A Rather Curious Engagement by C.A. Belmond
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Another quick grab from the on-going book sale shelf at the Ellsworth Public Library, A Rather Curious Engagement was a blend of innocence and innocuous adventure. The author thanks Margaret Atwood in the acknowledgements and is apparently a recognized screenwriter, which made the overall "gee whiz!" tone of the book more unusual--at first I assumed it was a self-published "I like escapist stories with no swearing" sort of effort. Here are a few sentences I thought worth noting as exemplars: "Penelope's Dream sliced through the water like a sharpened knife." I didn't know the sharpness of a knife had any effect on how it cut through water. . . . Then: "Inside [the box] was a beautiful glowing ruby, surrounded by sparkling diamonds and set in that lovely antique gold which has the look of endless time." Gosh: rubies glow, diamonds sparkle, antique gold is lovely. . . I'm with you there, but. . . what exactly is "the look of endless time"? Parts of the book read as if the author was deliberately attempting to write a completely obvious book, avoiding any possible sense of irony or originality. A lovely couple inherits money. Where do they go? To the French Riviera, of course. Then to Lake Como, Italy, with a requisite jaunt to Corsica. There's a 1920's era luxury yacht, a wheelchair bound German count, numerous black-clad peasant women (German, Italian, and Corsican), and even seers who crop up to tell fortunes and cast curses. Belmond is lavish in her references to what Penny's "English blood" has brought her and how her French father is (of course) a natty dresser and a great cook. The book reminds me, as do some of Lauren Willig's (she offers a glowing review on the back cover) weaker offerings, of something my sister and I might've written in our teens, before we'd ever left Poland, Maine.
And this is a Penguin book?
HOWEVER: it does suck one in! The plot is interesting enough to keep the reader involved, and the characters are likable, if very, very flat. While Belmond's writing lacks the zip and humor of, say, Jennifer Crusie's or Marian Keyes's novels (to pick works in a similar genre), it generally moves along smoothly, presenting a travel agent's picture of life along "the Med" and a lottery agent's view of life after jackpot. If I were to spot either the third installment ("A Rather Charming Invitation") or the fourth ("A Rather Remarkable Homecoming") on the 50 cent book sale shelf the day before a vacation, I'd have no qualms about scooping them up.
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