A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem, Manda Collins
A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem is a light mystery-romance, where the romance feels like the more important element of the two. Kate Bascomb is a reporter, the owner of a newspaper she took over after her husband died, and she’s determined to champion women and shine a light on things women are kept sheltered from in England of 1865. Andrew Eversham is a detective inspector, and her investigative reporting endangers his career as she quickly finds a witness his team entirely neglected to speak to, with crucial evidence about a string of murders.
Naturally, the two get drawn together personally, particularly after the killings start getting very close to Kate, who discovers a body while on a visit to a friend’s country home. The murders were confined to London at first, but suddenly they seem to have followed her… and thus so does Eversham. The sparks of attraction between them are very obvious, and this was the shakiest part of the book for me: they leapt from lust to love in mere pages, with very little provocation. I’d expected a bit more will-they-won’t-they, but it was remarkably straightforward. At least they mostly managed to communicate like adults, which can be a big bugbear for me.
I thought it was light and frothy and fairly inconsequential, and for the most part, I was fine with that. Kate and her friend Caro were fun, and I appreciated the friendship between Kate and Val, as well — I was very relieved when there was no sign of sexual interest or jealousy on either of them’s part, and their quasi-sibling relationship was rather fun. Much of the setting and characters are sketched in fairly lightly; historical fiction this is not, if that’s what you’re hoping for… and the mystery was fairly light too.
When I try to sum it all up, it all seems pretty thin and like I’m damning it with faint prize, but it was a genuinely fun reading experience, and a nice way to spend my day, picking it up here and there to read a chapter whenever I could. It’s unlikely to stick in my head, but I’d happily read another Manda Collins book or even another book in this series.
Greetings, folks! It’s still Wednesday until I’ve slept, right?
What are you currently reading?
Fiction: Abaddon’s Gate, by James S.A. Corey. I’m now nearing the end of my reread of this one, and the next one (Cibola Burn, I think?) will be entirely new to me, so that’s going to be interesting.
Non-fiction: I picked up Genuine Fakes, by Lynda Pynes yesterday; it’s an interesting book; a bit scattershot in its approach (a fake fossil made up of four genuine fossils is not [yet?] a genuine fossil in anything like the same way as a piece of art by the Spanish Forger has become a collectable item in its own right), but engaging. Funny how some of my most random book choices turn out to be the most engaging, while A World Beneath the Sands (Toby Wilkinson) is a bit of a grind, despite being one of my usual interests.
What have you recently finished reading?
A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem, by Manda Collins. Frothy and light, not too consequential, and relatively predictable… which makes it exactly what I wanted to read right now. Bit like the Veronica Speedwell books in some ways, though the heroine is a reporter rather than a scientist.
What will you be reading next?
As ever, it’s anyone’s guess. The Mask of Mirrors (Alyc Helms and Marie Brennan writing as M.A. Carrick) has arrived, so that’s a possibility… but The Animals at Lockwood Manor is on my five-book shortlist — which I haven’t touched for weeks and weeks, argh, clearly it needs a refresh — and is actually starting to pique my interest. Also I’m kind of in a non-fiction mood, and there’s a couple of books I got for Christmas that might tempt me there.
Again, I read this in the version illustrated by Charles Vess, this time. I noticed fewer corrections/changes in the text for this one, but perhaps I know it a little less well — though the opening chapter with the ceremony where Arha is ‘eaten’ has always stuck in my head (the drum beating at heart-pace, the ritual word that has lost all meaning) and the descriptions of the Labyrinth, the treasures of the temple… these have made a really big impression on me. As a kid, I think it was my favourite.
And that impression pretty much stayed with me. I love learning more about this part of Earthsea, seeing a whole other perspective. Though she didn’t know it yet, according to her own discussions of her writing process, so many foundations for the later books were laid here, asking new questions of what was established in the first book.
