Sunday, April 20, 2014

What I've Read This Week Part II

What I've Read This Week Part II . . .

Blandings Castle (Blandings Castle, #3)Blandings Castle by P.G. Wodehouse -- Historical Fiction short stories

The first half of this book tells of the further adventures of the Threepwood family and friends. The second half are tall tales from Hollywood featuring a new character, Mr. Mulliner.

I quite enjoyed the Blandings Castle stories. Freddie Threepwood is growing up and growing a brain! I liked him much more now that he's more steady. Lord Emsworth remains a dear most of the time, but he can be just as snobby as his sisters when he wants to be. Pig Hoo-o-o-o-ey! made me laugh so hard. I just love stories involving The Empress of Blandings. Who ever though a story about a pig could be so funny?
I really didn't like any of the Mulliner stories. The plots were bland and seemed too over the top. I don't know Mr. Mulliner or care why he's telling these stories or whether they're supposed to be true or tall tales. They don't have as well-drawn characters as the Blandings Castle stories. The characters are all the same and basically boring. Some of the plots are typical Wodehouse formula plots. I really don't like how the heroines love the heroes only when the heroes become alpha males. The point was for them to stand up for themselves but the heroines who like take charge heroes come across as weak and unlikeable. I also don't like brooding heroines.

I'm obsessed with Blandings Castle and I want to read more. I think the stories work better in the shorter format because the plots of the novels are basically the same and tend to drag on too long. The shorter format allowed Wodehouse to exercise his comic genius without getting hung up on plot. 

A Mad, Wicked FollyA Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Victoria Darling longs to be a true artist, like her favorite Pre-Raphaelite painter William Waterhouse, but in 1909 women, especially upper class women, do not paint anything except watercolors. They exist merely to be ornaments to their husbands, run a household, bear children and be social. There's no time for art in Vicky's world. She sneaks away from her fancy finishing school in Paris to study art at a salon. She is the only female, yet she knows she can hold her own if only she has a chance to learn. She feels this is the beginning of a long career. However, when she chooses to pose nude for her art class, she is discovered and expelled from school. Back in London, Vicky's parents are humiliated and angry. They're determined to keep their social position and obtain royal patronage for the family business. Vicky's... indiscretion didn't help. Fortunately, Edmund Carrick-Humphreys, the younger son of another nouveau riche family is willing to marry Vicky. Vicky agrees only because she knows it's the only way to get money to attend the prestige Royal College of Art. First she needs a portfolio of recent work so she sneaks out with her sketchbook to draw the suffragettes protesting at Parliament. The police behave badly towards anyone suspected of being a suffragette. Only one, Police Constable William Fletcher has any sympathy for the suffragettes. When Vicky meets Will, they form a deep connection due to their artistic natures and appreciation for art in all forms. Lucy also meets a young American woman named Lucy who gave up her family and life in America to fight for women's suffrage. She challenges Vicky to take a deep look at her feelings about women's rights and encourages Vicky to stand up for what she believes in.

The plot of this book slowly moves towards the inevitable conclusion. Not much happens in the middle and what does happen is a bit repetitive. Still, I liked the story and couldn't put it down until I found out how Vicky was going to find happiness. I would have tightened the angst filled middle and added more of the exciting last chapter. The ending is a total cliche and I was disappointed in that. I was hoping for a realistic ending for Vicky. I was torn because I really wanted her to be happy, yet I felt like she was constantly pushing too many boundaries and she had to accept who she was and find a way to compromise. The period details, especially about fashion, are amazing. The author took a lot of time to do research and really learn the background for her novel. I learned a bit more than I wanted to about painting techniques. Like Vicky, I love Waterhouse and the Pre-Raphaelites. Somehow I missed seeing The Mermaid before. This book is a cut above the usual Downton Abbey/Upstairs, Downstairs knock-off novels that are sprouting up everywhere these days. Vicky's passion for art gives her some meaning and direction in her life. It makes her a better heroine than the usual poor, little rich girl.

I sympathized with Vicky a lot. I feel her passion for art and her desire to achieve happiness. I felt and acted a lot like her when I was a teen. However, I felt she went about trying to achieve her goals in all the wrong ways. I hated that she lied and sneaked out of the house. That doesn't send a good message to teens. Her relationship with the men in her life isn't very good. She's cold and distant to one and never even tries to get to know him. She's a bit snobbish and cool towards the other at times and yet opens up to him more than anyone else. I just didn't really feel that relationship was really all that deep though. She's manipulative with her brother and rude to her father at times. She doesn't behave much better with any of the women in her life. She's single-mindedly focused on art and doesn't have good decision making skills or people skills.

