Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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Location: New York, United States

The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Book Review: North by Northanger

North by Northanger by Carrie Bebris ****

This series got off to a bit of a rocky start in my opinion, but this book and the previous one have only gotten better. In North by Northanger in particular, Ms. Bebris has really caught the bantering tone that I imagine conversations between Elizabeth and Darcy would have had after their marriage, and the back-and-forth between them over the sex and possible names for their coming first child was one of the most enjoyable parts of the book for me.

The mystery is bizarre and a bit far-fetched but not overly taxing, and mainly acts as a vehicle for bringing together several of the characters we love (and love to hate) so much from Pride & Prejudice, as well as from the other novels. (I wish that Catherine Tilney - née Morland - had made an appearance, though. I would have liked to see how she could have matured from the slightly silly, though good-natured, "heroine" of Northanger Abbey.) There is also some character development, and it's good to see Elizabeth, who at the beginning of the novel feels overshadowed by the memory of Darcy's mother, gain confidence and become truly the mistress of Pemberley, which certainly would have been a daunting task for her, given her modest upbringing. Darcy, too, must still learn some lessons about humility, particularly in his overprotective attitude over Elizabeth's pregnancy. This is made more understandable, however, by the fuller picture that we gain of his childhood, his mother's personality and the relationship between his parents, mainly through letters that Elizabeth must pore over to discover what has become of a precious heirloom.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Book Review: Water Like a Stone by Deborah Crombie

Water Like a Stone by Deborah Crombie ****

In the latest installment of her Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery series, Deborah Crombie continues to maintain the high standards of writing, plotting and characterization that I have come to expect from her. I recently went back and read a couple of the earliest books in the series, and while they’re good, the later ones only get better. In this one, Duncan, Gemma and their children from other relationships, still feeling their way in their relatively new family relationship, travel to spend the Christmas holiday with Duncan’s parents. On Christmas Eve, however, Duncan’s sister Juliet discovers the mummified body of a baby in the mortarwork of an old barn she is renovating. Simmering family tensions and a present-day murder add to the mix.

The mystery is interesting and intriguing, if a big complicated, but what I liked best about this book was its portrayal of relationships of several kinds. Duncan’s parents seem like fascinating people and I don’t feel that I got to know them well enough; I hope that they will make appearances in future installments. His troubled son, Kit, who is still dealing with the death of his mother in an earlier book, is a believable teenager, as is his rather less likable cousin Lally and her creepy friend Leo. Characters outside the family, like Duncan’s old school friend Ronnie Babcock, now a local police inspector; former social worker Annie Lebow, who has taken refuge in a life on the canals after a painful case; and the Wains, a poor family who also live on a narrowboat and are portrayed with respect and dignity, come alive in Ms. Crombie’s skillful writing.