The only thing disappointing about this reread was reading Ursula Le Guin’s afterword, which feels like such an odd thing to say — but I so often agree with Ursula Le Guin that it really pulls me up short when something strikes such a discordant note for me. Here it is:
When I was writing the story in 1969, I knew of no women heroes of heroic fantasy since those in the works of Ariosto and Tasso in the Renaissance. These days there are plenty, though I wonder about some of them. The women warriors of current fantasy epics — ruthless swordswomen with no domestic or sexual responsibility who gallop about slaughtering baddies — to me they look less like women than boys in women’s bodies in men’s armor.
It sort of depends exactly what heroines Le Guin had in mind with that, but “no domestic or sexual responsibility” rings horribly to me. I enjoy the attention to domestic tasks in Le Guin’s work (Yarrow making the wheat cakes in A Wizard of Earthsea; the endless work of spinning and weaving at the Place in The Tombs of Atuan…) — and I certainly wouldn’t want Tenar to run around in armour with a sword. I think it’s important that Tenar, with those skills and her later trajectory, is a heroine… but she’s not the only kind of heroine there can be. (And a woman who wants to have “no domestic and sexual responsibility” is no less of a woman for it.)
Bit odd to end on that note, given that I dearly love The Tombs of Atuan. Still a great read.
A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, Joy Spanabel Emery
I don’t think this book would be of great interest to someone who isn’t interested in sewing at all, but you don’t have to actually sew to take an interest — a couple of episodes of the Great British Sewing Bee should set you up with all you need to know for background, if you feel you need to know a little more. Mostly, what you need to know is explained in the text, as the history goes through the development of early patterns from “rock of eye” to printed patterns showing various different sizes.
It seems that paper patterns have a surprising amount to tell fashion history: although paper patterns for home sewers were behind the fashion by a little, they couldn’t be that far behind or they’d be pointless, so they did follow fashion and sometimes inform it (for instance, in the length of mini-skirts). Patterns have survived well, despite the flimsy paper, because the paper was acid-free, and often systems of notches and punched holes were used instead of ink. Carefully unfolded, very old patterns are still useable and useful.
It’s surprising to me that the companies which established themselves early in the history of providing patterns for home sewers still exist! It was a little odd to meet their names back before printed patterns became possible, for instance.
The book is richly illustrated with images of the fashions and pattern-packets discussed, showing the trends through time very visually as pattern companies started putting the pattern pieces in envelopes, providing more instruction, and expanding their ranges to tempt younger sewers into following fashions. It also comes with some vintage patterns, which make no sense to me, but might interest people with a less academic interest in sewing and actually making garments.
He’d Rather Be Dead is another of George Bellairs’ Inspector Littlejohn stories; I’m not reading them in any kind of order, just picking them up as I come across them or find them on Kindle Unlimited, and luckily that doesn’t matter — you can jump in anywhere. Littlejohn’s character doesn’t really change or develop: it’s purely about the mystery he’s investigating. In this case, it’s the death of the local Mayor, who died at a banquet surrounded by potential enemies made due to his corruption and efforts to revitalise the town in a way the inhabitants see as vulgar.
As with The Case of the Famished Parson, which I read recently, a lot of the opening detail is a red herring: the events of the banquet are relatively unimportant, and Boumphrey — who gets a decent introduction — quickly fades into the background and even becomes rather a suspicious character.
I do enjoy that with George Bellairs’ work, you can usually follow Littlejohn’s reasoning. As the evidence comes to light, the reader gets to see it too. He’s no Sherlock Holmes, all ego and long explanations of his own cleverness; he’s decent and honest, and basically what an ideal policeman should be.
The kind of odd thing with this particular instalment was that it ended with several chapters of the killer’s diary, which just went over information we already knew, in a rather florid style. It doesn’t add much, and honestly… I’d skip it. Otherwise, an enjoyable enough mystery, with George Bellairs’ usual qualities.
I loved The Golden Mean maybe a little bit less than the other books, even though the plot definitely advances here. It’s the end of the original trilogy, and there’s just so much that we don’t know because of the frustrating format. It makes sense that we can’t know it, but it’s still infuriating to get to the end and be left with so many questions about the story and what exactly happened. I’m very curious about that last postcard, don’t get me wrong! I’d love to read more!
But… this particular volume felt a little bit thinner, and the fact that the later books are all available second-hand only (and expensive) is really sad.