The major male characters, with the exception of one, are all two-dimensional stereotypes of period men. The other man is also fairly two-dimensional in the opposite way. He's a bit too kind and good. He bored me.

The female characters are a little better. I especially liked the character development of Mrs. Darling. She surprised me. I felt sorry for her. I didn't like Lucy too much though I really admire Alice Paul, on whom she is based. I felt she was a bit single-minded and lacking in understanding. She couldn't understand what it was like to be Vicky and she was too focused on militant suffrage techniques. I don't care for that brand of women's suffrage and I think it did more harm than good. The Pankhurst women have cameos in this story, especially Sylvia. I liked getting to know the family.

Read this if you loved Lady Sybil on Downton Abbey.

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Gabriella (Harlequin Regency Romance Series 2, #70)Gabriella by Brenda Hiatt -- Regency Romance

Gabriella Gordon wants nothing more than to stay in the country and continue to operate her father's veterinary surgery practice along with her younger brother. When Mrs. Gordon sells the practice, Gabriella is forced to give in to her older sister's invitation to come to Town for the Season. Gabriella arrives at a posting inn to discover a horribly mistreated horse. She decides to take on the miscreant who dared abuse an animal. She rudely interrupts the Duke of Ravenham in the middle of wooing a new mistress. He's furious at the interruption by this little serving wench with the turquoise blue eyes. He refuses to set her straight on the matter. Once in London, Gabriella sees her sister has not changed. She's still superficial and social climbing. Angela has burned a few bridges and is determined to use Gabriella to enhance her own social status. Angela introduces Gabriella to her friend and would-be lover Sir Frederick who is intrigued by the naive, outspoken Gabriella. While Brie is being brought out, The Duke of Ravenham must pay a debt and do a favor for the first man he sees. That man happens to be Angela's husband, the foppish and stupid Sir Seymour Platt, who decides Ravenham's favor will be to take up Gabriella. That way she is sure to be a success with the ton. Brie worries the arrogant man she remembers will humiliate her, but instead he introduces her to his sister Lady Elizabeth. The plan is a grand success and Brie attracts a number of suitors. Ravenham isn't what he appeared on first acquaintance and Brie comes to regard him as a friend, but how will he react when he finds out she's not an heiress as the gossips would have it? What will Ravenham think of Brie if he finds her out father was a veterinary surgeon? Brie knows one thing, she refuses to lie about who she is. Why does it hurt to think she may lose the friendship of the Duke of Ravenham? Little does she know, a new rumor circulating through the ton could do far more to ruin her reputation.

I wanted to like this book because of the animal rights theme. Like Brie, I am passionate about animal welfare, so I was intrigued by the story at first. Unfortunately the book bored me so much that I ended up skimming most of it. The plot reads as if written from a template. There's nothing really substantial in it. Brie doesn't meet Wilberforce or join the RSPCA (founded in 1824 but I have no idea what year the book is set). The animal rights thing is dropped and picked up again when the plot requires advancing. The story features the usual superficial activities of the Season but nothing to really pinpoint the exact year the story takes place. It's all very pleasant. A lot of the action is basically summarized and shortened in favor of endlessly boring cliched scenes and pointless dialogue. A key moment in the plot towards the end is told after it happens. The romance doesn't quite make it to being a full blown romance. The characters are not on page together a lot and when they are, we're told what they did. They start to become friends but they don't really connect though we're told they give each other speaking looks. It wasn't quite enough for me to root for them to get together. I didn't care whether they did or didn't end up together in the end. The author had a little bit of knowledge of the Regency era and either didn't know or didn't care about all the nuances of etiquette. Etiquette plays a large role in the story yet the hero and heroine end up on a first name basis! There's also a scene where the heroine, another young lady and some gentlemen are present for a momentous event. I don't think an unmarried girl would have been in the room, let alone in the room with gentlemen. I'll let it slide that the heroine was there but not Elizabeth. There's another scene with Elizabeth that I didn't feel was quite right. The language sounds very modern too.

