Tues. Dec. 17, 2019: WINTER SOLSTICE by Rosamunde Pilcher #ReaderExpansionChallenge

Winter Solstice. Rosamunde Pilcher. NY: Thomas Dunne Books. 2000.

I blew it this month. Instead of expanding my reading repertoire, I went back to an old favorite, Rosamunde Pilcher’s WINTER SOLSTICE.

I love winter holiday novels, where a bunch of people who don’t feel like they belong anywhere find kinship with each other. I am still trying to write my perfect version of it. I’m a sucker for the multitude of winter holiday romance novellas that come out every year (although many of them wind up frustrating me, especially when the woman’s only reason for existing is to marry and have kids).

My mother is an enormous fan of Rosamunde Pilcher’s work, and has all her books. She re-reads them regularly. THE SHELL SEEKERS is the novel that Ms. Pilcher is probably best-known for writing.

But I love WINTER SOLSTICE.

I forgot how long it takes to get to the meat of the title. Whereas if I submitted a novel structured like this, I would be told to start it about half-way through where this novel starts, Pilcher starts slowly, bringing Elfrida out of London with Horace, her new rescue dog, to a small English village and following her as she rebuilds her life there, after the love of her life dies. She goes through months of settling in, and then visits her cousin in Cornwall for a month. She returns to find that the wife and daughter of the couple with whom she made the closest friends (the husband of which she cares about a little too much) have died in a car crash. The wife left the house to the sons from her first marriage, who put it on the market and tell Oscar, the husband, to leave.

Oscar owns half a house up in Scotland, along with his cousin, and convinces Elfrida (and Horace) to join him there, while he works through his grief and tries to figure out his life. They plan to spend a quiet winter and ignore the holidays.

From there, the holiday circle grows to include Elfrida’s cousin’s daughter Carrie, recovering from a broken heart, and Carrie’s niece, Lucy. Lucy is fourteen. Her mother is off to America with a new boyfriend, her father’s new wife doesn’t want her around, and her grandmother is too busy to bother with her.

Throw in Sam, recovering from the dissolution of his marriage by going back to his wool-mill roots to revive a local mill, who meets Oscar’s cousin and gets the key to the house from him, and you have a band of kind people who need each other.

That is one of the joys of this novel. No matter what life throws at them, how life tries to break them, at the core, all of these characters are basically kind. In this day and age, when too often the cruelty is the point, reading a book where the kind characters triumph by living their kindness is uplifting and reassuring.

Modern critics would say the stakes are too low in this book, but when it comes to the heart, only the person whose heart it is can really make that determination.

I had forgotten how enjoyable and warm the book is. If you want a warming read for a cold winter’s night, I suggest reading, or re-reading WINTER SOLSTICE.

This is the last Reader Expansion Challenge. I hope you’ve had fun over the past few months. I certainly have.

Next year will be a mix of author interviews, pieces about favorite bookshops, and responses to books I read that I’m excited about. They’re not reviews, but personal responses.

Have a lovely holiday season! I will be posting over the next two Tuesdays, even though it’s a holiday, so I hope you will join me.

 

Reader Expansion Challenge April: MURDER AT LONGBOURN by Tracy Kiely

 

Murder at Longbourn by Tracy Kiely. New York: Minotaur Books. 2009.

This month’s challenge was truly a challenge. I’m in the process of reading many books in favorite genres by new-to-me authors, but they are for a contest, and I can’t talk about any of them until the contest results go live.

I picked up MURDER AT LONGBOURN by Tracy Kiely when I was browsing the shelves of my local library. Set on Cape Cod, inspired, in some ways, by PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, I thought it sounded like an interesting story.

I’m a big fan of mysteries. I have been, since I first started reading Nancy Drew way back when, and figured out my allowance in terms of how many Nancy Drew books I could buy. I still have them. I read in many genres, I enjoy many genres, but mystery is often the most satisfying.

Elizabeth Parker goes to her Aunt Winnie’s new B&B on Cape Cod to celebrate New Year’s. She runs into her childhood nemesis Peter, and into murder when the staged murder mystery entertainment for the evening takes an unexpected turn. Layers of intrigue and hidden motivation, mistaken identities, humor, and witty nods to Jane Austen blend for an excellent mix.

Clues and red herrings are beautifully distributed throughout the tale. If you pay attention, you can figure it out — yet still be surprised by a few of the elements. Kiely is excellent at keeping the balance between giving the reader enough information, but not letting the reader get too far ahead of the story or characters.

I sometimes felt Elizabeth’s learning curve wasn’t fast enough. But I liked her determination to get herself out of the jams she got herself into instead of expecting to be rescued.

