Let me take a moment to review a book that I loved. 

WeycombeWeycombe by G.M. Malliet
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nothing is as perfect as it seems.

It never is. Jillian White finds this out when the facade of her fantasy life is shattered by the murder of a woman named Anna, the local estate agent. Little by little the reader is pulled into Jill's world and her thoughts. (view spoiler)

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Book Pre-Review

I have a book to review, but I'm going to take my time on that. In the meantime, I thought I'd mention that I have begun reading another book – one that is fairly well known. The narrator (one of them) is described as 'unreliable', a term I have only recently come into contact with, though the concept has been around for a while. (Think Fight Club, though it's much, much older than that.) It seems that by telling me that the narrator is unreliable, they have taken away most of the element of surprise, but I don't imagine that the people who publish books would really do that on the back cover. So, I have to think there's still more to come.

I will say, though, that as far as unreliability goes, this narrator fits the bill so far. She's a mess, spiralling out of control and I have no idea why her roommate puts up with her, or how much longer she's going to. I'm only a couple of chapters in, after all. She has spent the last two years sinking into a level of alcoholism that would generally take somebody many more years, or decades, to accomplish.

The author describes this perfectly. I don't even know the author's name; that's what a good job she's done. I am convinced that I'm reading the notes of a real person. (Clearly, they were dictated as she could not possibly put pen to paper or work a word processor.) As I read about poor life choices and struggling to remember what happened earlier this afternoon to cause the bump on her head and the bruises across her body I begin to think about my own life. I mean, I am truly wondering when I'm going to get my act together. I long, just a little, to call a local AA branch to talk to somebody about my problem. A problem which I do not have, by the way. I hardly drink. When filling out paperwork at a new doctor's office I struggle with the question of how often I drink. There is nothing between 'one drink a week' and 'never'. I fall into that gap, somewhere.

People this easily impressionable are perfect readers, as far as I can tell. I become a part of the story to a depth that is probably not entirely healthy. Also, it means that I have to read something apologetically happy every once in a while. The last time I had a true bout of depression (a few years ago) I had been reading a book of short stories by David Foster Wallace. That man can get to you. (He got to himself, it would seem.) After going through that, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was called for, or, something along those lines. When I don't have one of those firmly in my grasp I reach for Calvin & Hobbs. I'm writing a novel right now, and the story is not always pleasant. I doubt that I come out of that experience unscathed.

But, it's been a while. So, I am happily (or enjoying myself, anyway) reading a book that has had rave reviews and a few people whose negative opinion about it has only strengthened my desire to read it. I'll try to write about this novel as well, once I'm finished. In the meantime, I'm going to continue reading, I'll begin the other review I mentioned and I'm going to have a lie down to try to get my life together.

-- Earnie

Pagan Spring, by G.M. Malliet

Pagan SpringPagan Spring by G.M. Malliet
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have begun reading the two series by G.M. Malliet: St. Just and Max Tudor, both set in England. It's a little strange that I should pick this book to write a review of, the third book in the second series of hers that I've read. But, the spirit catches you and you fall down. (Wait, that's a different book.)

I love mystery novels. I've read all of the Agatha Christie books I could get my hands on. I have thought about it and I believe that there are three aspects that I love: Characters, plot and the puzzle. In that order. I know a lot of mystery readers try to figure out whodunit before the end. I won't say that I don't do this, but it has never been the main attraction for me.

So, Pagan Spring, the third book in the Max Tudor series. We have an ex-spy (Max Tudor) who has decided to become an Anglican priest and ends up in a delightful village called Nether Monkslip. (I am always a sucker for delightful villages.) The first book in the series, Wicked Autumn, did a wonderful job of introducing the main characters in the village. So, when in Pagan Spring I read a tiny snippet about Lily Iverson, I was already familiar with her as a person from having read Wicked Autumn. This made me happy, made me feel a bit like an insider. With Max you don't get a James Bond sort of feeling. He's not brooding or arrogant. Along the same lines, he's not a cocky Poirot. Max is real, has very real feelings of self-doubt, regrets and love. It's convenient for him (usually) that he is a beautiful man who draws record attendance to his small St. Edwold's Parish church.

Not many of the people who live in the village are from the village, but they all seem to come together to make it whole. Gabby Crew is a relative newcomer and an intriguing character who adds an epistolary touch to the story with the emails she sends to a recipient – known only to her for most of the book. Even Suzanna Winship, who seems to be chomping at the bit for a bigger and better social life, has a place here, because what village doesn't have somebody who longs for just that? After three books in this series, I long to taste Elka Garth's pastries; I dream about them when I should be working. And, what village would be complete without a witch? Except that Awena Owens isn't a witch, she just has a new-age/quasi-pagan approach to life, love and spirituality. I feel that the "Writers' Square" adds to this feeling of family; it is a sort of embodiment of the sentiment. How else to describe people who come together to get on each others' nerves and defend each other to their dying breath?

I found myself trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together in my head, to figure it all out before the ending chapter revealed all. I had this desire much more in Pagan Spring than in any other of the Malliet books that I've read. It started with the opening - the Prologue. I had to go back and read it several times, trying to tease from it a clue and/or its place in the overall book. I had to reread several parts of the book, trying to pick up on the stray sentence that I had overlooked, the phrase in the dinner scene that could tip me off.

Rereading these parts was not a burden. The prose is beautiful here. Some of it I have been tempted to transcribe onto a canvas and embellish with other images and found pieces to make a literary collage. Malliet has placed me off the beaten path, in a tucked away village in South West England. I feel that I know these people. When I finally did finish reading it, I had to sit for a couple of days and ponder the story before reading anything else. Some books are that way; you have to savour them for a little bit before moving on.


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The idea of Baba Yaga is intriguing. When I looked up the word – or name – it seems that it has the same meaning in many of the Slavic languages. She is what we would know as a witch, an old ugly hag of a witch with nothing but wickedness in her heart. This is what I read as a kind of preliminary study for reading this novel. My previous experience with the name is from a children's book called Babushka Baba Yaga, a title that caused a Bulgarian woman I know to giggle when I asked her what it meant. She told me that it was a grandmother witch. And in every source I could find, be it Russian, Bulgarian or anywhere else, the original Baba Yaga is known for being very old, very ugly and eating children.

This book takes it in a new direction. There are two Baba Yagas. (In the folklore I read about, there were sometimes three, all with the same name. In this book they each have a different name, and the name Babayaga seems to become a noun.) One of Barlow's Baba Yagas is the typical hideous old woman that would naturally come to mind. The other, though, is a young (looking), sexy woman who can't keep herself from misbehaving. (Killing lovers = misbehaving) He eventually tells each of their stories, in a Vampire Lestat historical style. (Coincidentally, we had a cold snap while I was reading this book and reading about the horrible winters in Russia was particularly effective sitting on my sofa with a throw over myself.)

The two fellows that happen upon them are as delightful as the witches are mysterious. Both are from the U.S. (the book takes place in and around Paris, France in the 50's) and both from the Midwest. One is happy-go-lucky with a cocktail in his hand and the other is more of a brooding, romantic type. Not a Louis the Vampire kind of brooding. Just a confused and accidentally in love kind.

The characters are fun and I very much enjoyed reading the book. I looked forward to it while I was working, even. I suppose that the one thing I could say critical about it is that it's slightly predictable. Just a little bit, not terribly so. I was reading until my eyes wouldn't stay open, so it had to have something unexpected to keep me hooked. It's just not the dark, sinister book that I thought it was going to be.

All in all, though, I'd very much recommend this book.