The characters are just as boring as the plot. I liked Brie because of her love for animals and her desire to stay true to herself. I didn't like how she gave in to Angela so easily though and I found her very modern for a Regency heroine. Sometimes I didn't like the way she acted because it just wasn't even close to accurate. The other characters are largely superficial. I don't know much about Ravenham. His behavior in his initial scene is at odds with his behavior later on. He's supposed to be a Corinthian, but the only evidence of that is his teaching Brie how to drive. Apparently he's an excellent shot as well. He's the perfect paragon of a hero on the surface but we never get to dig beneath the surface to find out who he is and what he's feeling. I hated the misunderstanding because if she really was that close to Brie, he wouldn't have even considered it for a moment or wouldn't have cared. He took too long to get over himself. Elizabeth seems like an interesting character and a good friend for Brie. She's in the story more than her brother. I liked her because she was a good balance of ladylike and mischievous. There's a secondary hero who is another perfect paragon despite his tendency to gamble on anything. Another suitor is silly and too over the top. Angela is a beastly sister. If she were my sister we would have had some serious cat fights. I find it hard to believe she and Brie have the same parents. My sister and I are very different yet we have the same values more or less. The other villain is too stereotypical.

This is Brenda Hiatt's first Regency book so I'll forgive her for the boring plot and glaring historical errors. I may try another one of her older Regencies and see if it's any better. This one was just too cliched for me. 

An Affair of InterestAn Affair of Interest by Barbara Metzger -- Regency Romance

Miss Syndey Lattimore is managing her household on her grandfather's army half-pay pension. She has grand plans to take her sister Winnie to London for a Season where the beautiful Winnie will find a wealthy, devoted husband willing to care for the rest of the family. Sydney has saved some money from the household budget and from helping local farmers with their accounts. She plans to sacrifice her dowry as well. Syndey's ailing grandfather has no choice but to agree to the plan. Sydney didn't anticipate the expense of a Season not just for Winnie, but for her as well. She has to find money somewhere to tide them over until Winnie's suitor comes up to scratch. Forrest Mainwaring, Viscount Ware, ex-Navy officer wants nothing to do with women or marriage. Not to say that he's a monk but... he's seen enough of marriage to know that it's not for him. His parents are happily separated and enjoy throwing bits of crockery and china at each other whenever they meet. He's content to live in the Dower House with his one-eyed hunting dog while his mother and her awful, yappy Pekingese dogs live at Mayne Chance. Forrest's mother summons him to go to London and extract his brother Brennan from whatever scrape he's fallen into this time. His task leads him on a violent spree of dealing with cardsharps and the unscrupulous money lenders known as O. Randall and Associates. Just as Forrest has dealt with the money lenders, a female walks in. Forrest despairs of dealing with this woman, probably a dowager judging from her mourning. He tries politely to send her on her way but dash it all, the dowager is actually a young chit of a girl without sense or reason! Sydney is momentarily shocked at facing a half naked savage with knives and guns and blood everywhere, but she quickly regains her composure facing the supposed money lender with her usual stubbornness. Forrest is entirely undone by her red-gold curls, he has no choice but to give her 1000 pounds (which she tries to refuse) and kiss her! Syndey is able to hold her own and determined not to be beholden to the moneylender for anything! She concocts one new scheme after another and Forrest is always there chasing after her to save her reputation. Why he's going through so much trouble for a senseless girl he really doesn't know... Meanwhile, O. Randall and Associates plot their revenge.

This book features so many things I dislike: a silly young heroine, an alpha hero (when paired with a young heroine), blood, stock characters and some historical inaccuracies, but Barbara Metzger is such a skilled writer that I end up loving almost everything she writes just because it's funny. The plot is culled from the standard Regency canon, including some of her own novels, but she puts a unique spin on it by infusing the plot with her trademark screwball style. Sydney is crazy. She comes up with one harebrained scheme after another. She has the same idea as Frederica but she doesn't have a patron because her aunt is too cheap and has a daughter of her own to bring out. Sydney will not admit defeat nor can she really for her family really is desperately poor. I don't blame her for trying to find ways to help her family, but she went about it all wrong. She's constantly in a bumblebroth on the verge of ruining her reputation. Her exploits are crazy yet very very funny. Forrest is a Corinthian/rake/alpha hero. I don't like alpha heroes paired with young heroines. Forrest comes across as a misogynist in the beginning but he's also a rake and the two seem at odds with each other. He's constantly blowing up at Sydney for her antics and then kissing her. He's a good person at heart who cares for his family but I just didn't really warm up to him very much. With another heroine I think he could be delightful but I think he's too old and alpha for Sydney. The other characters are simple stock characters. Winnifred is Charis from Frederica, Brennan is a typical young man about town, Baron Scoville is the typical suitor and the villains are bumbling, cartoonish fools straight out of The Three Stooges. The Duke and Duchess are annoying with their constant arguing and throwing things, yet they began to appeal to me, first for the comedic aspect and then because I saw them for their true selves and how their son's personality came to develop.

