Monthly Archives: February 2009

Book Review: Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs

51q6vsj14jl_sl160_pisitb-sticker-arrow-dptopright12-18_sh30_ou01_aa115_It is the spring of 1929, and an enterprising young woman named Maisie Dobbs opens a detective agency in London.  What is remarkable about Maisie is that not only is she female, but she comes from a working-class background.  A perceptive employer noticed the promise in her 13-year-old maid and so Maisie studied her way to Cambridge.  Now she is solving her first case, which seems easy enough: an open-and-shut case of infidelity.

But the Great War lurks behind the polite and pleasant facade of the life of a privileged young woman in 1920s London, and as Maisie delves deeper into the case, she also delves deeper into her own past. Finally she gains the courage to force herself to face a terrible tragedy that happened to her during the war.

Jacqueline Winspear does a good job in conveying London life in 1920s London. But perhaps it is too good, for in rendering Maisie’s rather stilted and prissy way of expressing herself, she risks alienating the reader.

–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Fiction: The cello

dscf0415One day Pixie woke up in an unfamiliar spot. She gently opened one eye. In front of her was a large yellowish-gold shape, which curved into curlicues. This thing had a black stick attached to one end with four thin lines that arced over another curved object and then down where they were tied onto another black thing. This thing was big, about six times as large as she was.

Pixie decided to call this large thing THE OBJECT. She closed her eyes.

A sound of feet approached.  These feet made a soft sound as like the sound of feet encased in socks walking on wall-to-wall carpet.  There was a slight tug and Pixie moved forward a few centimeters.  After a few rustlings, a large loud trumpet-like sound erupted into the air.  Pixie jumped up!  THE OBJECT was making a sound: a large luscious dark chocolate-y sound that filled the air.  Pixie’s pet was sitting in her chair making funny movements with her arms while her feet were wrapped around THE OBJECT.

Pixie wanted her breakfast.  She was hungry. She wanted to run outside and feel the grass beneath her paws.  Her pet was usually very attentive to her needs, except when she did these strange things with THE OBJECT.  Even Pixie’s loudest cries couldn’t compete with the sound it made, and she couldn’t even jump on her pet’s lap.  Then Pixie had a bright idea.  She decided to run.  Round and round the room she went. She didn’t have to go far, before her pet put THE OBJECT down, ran to her, scooped her up and stroked.  Pixie made her most appealing face.  In no time at all, her pet was in the kitchen getting her breakfast.  Pixie ate it daintily, and then demanded to be let outside.  Free at last, she thought as she heard the faint sounds of THE OBJECT wafting out of the house.  How that thing makes my ears hurt!

–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Poem: To sleep, perchance to dream…

To sleep, perchance to dream…

Dorset3In a flowery meadow

Where soft breezes roam

Bringing cool currents of scent

Of newly cut grass,

Of flowers,

Of a summer’s day.

And yet, the sleep

May not end

Instead, the earth may grow cold

As gentle breezes

Become fierce winds

And tumultuous clouds15

Bring snow, ice, rain

Which dart from the sky

In a thousand angry spikes.

Dreams may become nightmares

Or nothing,

Nothing,

But

Dark

Blackness.

–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Fiction: The Diabolical Marriage

imagesI came upon the Serpent seated on a gilded chair with her ladies around her, engaged in embroidering a magnificent altar cloth made of cloth of gold and purple velvet.  She wore a silver dress made of heavy brocade that reflected the blood-red rubies at her throat and on her fingers.  She looked up as I came in, but did not rise.

“Good Morrow, Mother.” She signaled to her ladies to put the altar cloth away, bring in cups of warmed spiced wine, and refreshments in the form of oranges, figs and nuts.  

I waved away the refreshments, drew myself up to my full height, and coughed to clear my throat.  “I wish to talk to you…”

“…about your sister’s forthcoming nuptials?”  The Serpent leaned back in her chair as she started to peel an orange with a small bejeweled dagger.  While she talked, the blade flashed as it went in and out, separating the peel from the sweet, luscious fruit within.

“I cannot allow it to happen.”

“And what does your sister say?” asked the Serpent as she flashed her blade.

I hesitated.  The room was rustling with the sounds of the ladies putting the altar-cloth away, and of their heavy skirts dragging across Turkish carpets as they took up position around their mistress.  I looked into a sea of staring eyes.

images-1The Serpent paused, holding the dagger balanced between thumb and finger, and studied me for a moment.  “Your sister is older than you, is she not: Surely old enough to decide her own fate.”

A murmur of laughter ran around the room.  

“When I told her of my plans, she seemed delighted.  As I remember, she called my brother John a sweet boy.  So I made the old dame happy.  What is wrong with that?”

“You know what is wrong,” said I, my voice rising. My sister Cath was a lady of sixty-seven years. The Serpent’s brother John was a callow youth of nineteen!

The Serpent delicately finished with the last swirl of orange peel, put her dagger down and stared back at me.  “My sweet brother is delighted to make your sister happy.  Your sister is happy with my choice of bridegroom, so what could your objection be?”  She paused for a moment, put her hand to her head, and frowned in concentration as her ladies tittered behind their hands.  She looked up.  “It couldn’t be my brother’s…bloodlines, now could it?”

I glared at her. How dare she mock me like that! I was legitimately concerned about joining any person of my family with such upstarts as the Woodvilles. 

The Serpent leaned forward. “Perhaps it would help, Mother, if I told you more about Maman, my mother…”

Your mother?”  I could not help myself, I spat the words out.  “She was the cause of a great scandal!  She was the King’s aunt, and she married well beneath her…”

“That is true,” replied the Serpent easily, twirling her goblet gently between her fingers.  “She was merely following the dictates of her heart in marrying my father.”  She raised her eyes to look straight at me.  “Some ladies, Mother, wish for more choice in their lives…as you must surely know…”

I bit my lip again as she let that hang in the dead silence that followed.

But she was talking again. “Are you not descended from Queen Alainor of Acquitaine?”

“Indeed I am descended from Queen Alainor.”

“And would you have been happy if your son, the King, had married one of Queen Alainor’s descendants?” remarked the Serpent rising.

“Indeed, yes,” I replied, gripping the back of a chair, for everything was heaving, as if I were sailing on a ship.

The serpent turned slightly, her silver dress fanning out across the floor in a curling wave.  She smiled.  “You see, Mother, your son was dutiful after all:  I also am descended from Queen Alainor.”

–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Historical Novel Blogs

When I rummaged around the internet recently, looking for interesting blogs, I came upon three.

History and Women is a quirky blog full of odd tidbits about women’s history with wonderful photographs used as illustration.  It is run by Mirella Patzer, Nan Hawthorne and Greta Marlow.  I do not know Greta Marlow, but Mirella Patzer and Nan Hawthorne are regular contributors to discussion on the Historical Novel Society’s listserv.

Historical Romance UK is full of news about new historical novels, including one that features Margaret Dashwood, the youngest sister in Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility. The only problem with this blog is that you have to do a lot of scrolling, as the “excerpts” are really extremely long…. I mean thousands of words long.  Good for a cold winter night when you have nothing better to do and there is only rubbish to watch on the telly.

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Reading the Past offers pithy book reviews (one paragraph long) of various historical novels that are on Sarah Johnson’s bookshelf. To judge from the quantity of her reviews, Sarah is a voracious reader, and her website is a treat for those of us who like to find not-so-well-known gems of historical novels.

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