More Ava Lee

The third Ava Lee novel, The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, finally turned up and I guess I have not to mind it took so long since it came from California. So then I read that and The Red Pole of Macau in 24 hours and now I’m back to ‘what am I going to read?’ You’d think I would learn.

They were both very different, which is something I’m appreciating about this series. In The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, Ava is tracking down art forgers to recoup the money for her clients. That takes her from China to Europe to the Faroe Islands and back again; the amount of time she spends on ‘planes is exhausting just to read about. It’s a fairly complicated puzzle to unravel but of course, Ava does. That is not a foregone conclusion, though and I wonder if there’s a future novel where it all does go wrong?

The back story is also building across the novels, and in The Red Pole of Macau it’s that which is the starting point. Ava is Chinese-Canadian, the daughter of Marcus Lee and his second wife, Jennie. Marcus also has a third wife who lives in Australia with her children. Although all the families know of each other, they remain separate.

Marcus asks Ava to help Michael, his son with his first wife, and this draws Ava into a family financial mess. Michael is also heir and future head of the family, who will pick up the responsibility for looking after all three families when Marcus dies. Although, based on the evidence of this novel, Michael is no kind of business man and they’re SOL if that happens. Anyway, when it transpires he’s gotten into a very dubious investment with what turn out to be gangsters, Ava feels she has no choice but to get the money back. The alternative is that Marcus will bail him out and the entire extended family will suffer.

In effect, a couple of idiot men have screwed things up and a couple of smart women will have to sort it all out. And that’s what they do. Michael’s dumb ass business parter gets kidnapped and Ava spins Michael a line about how she’s going to get the ransom money together, all the while planning a nice, set piece rescue. For this, she gets help from May Ling, her client from the previous novel and a woman with an enormous amount of contacts and influence.

There’s not more violence in this book, but it’s of a different sort and it starts to take Ava down a different path. She always refers to herself as an accountant, although acknowledging that if the people from whom she is trying to reclaim money are recalcitrant, she’s prepared to have their fingers chopped off to help persuade them otherwise. But the action in this book leads to an execution.

There are 8 further novels so far, and copies of those are all probably in California as well. So I’m interested to see how Ava’s character development goes.

In audio land, I’m spending a lot of time in Wyoming, with Sheriff Walt Longmire. This is doing nothing to put me off the idea of going to Wyoming. Big, open country full of no-one, you say? Huh. Now that I’ve finally upgraded my OS again and have AppleTV, well boy howdy, I get access to the TV show too. And therein rings the death knell of Netflix again.

 

I got new rules

As I’ve scarcely been out of jeans since March and yet, miraculously, can still do work, I decided it’s a one way trip out of business casual.

Secondly, one of the smaller points that snagged in my mind when I was reading up on the whole INTJ business is attitude to clothing and colours. Plain clothes, neutral colours, maybe lots of black. For years, and I do mean years, I’ve felt that I should put more colour in my wardrobe. I get told that red suits me and turquoise suits me, and I buy those colours and I feel really uncomfortable and I don’t wear them. Mostly, what I actually like to wear is black, grey, khaki, white, navy and maybe a couple of other shades of blue. That is it. Then it all goes together and you don’t have to think about it.

Consequently, I’m not so much overhauling my wardrobe as having a good, old clearout with very little intention of replacing much. All my tailored trousers are gone, anything that needs ironing is gone, anything that requires me to wear tights is gone. Enough with the dressing up and the costume.

I’m also ditching heels. I loved wearing them, but now, I just can’t be bothered. Flats can be just as uncomfortable but trainers seem to be sticking around as a style, so I’m in.

Making the decision to give up on all this is liberating and feels like a load that I didn’t know I was carrying has been taken away. I’ve had a lot of fun with clothes but as a woman, particularly, you have to spend such a lot of time thinking about your appearance: look smart, look capable, look attractive and a bit sexy but not too sexy, look young (of course), look thin, look feminine but not too feminine in case you’re not taken seriously, look effortless…  But by the power of Greyskull, surely one of the benefits of being middle aged is I get to opt out of all that shit?

If I’m not going to buy much, I can buy better. To replace all the above, I want a pair of Hiut jeans, a new black tailored jacket (been looking for a year, can’t find the right one) and some black trainers (I’d really like white, but that’s not practical and I can’t make myself buy them.) I didn’t do fast fashion anyway, but I can up it a level more. And if I really have to go back into an office, I’m prepared to compromise and throw a jacket on.

 

This week 3

It has been crazy hot weather this week, to the point where one day I just put on shorts and a t-shirt and remembered not to walk around on video calls. Thankfully the house gets a good cross-breeze and so benefits from any cool air going. Charlie has been out most of the time, apparently sleeping under a neighbour’s hedge with only his tail sticking out; but my poor Bellecat has been suffering in all her fluff and sleeping curled up in odd patches of shade.

I’ve been…

Reading – Persephone books, specifically books about houses. I don’t know why, except that it struck me that a lot of the Persephone list is a bit depressing and I couldn’t face anything bleak. The four novels I’ve read have all all been set early to mid 20th century, and they all feature families in transition. It strikes me that if I’d been born earlier in the 20th century I’d have had a grim time of it, not clever enough to get a scholarship and just intelligent enough to realise that there could be more to life than whatever ghastly office or shop opportunities presented themselves. Even if I’d been wealthy, I’d have been a disaster at the round of parties required by being launched into society. Horrors.

Although the Persephone books do also make you feel sorry for the male characters, so often married to fractious, helpless child-women. On the other hand, so often repressive, sexist, bullying and manipulative figures.

Bricks and Mortar – Helen Ashton. Which begins with young architect, Martin, travelling to Rome with the intention of studying the buildings there. Instead, he gets caught by a scheming old woman who is looking for a suitable husband for her fundamentally useless but very lovely daughter. So poor Martin gets trapped and the novel is about his life with Letty, his architectural practice and his daughter Stacy.

Greenbanks – Dorothy Whipple. Has a cast of unpleasant, but of their time male characters, and various women who are struggling to somehow live differently. The house, Greenbanks, is the family home, just about maintained by Louisa, the matriarch. One of her sons-in-law, who looks after her money for her, almost manages it away entirely. Another character called Letty finally inherits some money that will give her freedom at the age of 50; her daughter Rachel, born into a period when women had more freedoms anyway, gets to college and chooses love over familial duty.

The New House – Lettice Cooper. Set over one day (a device I always enjoy), in which a mother, daughter and their remaining servant are moving out of the family home to a smaller, manageable house. The old one is sold, its eventual fate undecided but likely to be either turned into a club or torn down and replaced with terraces. The move becomes a pivotal day for Rhoda, on the cusp of being the dutiful daughter and continuing to stay at home to look after her mother but recognising her last chance to find her own life.

Mariana – Monica Dickens. Not a ‘house’ story, but a coming of age tale that I hadn’t remembered being as wickedly funny as it is. It’s about the eponymous Mary as she grows up, struggles through school, suffers through a truly embarrassing time at theatre school and a near-miss engagement before everything comes good for her.

Sorting out plants – I had bought a planter at the beginning of lockdown and then got overwhelmed by plant choice. And then overwhelmed again by the total faff of re-planting into a planter. Finally, I made a decision, and now I have a parlour palm: air purifying, non-toxic and allegedly difficult to kill.

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And a sneaky ivy as well, because I do like a trailing plant. The poem in the frame, by the way, is Adlestrop by Edward Thomas.

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I’m inspired to get a few more plants too, but there’s more thinking and planning to be done first. So that’s a next month activity.