First I'll talk about the negatives of this book. There are a few inaccuracies such as one big one involving a scheme of Sydney's that could never happen because it was scientifically impossible at that time. Also, Forrest asks Sydney to call him by his name which I don't think he would do. The romance didn't really do anything for me. Sydney needs a father not a husband. The secondary romance develops off page and very quickly so that it's hard to remember it's happening. There's a lot of kissing, innuendo and some sensuality in this book. It's not a whole lot more than in any of her other early books but it was a little more than sweet. The conclusion to the romance is not very satisfactory. I was hoping for a little more. I was disappointed the dogs were a part of the plot but not really characters. Nelson is dropped after his introduction and the Pekes are only in the background.

Now, for the positive. The writing is what makes this book so delightful and saves it from being a dud. I kept cringing waiting for Syndey's next bumblebroth yet laughing at her scrapes. I even laughed at the villains, who were meant to be funny rather than taken seriously. I had a hard time putting the book down, wondering what Sydney would do next and how it would all turn out. I like a good, screwball comedy story, especially before going to sleep at night. This one fit the bill. If you like her other books, you'll enjoy this one.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What I've Read This Week Part III

What I've Read This Week Part III . . .

Leave it to PsmithLeave it to Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse -- Historical Romantic Comedy

Eustace Psmith (he 'P' is silent, as in psychic and ptarmigan) is down and out. He quit the family fish business where he had been obliged to start from the bottom up. He hopes his friend Conrade Jackson will help but Jackson is not as wealthy as he appears because he's wife's stepfather is married to Lady Constance Threepwood, who holds the purse strings. Eve Halliday is also down and out. She turns to her friend Phyllis Jackson for support and Phyllis confides in her friend that her husband wants to buy a farm in Lincolnshire and he applied to her stepfather for a loan but her wicked stepmother, Lady Constance hates her and won't float the loan. Eve is outraged when she discovers that Phyllis' stepfather lives at Blandings Castle, the very place she has been engaged as librarian/cataloguer. Freddie Threepwood too is in need of money and applies to Joe Keeble. Uncle Joe is terribly upset about not being able to help Phyllis so Freddie hits upon the perfect scheme: steal Lady Constance's necklace and tell her she'll get a new one, then instead reset the stolen necklace so it looks new and use the money for the replacement to help the young people who need it. Psmith places an ad in the paper looking for work, not opposed to crime, just no fish and is approached by Freddie Threepwood about stealing Aunt Connie's diamond necklace. He would do it himself, but he's afraid he would mess up. Before Psmith can get any particulars, Freddie dashes off. When Psmith next encounters the Threepwood family, he finds himself sitting with Lord Emsworth who mistakes Psmith for a Canadian poet McTodd. Emsworth has invited McTodd to stay at Blandings Castle and unknown to Lord Emsworth, the man felt snubbed by the absentminded Earl so stormed off in a huff without taking his train ticket. There's nothing to do but for Psmith to travel to Blandings Castle. He loves the village, the castle grounds and most especially Eve, whom he had fallen in love with at first sight in London without knowing her name. Left to her own devices, Eve is all work and no play but Psmith is determined to cure her of that. Rounding out the guests is a dreamy poetess, a Miss Peevy. Then someone claiming to be McTodd shows up but is actually another imposter. Lady Constance's necklace actually does get stolen but who stole it and where did they put it? Baxter is determined to solve the mystery and rid Blandings Castle of the imposters.

This isn't the best Wodehouse story. The plot is almost identical to Something Fresh with the exception of Psmith. The story moves very slowly towards the inevitable screwball conclusion. The screwball scene is funny but not quite at the level of the later Blandings Castle novels. The scene where Baxter tries to prove all is nearly identical to the scene in Something Fresh but not as funny. I can tell from the pacing of this story that P.G. Wodehouse wrote for the stage. It lacks stage directions but otherwise this story reads like a play.

Psmith is a socialist who calls everyone Comrade (last name) which really annoyed me because it was hard enough to keep everyone straight as it is without having them called by one name. He thinks he's very clever and witty. His sense of humor is a bit too dry for me, I guess. I didn't like his lack of morals and his carefree attitude. His dialogue is off the wall crazy and very intellectual in a Wodehousian way. He stalks Eve to convince her they belong together al while lying to her. I didn't find him charming in the least bit. I did enjoy him in the screwball scene though. He was very clever and witty. I found Eve difficult to like too. We don't get to know much about her except that she's a loyal friend. I don't really get a sense of romance brewing on her end. She spends much of the book fending off Psmith and Freddie and going about the grounds with Psmith until the end when she finally has something to do. I didn't like Joe Keeble at all. He's too weak and unable to stand up to Constance. He's loving and kind but not strong.

