My work

Friday, 24 October 2014

Taking the time to take the time.

Every time I do a review, feel obliged to begin with: “I don’t read a lot of XYZ genre.” I thought about that quite a bit today as I began this post-with-review for a work of historic fiction, and realised that my problem is twofold: A. I don’t read as much as I want to and B. I read just about everything. [Not sci-fi, though. Don’t reco your sci-fi books! I’m sure they’re awesome and everything, but Heinlein and Asimov ruined me for other authors – you’ll never get a fair shake out of my prejudices!]
So, yes, I have a wide range of genres that I enjoy [and to those of you who write literary fiction and claim it’s not genre, I’m lumping you in there, too]. The partially read books on my Kobo that I’m dying to get back to include [in no particular order] several romances [Regency, contemporary, ChickLit], two For Dummies books [one on CSS and the other Italian Grammar (I can’t speak Italian at all, and had intended to buy Italian Wine!)], several books on writing [loving Ben Yagoda’s The Sound on the Page], Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man, Diane Capri’s Jack in the Green, Lee Child’s latest Reacher novel Personal, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Shay Lynam’s The Tree House, and Wynne Channing’s I Am Forever.

Not a bad range of tastes – and barely scratches the surface. If only I had more time. Time is such a precious commodity that tempest fugit becomes tempest fuggedaboutit.
Available on Amazon
So . . . let me begin again: I don’t read a lot of historic fiction. But languishing in the virtual stack on my Kindle app was a book I’d been dying to get to: Jana Petken’s The Guardian of Secrets and Her Deathly Pact. Now, first of all, that’s a hell of a title. Secondly, it’s set largely in Spain, and covers the Spanish Civil War. Being somewhat of an amateur historian, I was pretty hepped up on reading it.

I bought it eons ago. Why the devil hadn’t I rubbed some seconds together to make minutes and then hours and maybe a day or two? Because we all know that seconds become minutes become hours become days with the rest of our lives, also, and the things we enjoy frequently take the first hit while we’re being responsible.
Now, the other thing about this novel is that it’s long, which is a bit intimidating to anyone on a tight schedule. Where was I going to find time to read something so epic in length? I’m a fast reader, but seriously.

Then, over the last week, I started sneaking little peeks at it while waiting for responses to emails, while ignoring telemarketer phone calls, while waiting for my coffeemaker to splutter out last drops of soul-restoring elixir. These jealously hoarded moments caused neither missed deadlines nor the total devastation of my life, and I realised that, for all its [electronic] bulk, Guardian of Secrets was eminently readable. Moreover, I was going to enjoy the reading!
Enjoy? Who’s got time for such frivolity?

Still, I stopped chewing my nails over all the other things I was supposed to be doing and, throwing caution and schedules to the wind, I read it.

This novel, as it spanned a century, made me think much about time – the march of it, the wasting of it, the sheer incontrovertible relentlessness of it. How it can leave one behind, or catch up to one. How it heals and at the same time erodes.

Life can be a scary proposition, and time ticking by is one of the scariest aspects. Maybe due to the sense of mortality all creatures have. Maybe because we all know that no matter how much time we have, it’s never enough. Time never weighs heavily on my hands: I’m never bored; never lack for something to do. But one thing I often forget is the real value – mental health not the least of it – in stepping away from hurry and worry to do something I enjoy. Just for me.
Stress is not going away. So I have to put it away on occasion. Whether I have the time or not.

Review – The Guardian of Secrets and Her Deathly Pact
5 stars

I could practically write a novel-length review for this epic. Relax; I won’t. An overview: the novel is a family saga that begins in England and travels to Spain, spanning several generations, overarching the Spanish Civil War.
Ms. Petken handles characterisation deftly, though I’d like to have seen Joseph’s devolution into the villain he is from the get-go [FYI, his comeuppance is great, but the sneaky author tricked me a couple times! And great courtroom scene, BTW.]. With a huge cast and the rich historical backdrop, keeping these characters straight and well delineated must have been a monumental task.

Personally, I might have stripped down much of the text – there is some telling of emotions rather than showing. But contrary to popular opinion, this is not a horrific crime, and greater economy might not have served the story, whereas Ms. Petken’s style seems to aptly suit it.

While the research that went into this work must have been enormous, that’s not the impressive part. No, the impressive part is Ms. Petken’s distillation of that research into a comprehensive – and comprehendible – fictional narrative that makes the reader feel the lives of these people, whether sinner or saint, villain or hero[ine].


  1. Sounds interesting. My parents lived through the Spanish Civil War. It's something I may be writing about....One day.

    1. I'd love to read that, Luccia! Get right on it . . . after you finish with Jane! LOL. Thanks for coming by!