It’s still absolutely beautiful, with letters each in their own envelopes (though the envelopes are a little less well stuck to the page in this than in my copies of the first two books). It’s a lovely, tactile, multimedia experience, and I thoroughly recommend it even with its frustrations. I’ll continue reading the series when I can, though sadly it won’t be soon, unless I have a Fairy Godmother somewhere!
Sabine’s Notebook more or less immediately follows Griffin & Sabine, and has the same format. Though they were so close to meeting in the first book, Griffin gets scared at the last minute: can he have imagined Sabine? Is it possible that he’s invented her somehow? So he runs, and his letters to Sabine come from all over the world as he tries to figure things out, travelling to Florence, to Greece, to Japan… and attempts to visit Sabine’s home island.
Sabine, meanwhile, stays in Griffin’s flat in London, giving him the time to get things figured out. And then — well, I’ll let you discover it for yourselves, but suffice it to say that I loved this one as well. The ending is another kick in the gut, same as the ending of the first, and the letters between the two of them are tender and hopeful amidst the fear. And of course, the illustrations are beautiful, and the format with the envelopes and postcards remains really engaging.
I’m keen to see what the last book will do. In a way, the plot of this book is kind of demanded by the format. Once they meet, the conceit kind of falls away. So I’ll be interested to see how that gets resolved…
Here goes, only slightly belated (there was a work thing to do!).
What are you currently reading?
Fiction: Abaddon’s Gate, by James S.A. Corey, since it’s time I got on with rereading this series and got onto the new books. Abaddon’s Gate is the last one I read before, which makes it both easier and harder to read — easier, because I know what’s coming. And… harder, because I know what’s coming. There’s a bit where someone gets framed for something they didn’t do, and it’s agonising!
Non-fiction: A World Beneath the Sands, by Toby Wilkinson — slow going, but I’ve got through Champollion and a couple of gentleman dilettantes, and I’m kinda hoping there’ll be some more obscure stuff next. Also A History of the Paper Pattern Industry by Joy Spanabel Emery, which is pretty interesting. Paper patterns were usually made of acid-free paper and have survived better than textiles as a result, despite their seeming flimsiness! That makes them useful for studying the history of fashion.
What have you recently finished reading?
The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula Le Guin. I need to get my review posted with all of my thoughts… it’s always been a favourite, because it’s full of really graphic, resonant imagery. Even I can almost see the Empty Throne, the black-clad priestesses, the eerie standing stones in the desert… and I’m completely aphantasic!
What will you be reading next?
Beats me. Nominally, I have a stack of ‘next up’ books that I should be paying attention to, but I think they need a rotation, because none of the current five are grabbing me right now. That said, I should pick up Black and British by David Olusoga, ’cause it’s a book club read this month.
I’ve read this I don’t know how many times, and it always charms. This time, I read it in the edition illustrated by Charles Vess, which is just gorgeous — and includes both an introduction by Le Guin and an afterword, which shed a little light on the book and what she thought of it, where it came from, and where it went. If you’ve never read it, A Wizard of Earthsea is a hero’s journey, a fantasy tale with dragons and sea-voyages and magic, but also an inward one.
I still maintain that Ged’s journey makes an excellent metaphor for (how I experience) mental illness. Sometimes the descriptions of the Shadow and the way it haunts Ged are just far too familiar; they fill me with my own anxious dread. But then it’s good to be reminded that when you turn and face it, and hunt it down, and accept it as a part of you… to some degree, things can be overcome.
All that said, I still appreciate that Le Guin came back to Earthsea, and found herself looking at how it came to be such a man’s world, and how it could be fixed, things which her introduction discusses a little.
On a non-story note, I did notice some changes in the illustrated edition. Some were obviously good corrections (my old Penguin had plain-sailing as a “sacred” skill on Roke, while this version has it as “scanted”, which is much more likely)… and others I have arguments with, like changing “in wizardly fashion” to “in wizardry fashion”. I think it was right the first time! And my other comment is that I wish there was an illustration of the otak. My visual imagination is non-existent, though I’ve muzzily over the years somehow come to the conclusion that it’s basically a carnivorous guinea pig.