The Threepwoods are some of my favorite literary characters now. Freddie Threepwood is a lovable idiot. He really doesn't have much in the old brain box. He seems to have traded detective novels for silent films. He has a love of the melodramatic all the same. I give up a lot of credit for remembering the plots of every film he's ever seen and how he can apply it to the situation at hand. Maybe he's not so stupid after all. He thinks he's in love with Eve and doesn't understand why she keeps rejecting him, other than money. He's so innocent and simple that I can't help but love him. Maybe the apple doesn't fall far from the tree because Lord Emsworth is incredibly absent-minded for most of this novel. He isn't in it very much, too preoccupied with his gardens to be interested in the goings-on inside the Castle. Lady Constance isn't in the story much either and Gallahad doesn't appear at all, unfortunately.

Baxter was his usual annoying self, trying to rule the Castle and set everything on the straight and narrow. He goes from being a minor character to being a major one at the end. He isn't as crazy as Lord Emsworth makes him out to be but maybe craziness rubbed off on him. The best characters are two who would spoil the plot if I said who they were. Their dialogue is pure cheese and very funny. They came as a real surprise to me and while I didn't find them very appealing as people, as characters in a comedy, they were great. Only P.G. Wodehouse could write characters like that.

I've noticed P.G. Wodehouse had a formula and stuck to it. It gets kind of repetitive after awhile. This isn't my favorite Wodehouse novel and I would have been fine not reading it except I wanted to know about Baxter and the flower pots.

Charms and Chocolate Chips (A Magical Bakery Mystery, #3)Charms and Chocolate Chips by Bailey Cates -- Paranormal Cozy Mystery

It's been four months since the events of Samhain when Katie Lightfoot learned her true destiny. She's keeping busy with the bakery, book club, volunteering with Georgia Wildlife Refuge and "going steady" with the right man. The GWR is trying to save a local swamp where there may have been sightings of an extinct species of bat. Katie is shocked when one of the GWR employees is murdered. Autumn was found with an origami maroon bat in her hand and Katie senses something wrong with it. She's determined to leave the investigating to Detective Quinn, but when first Katie's friend Wren is threatened and then Katie herself, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She has to rely on help from some unexpected people. Meanwhile business at the bakery is a bit slow and Lucy is trying to figure out how to help people; Cookie is ignoring Katie and Bianca is looking for love again and may have found it in the eccentric professor living in the swamp Katie is trying to save.

The subject of this mystery is interesting because it involves environmental protection, something I'm interest in. I liked the sound of GWR and their work. I liked learning how a non-profit operates and their struggles to stay afloat. The mystery itself was a bit lacking. The murder happens very randomly in the beginning of the book and it didn't take me long to figure out who did it despite the red herrings. Why was a lot more complicated than first guess. The final confrontation didn't make any sense. I read it twice to figure out what had happened and still didn't get it. There is a lot of magical jargon I didn't understand and wasn't explained. I was confused as to what had happened and why. Katie also doesn't understand her power and no one is explaining to to her, let alone the reader. This contributed to my confusion.

The other parts of the story were somewhat interesting. As always I like seeing behind the scenes at the bakery but there weren't many scenes there. There wasn't a lot about the other ladies of the coven. I still can't tell them apart based on their dialogue. Katie finally chose to date one of her two potential boyfriends. I understand her choice but don't necessarily agree with it. It seems like she chose the wrong man. She tries too hard to justify the relationship and please everyone, yet she seems to be holding back a bit. Her romance is perfectly clean. Her guy spends the night to be with her when she's scared, but it's more platonic than anything. I liked her unexpected visitor and how their story progressed. Katie's personal confrontation was realistic but then resolved too quickly. I thought the other person's reaction was natural to start with and they should have needed more time. I also liked the explanation of Imbolic and how they celebrate it but the rest of the magical stuff had me lost. As always, Mungo steals every scene he's in. I just love him!

This is a nice, quick read for something different.

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently . . .

