As I have Nonfiction November coming up, when the only fiction I’ll be reading is two Anne Tylers and little books for Novellas in November (OK and also because I needed to pick some easy wins off the shelf to make room for Incomings), I took some fiction from the front shelf of the TBR. And thus also made inroads into my TBR Project (esp as I had a DNF, too). So her are (shorter, don’t worry!) reviews of three good novels I’ve enjoyed at the latter end of this month, with one more review to come early next month.

Jane Linfoot – “Love at the Little Wedding Shop by the Sea”

(26 November 2020)

And this is why I love it here. Because in St Aidan generally, and in Brides by the Sea in particular, every difficulty is faced together. (p. 322)

I apparently pre-ordered this, presumably as I’d enjoyed her other books in the series (this is the fifth), and we’re back at the wedding emporium in an invented/blended coastal town in Cornwall, with Milla seeking refuge from her own wedding business providing cover for the shop we know from the other books (this confused me at first; she set up Brides Go West with her friend who then stole her fiance,basically: when their baby is about to be born, she runs away for a bit). Milla is a bit less well-groomed than her business partner, a bit kooky and accident prone, and she keeps running into local hunk Nic in a variety of embarrassing situations. But he’s organising a wedding, and he weirdly needs lots of flat space for it.

I did guess the plot for both of those mysterious aspects, but it was fun enough. I thought there was a slightly iffy moment around the final wedding, but it would spoil the plot to discuss it. I wasn’t sure, though. It was a good and fun read, an ideal holiday or downtime choice. I liked the way all the characters from the previous books were pulled in with a quick update, too.

Ursula le Guin – ” The Other Wind”

(16 December 2020 – Not so Secret Bookcrossing Birmingham gift from Sue)

A “new” Earthsea book and her last, we revisit the islands of Earthsea at a frightening time when dragons are reappearing and portents are worrying. A princess has been shipped from the Northern Lands to an unwilling king, and an Archmage has retired and lost his powers, but can still give counsel to a minor sorcerer who’s plagued by terrifying dreams which mean something for the whole world – but what, and why him? And of course the Archmage is dear Ged/Sparrowhawk from back in “A Wizard of Earthsea” first read goodness knows when.

It’s interesting that in my review of “Tales from Earthsea” in 2015 I said what I also thought here:

I find Le Guin’s books very moving, and these stories show why – although part of the fantasy genre, they are deeply rooted in a realistic, if medieval, world, so a wizard will worry about his chickens when he goes away to try to prevent a catastrophe, and a quiet cat gives comfort to a man in distress. The female characters are also good and strong, proud and able, and this theme is woven all through these stories. This makes these books a lot more accessible than some of the other fantasy novels out there, and perhaps more suitable for the general reader. (my review)

So here, there’s a little cat (that is adopted safely) who is always provided with a sand box, and when a dragon changes into a human, we consider how she might feel in her new body – so practical, always linked into real experiences somehow, even when fantasy. In this book, which is a bit scary and sad but not too much so and rightly, ends are knitted together, alliances and friendships are formed or re-formed, and it has a perfect ending.

Anne Youngson – “Three Women and a Boat”

(24 December 2020 – from Bookish Beck)

‘Well I know we’re all made up of matter and are subject to the laws of physics,’ Sally said, ‘but even if we can’t, strictly speaking, have free will, we also can’t predict how other people will behave.’

‘Annoying, isn’t it?’ said Eve. (p. 323)

Blogger Bookish Beck very kindly sent me a box of review copies et al which she’d received, read and reviewed, and made some very good choices. She popped this one in because the canal barge journey it describes goes through Birmingham (and actually I knew more of the canal it describes, through to and leaving Birmingham).

I was a little bit unsure of reading it because there’s a character with cancer who is facing a bad spell of treatment, and I was worried I wouldn’t cope with the medical / uncertainty theme, but you know what? I read the first few pages, the slightly acerbic, truth-telling and funny narrative, and was hooked in and off I went!

Eve and Sally have come to big junctions in their lives and simultaneously encounter each other, Anastasia and her dog Noah at a time when it’s just right for them to change things up and go off on an adventure, taking Anastasia’s beloved, but spartan, boat up to Chester. Have they ever been on a barge before? No. Do they learn what to do? Yes! And of course there’s a range of interesting characters on the canal, including stylish Trompette and her weird boyfriend, Billy. As well as a plot point or two, Billy, as an itinerant storyteller, gives us some excellent tales of canal history, and this works really well woven into the story. I also love how Eve and Sally have complementary skills and knowledge, and help each other to grow without it being mawkish or didactic.

As well as enjoying the canal scenery and boat lore, I was reminded how two boats passed each other when there’s only a towpath on one side and they’re being towed by horses. Hooray! And a mysterious traveller passes the women a copy of a Francis Brett Young novel (a favourite writer of mine). A lovely novel with just the right ending (again) and highly recommended.

As I also DNF’d Cathy Kelly’s “The Family Gift” (bought in Oxfam in September, couldn’t warm to any of the characters), I’ve now done TBR Challenge 2021-22 Books 4-7/85 – 78 to go.