Brigdh (wordsofastory) wrote,

Reading Saturday

The Companion by Kim Taylor Blakemore. In 1855 rural New Hampshire, Lucy Blunt is a servant in a rich household that revolves around the beautiful, blind, capricious, and laudanum-addicted mistress, Eugenie. Lucy's attraction to Eugenie is quickly reciprocated, a circumstance that elevates Lucy from kitchen maid to formal companion – displacing Eugenie's previous companion, Rebecca – as their relationship becomes sexual. But Lucy has secrets she can't afford for either Eugenie or the jealous Rebecca to find out, even if she could be certain that Eugenie loves her rather than only using her as a temporary distraction. To complicate matters, the entire story is being told in flashbacks as Lucy sits in jail after being found guilty for murder – though who she murdered, and why, and under what circumstances, and even if she is actually guilty, are all questions left unanswered until the climax of the novel.

First things first: The Companion is extremely similar to The Confessions of Frannie Langton. We have a maid in love with her mistress, whose habit of consuming laudanum makes her emotions and actions unpredictable; the maid ends up accused of murder; the story is told in flashbacks, coaxed out by a lawyer or journalist as the maid waits in jail. Both use the plot to comment upon the sexism and classism of the mid-1800s, though The Confessions of Frannie Langton also has a lot to say about racism, while The Companion brings in the issue of abilism.

To contrast them, The Confessions of Frannie Langton makes excellent use of gothic horror tropes to serve new, anti-racist purposes, while The Companion is more straightforwardly historic-fiction in style. On the other hand, I thought that the characterizations were stronger in The Companion, particularly Lucy's fellow servants, such as the motherly but proud Cook. The emotional relationship between Lucy and Eugenie also worked much better for me than the one between Frannie and Marguerite. But both books are gorgeously written and handle their chosen social issues with care and insight.

It's hard to complain about too many thoughtful lesbian historical murder mysteries! It's the genre I've always wanted and never knew existed. Read these both!
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn by Hannah Holmes. Nonfiction about one suburban homeowner in Maine and her intense study of her own backyard. Holmes learns about not just the easily visible animals (the squirrels, the ravens, her adorable relationship with a chipmunk that she trains to eat out of her hand) but the unseen: insects, fungi, the roots of plants, the water runoff, the heat bubble created by her house, the soil, even the deep-down geology. Her style is very similar to Mary Roach's – an intelligent, curious, and humorous generalist who interviews experts to learn more, with a non-insignificant part of the book being her own mishaps, misunderstandings, and difficulties in finding the right experts. Holmes does end up advocating for her readers to adopt her approach (growing a freedom lawn – no grass, just native species however messy they might look, no fertilizer or pesticides), but overall it's a book of interesting facts, pleasantly delivered.

A note: Holmes, like most nature experts, dislikes invasive species. However, there's a short section where she goes way farther than most, including a quite graphic description of the death she wishes upon sparrows and starlings. Anyone who can't read about animal death might wish to skip the first few pages of Chapter Eleven.

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