The Affair at the Inn by Kate Douglas Wiggin, Mary Findlater, Jane Findlater, Allan McAulay --Historical Romance

A group of very different travelers meet at a country inn in Dartmoor in England. There's the lively American girl Virginia Pomeroy and her semi-invalid, hypochondriac mother; an older woman, Mrs. MacGill and her companion Cecilia Evesham. Rounding out the little group is Sir Archibald Maxwell Mackenzie. It's very dull and gloomy in Dartmoor and the travelers are the only ones at the inn. Mrs. Pomeroy and Mrs. MacGill are happy to stay indoors and complain about their various (often imagined) ailments. Sir Archibald Maxwell Mackenzie only cares about his motorcar. Virginia is determined to get a ride in the motor and sets out to charm Sir Archibald. He fears her exuberance and energy. He knows little about women and cares even less about them. Over the course of two weeks the characters get to know each other and have adventures together.

The plot moves at a pretty slow pace. There are a couple of episodes of adventure but otherwise the story is mainly the internal thoughts of the characters. Each of them relates the same scene from their personal point-of-view to give us a complete picture of what happened. Sir Archibald is the only one who really has any sort of deep thoughts or feelings. The story didn't really capture my attention.

Each of the authors wrote for a different character. The best known author, Kate Douglas Wiggin, wrote the part of Virginia Pomeroy. Virginia is young and full of high spirits. She's bored which makes her rather annoying in her behavior towards Sir Archibald and his motor. She's very wealthy and hasn't had many difficulties in her young life which gives her a sunny outlook. Mrs. Pomeroy isn't a main character but she seems to be in poor health and also a hypochondriac. She's not on page very often so she manages not to be as annoying as Mrs. MacGill.
Cecilia on the other hand, is burdened with the care of a crotchety old woman and has been made old before her time. She suffers from her own very real health problems and an employer who is too selfish to care about anyone else. Cecilia seemed the most interesting character. She shows a little bit of change for the better as the story progresses, but her story is cut short because she's not the main character. Mrs. MacGill is a selfish, mean spirited, awful old woman. She's always sticking her nose in and correcting what she sees as the improper behavior of the young people. In HER day, young ladies didn't act like Virginia. She's so self-absorbed she knows and cares nothing at all about where the Pomeroys are from and where they are going. She has no sympathy for her companion and is demanding and difficult. Sir Archibald is the opposite of a romantic hero. He's shy and stiff and sometimes a bit rude. Out of all the characters, he's the only one who exhibits any growth.

The first edition of the book contains some lovely mezzotint drawings by Martin Justice. They don't fit my image of the characters but the pictures of Virginia really show off the fashionable clothing styles of the day!

What I've Read This Week Part II

What I've Read This Week Part II . . .

Lady PamelaLady Pamela by Clare Darcy -- Regency Romance

Lady Pamela Frayne has been managing her Grandpapa's household on her own for two years now, so when Grandpapa gets in a state about a despatch missing from his Foreign Office box, Lady Pamela decides to take matters into her own hands. Grandpapa, Lord Nevans, fears Lady Pamela's brother, Viscount Wynstanley (Wyn) stole the document and gave it to his disreputable friend Cedric Mansell. Pamela is certain her brother had nothing to do with it but a shadow of a doubt remains so there's nothing to do but go after Wyn and follow him to Whiston Castle. In February. In a snow storm. Lady Pamela is unable to obtain a vehicle to take to Whiston Castle, but upon spying a public coach she absolutely insists on riding in it along the Bath Road to Marlborough despite the coachman's assurance that they will likely overturn. Such a thing comes to pass and so Lady Pamela is stuck at a country inn with an infuriating man known as Carlin. He appears to be a gentleman come down in the world and reduced to working as a coachman. He dares say no to Lady Pamela's schemes! Alas for Carlin, Lady Pamela finds a way to Whiston Castle after all and when next she sees the man, he's calling himself Lord Devan and is accepted as a guest at Whiston Castle! Danger and intrigue are afoot as Lady Pamela plans her next move. With the help of Carlin/Lord Devan and her brother Wyn, she manages to escape back to London. Grandpapa is unwell so Lady Pamela feels she can not consult him on her next move. Much to her dismay, Carlin/Lord Devan arrives in London to infuriate her and help her steal back the despatch, much to the dismay of her long suffering fiance Lord Babcoke, a most proper gentleman who dislikes making a fuss more than he dislikes Pamela's not so seemly behavior!

This story could almost be another Georgette Heyer novel. The plot is more mystery than romance, and very predictable, but it had enough going to make me want to keep reading to find how just how things got to the inevitable conclusion. The writing style is similar to Georgette Heyer and there is a lot of period slang in the novel. The language isn't too difficult to figure out from the context and it's used more sparingly than in Georgette Heyer's books. The plot pacing is very good until the end when it could have used a little more time to develop the romance.

