captured the city of Puerto Bello in the Caribbean. It was one of those successes that are popular with patriotic Englishmen, though many hardly knew what the point of it was. Vernon's triumph put Puerto Bello on the map and gave rise to a number of commemorative names. Notting Hill and Kensal were open country then where sheep and cattle grazed, and one landowner called his fields Portobello Farm. In time the lane that led to it became the Portobello Road. But for Jenkin's ear it would have been called something else."


[November Reads II - to be continued....]

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