I plan to read the rest in the series. Or, I should say, I’ll read the rest in the series once I finish reading the entries for the contest I’m judging. And then I’ll start reading her other series, too. I’m delighted to have come across Tracy Kiely’s work. I hope you’ll give it a try, too, and let me know what you think.

May’s challenge is to switch it up. If you usually read fiction, read non-fiction. If you usually read non-fiction, read fiction.

I read both, but I definitely read more fiction than non-fiction, so I’ll choose a non-fiction book for next month. Our discussion date is Tuesday, May 21.

What book did you read this month? Do you recommend it? Why or why not? Tell me about it in the comments.

 

Reader Expansion Challenge: Book by A Woman Whose Work You Haven’t Yet Read: Until You by Jeannie Moon

 

This month, the challenge was to read a book by a woman writer whose work we had not previously read.

I got some wonderful recommendations. I looked at several books; I have a huge TBR pile from those recommendations that is very exciting. Some of them are big books that will probably change my life.

Then, I saw a RT on Twitter (can’t remember from whom, but it must have been a fellow writer). It was about a writer I had never yet read named Jeannie Moon, who writes romance. A younger writer criticized her because her female protagonist is ten years older than the male love interest.

Say what?

As an unmarried woman who’s older than I ever expected to be, that offends me.

I’ve dated older; I’ve dated younger. I joke a lot about how my cut-off in dating is that don’t date a man to whom I could have technically given birth.

That’s not always true. I’ve sometimes dated men younger than that.

But, as I said, I’m older than I ever thought I’d be.

I don’t date them very young, because I don’t date boys, I date men.

Of course, there are plenty of males who are chronologically men but emotionally boys. I try to steer clear of them, too.

I hurt on behalf of Jeannie Moon, and I was offended FOR her. She gets to write whatever she wants. She writes romance. That means her characters find their Happily Ever After.

In my Gwen Finnegan series, Gwen is twelve years older than Justin. Does it cause problems? Hell, yes. Do they have great sex anyway? HELL, yes! Do they genuinely love each other? Hell, hell, HELL yes!

Granted, the Gwen Finnegan books are paranormal mysteries with romantic elements, not romance novels. But I believe everyone deserves a happy ending. A real one, not a nudge, nudge, wink, wink kind that’s paid for by old white men in Florida “spas.”

I looked over Jeannie Moon’s published books and decided to read UNTIL YOU for this month’s challenge. First, that was the book criticized. Second, the male protagonist was a professional hockey player.

I’m a huge hockey fan. I’ve written about hockey, both in fiction and by covering the sport. I even spent eight months with a minor league team (where, even then, I was already older than some of their mothers). No, I didn’t date any of them. I wasn’t even tempted, and I set strong boundaries. But I wrote about quite a few hockey players over a period of years who started out as talented boys and grew into terrific men. I’m proud of them.

I didn’t date any of them after they’d all grown up, either.

An aside: I once brought a date to one of the games. We went to the bar where we all hung out after the games. My date and I sat on our own, but I brought him over to introduce him to the players. As we walked away, I looked back at the table, and a handful of the guys with whom I was closest looked horrified and shook their heads. When I went to the rink the next day, they sat me down and gave me a serious talking to about how this guy was entirely wrong for me, and they were worried.

I’d already figured that out. But I thought they were adorable to care.

Back to Jeannie Moon’s book.

I really liked it. It was charming and funny. She’d done her research. She got the hockey right and the teamwork right and some of the not-so-nice aspects right. She got various settings right and they sang, supporting the story.

There was one plot development where I thought the book would lose me, because I am sick and tired of that choice being the endgame in too many books, especially romance novels. But then, it took a sad and poignant twist. The way the characters dealt with it was beautiful and true to their core integrity, and made me care about them even more.

The antagonists were drawn a bit too broadly sometimes, and I got ahead of them. I didn’t need scenes in their POVs. The scenes were fine–the writing was good, we got insight. But I didn’t need those scenes.

But the other characters and the way they grew and loved and laughed and cried and lived and fought and supported each other — it was beautiful.

I had a smile on my face by the end of the book. I look forward to reading more of her work.

I’m sorry Jeannie Moon was attacked for writing lovely, vibrant people who genuinely love each other; but I might not have found her work otherwise. She’s definitely worth reading.

So what’s next month’s challenge?

April’s challenge is to read in a favorite genre by a new-to-you author. We reconvene to share on Tuesday, April 16th.

Please share in this post’s comments what you read this month. I’d love to add them to my TBR pile!

Yes, these posts are more essays on my emotional responses to a book than a review. That is my choice. A review serves a different purpose. The point of the Reader Expansion Challenge is to get us reading in new directions and respond emotionally as much as intellectually. These posts are not reviews. They’re discussions of reading experiences.