Lady Pamela is crazy. She's somewhat young, being one-and-twenty, but she thinks being the head of household gives her wisdom beyond her years. Not so. She's headstrong and impulsive which leads her into some wild escapades and crazy scrapes. She doesn't take no for an answer and no one even bothers to tell her no, except a certain person. Despite her faults, I found her enchanting. She's a delightful character who provides a lot of laughs. The only thing I found really unbelievable about her is her naivety when it came to a certain person's identity. It was perfectly obvious to me but she's more innocent than she realizes and took what she saw at face value. Lord Babcoke is an unsuitable suitor for Pamela. He was pretty much tricked into offering for her because she decided to fall in love with him when she was 15. It's clear he doesn't approve of her behavior but neither does he try to correct it. He's so weak-willed, he's unable to stand up to any woman who dominates him. I didn't like that about him but he exhibits character growth which I did like. That leads to one of the funniest parts of the book. He is in danger of becoming another Lord Whiston whose wife is so domineering, he doesn't have any independence. Carlin/Lord Devan is a Corinthian/alpha hero. We don't know much about him personally except that he likes to get into scrapes as much as Lady Pamela does. Unlike Pamela, he knows how to proceed carefully and when to stop and how to get help if the situation is serious. He actually stops to think. His dialogue is witty and amusing. If we knew more about him, I think I could love him. 

Wyn is a typical young man about town. He is afraid of his tyrannical grandfather and his sister but he does know how to stand up for himself on occasion and he cares about his sister a lot. The villains are fairly stereotypical villains but one has some character traits that make him more unique. The Whiston family round out the major characters. They're a pretty colorful family but each one is a superficial character type rather than a fully fleshed out character.

I really enjoyed this story in spite of having read it once before. I didn't really remember anything about it so I'm giving it 4 stars because it obviously isn't all that memorable.

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week Part I . . .

A Proper Companion (Regency Rakes, #1)A Proper Companion by Candice Hern -- Regency Romance

Twenty-six years ago, an enceinte Lady Gwendolyn, daughter of the Earl of Pentwick, climbed out her bedroom window to elope with the unsuitable Walter Townsend. She was disowned by her family for her transgression, but happy enough with her husband and only daughter by her side. After her death, her husband lost his heart, his fortune, and finally, his life. Now their daughter Emily is companion to Countess Bradleigh and prefers to keep in the background. Lady Bradleigh is a kind employer and a good friend to Emily. She's a doting Grandmama but fiercely protective of her family and friends, so when she discovers through the newspaper that her grandson Robert, Lord Bradleigh, is to marry the very young and empty-headed Miss Augusta Windhurst. Worst of all, Lady Windhurst is an encroaching mushroom who would NOT be a welcome addition to the family. Dear Robert would be better off with someone more mature and sensible... like Emily! Lady Bradleigh then delves into a matchmaking scheme of grand proportions. She has to not only get her grandson to see her companion's worth, she has to make Miss Windhurst cry off. For that, Lady Bradleigh needs to visit London for the first time in many years. She endeavors to bring Emily Out into Society despite the young lady's protests. Lady Bradleigh's loyalties will be tested time and again as her wayward grandson sticks to his engagement promise. Emily's strength is tested as she faces suitors and villains and finds herself increasingly drawn to the irresistible, rakish Lord Bradleigh.

Take all your Regency cliches and put them in one novel and you have the plot of this book. I found it very formulaic and not all that interesting. The only time I enjoyed the plot was when Lady Bradleigh was on page scheming. The rest of the time I found myself rolling my eyes and skipping passages about the characters' physical attributes hoping to find some sort of redeeming factor in this novel. Sadly, I found none. The author includes way too many period details. I love period details but I don't need a description of every fashion plate, every piece of drawing room furniture, etc. etc. Emily is interested in politics and classical literature, yet those conversations are glossed over. The conclusion to the "romance" is too quick.

The characters are dreadful. Lord Bradleigh is a libertine. He admits that some of his reputation is based on gossip that he doesn't discourage because he hasn't wanted to be the target of matchmaking mamas. He confines his amorous exploits to matrons, widows and an occasional opera dancer, yet throughout the story he is continually frustrated because his engagement is hindering his usual way of life! He has decided to be a dutiful fiance but once the business of getting an heir is over, he'll resume his usual way of life and as long as Augusta is discreet, she can carry on with whomever she likes. This is the only way of life he has ever known. He grew up in a society that accepts such things, however, he discovers that middle class morality has crept up into the ton and his soon-to-be bride and her family will expect him to be a pattern card of propriety! He chafes against the idea and lusts after Emily. He flirts with her and wants her physically and feels anger towards any other man who wants her for himself. He doesn't really exhibit much growth by the end of the novel except realizing his own feelings. I guess we are to infer that now he has fallen in love, he will be a faithful husband? He also has a violent temper and uses his fists when he is angry. Needless to say, Lord Bradleigh is one rake I do not love.

Emily is a Mary Sue character or a Fanny Price with slightly more gumption. Actually, she's quite a lot like Jane Eyre. She's kind and caring; a good friend and excellent companion. She's too proud to accept charity and feels uncomfortable when Lady Bradleigh buys her new clothes and introduces her to Society. She is able to easily pacify the temperamental cook and is friendly to everyone she meets. Emily sticks to her convictions and chooses styles that she feels comfortable wearing and will suit her best. She can't help but be attracted to the seductive Lord Bradleigh but she's so sweet she can only see his good qualities. He's very close to his family members and loves his grandmother very much, he's caring and considerate and eager to help protect Emily against her enemies. She knows he's a rake and she knows he's engaged, but she can't help but fall in love with him. When she encounters the villain, her response is to cry. I would have been angry and defended myself. I did like that she is able to hold her head high in the face of gossip and she keeps a cool head when confronted with danger.

The two characters I liked best were Lady Bradleigh and Lottie, the maid. Both characters speak their minds and help direct the action. Lady Bradleigh is a kind-hearted lady but she can be the grande dame when she wants to be. She's a fun character, always meddling and manipulating so subtly that only those she has confided in know what she's up to. I liked that she wasn't your usual elderly dragon. Lottie is a young girl from the country so she doesn't have the airs that London servants do. She adds a lot of humor to the story. I also liked Anatole the temperamental French cook mainly because he was funny. His plot comes way out of nowhere and deserved a bit more explanation but it was cute.

The villains were so stereotypical. I guessed the motive even before they were introduced because the plot device has been used too often in these sorts of novels. The villains are truly despicable. One is the worst sort of villain. Both are rather weak and defeated too easily. I didn't like the way they were dealt with.

Technically the story is kisses only but there's a near seduction scene where the hero fondles the heroine's breast and also a shocking near ravishment scene that I did not like one bit.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

The Husband Campaign (The Master Matchmakers, #3)The Husband Campaign by Regina Scott -- Inspirational Regency Romance

Lady Amelia Jacoby has an argument with her mother and dashes away on her horse. She ends up crying herself to sleep in a little used stable, where she is discovered by the owner, John, Lord Hascot. John is shy and socially awkward. He knows little about women and a lot about horses. He thinks he'll just leave the lady alone and no one will be the wiser, but when a terrible thunder storm spooks the horses and wakes the lady, John is stuck comforting them both. Though nothing happens, John knows he must offer for her. His offer is soundly rejected. Amelia has no intentions of marrying anyone she doesn't love and she doesn't care what the ton thinks of her. She actually relishes the idea that no one of consequence will ever offer for her. Amelia's parents, the Marquess and Marchioness of Wesworth have other ideas. Lord Wesworth desires nothing more than Lord Hascot's horses. John refuses to sell to anyone who will not treat his horses with the care and respect they deserve. They are his friends, his children, his life; not ornaments to be collected or beasts to be ordered about. Against his instincts, John finds himself accepting Lord Weworth's offer of Amelia. Amelia is reluctant to wed the quiet young Baron but she doesn't have much choice. She hopes at least she will have children to care for and keep her company during the lonely days and nights her husband spends with his beloved horses. When she learns her husband has no intentions of making the marriage a real one, she becomes determined to campaign for his love. John is hesitant to open up to Amelia. He has difficulty finding the words and he fears that a Society beauty like Amelia will not care for him as he is. He loved once, only to have his heart broken and he fears to love again. Can these two unhappy souls find their way to each other?

Usually I hate marriage of convenience novels but I ended up really liking this one. It was different and sweet. The plot is engaging despite the lack of murderers and traitors. Though this is an Inspirational novel, there isn't a lot of Christian content and the message isn't at all heavy handed. It's very similar to Regina Scott's older books for Zebra. It's slightly darker in tone. The main characters are both psychologically damaged and in need of each other. They have to learn to trust each other and care about each other before they can be together. This isn't an easy task given the characters' back stories. Neither had a particularly happy upbringing and Amelia's parents continue to be horrible and interfere with her life. After her marriage, Amelia thinks she's becoming a new person, but I think she was really just becoming the person she was all along. Unhindered by her beastly parents, she's free to speak her mind. In her own home she can take control and finally become an adult. She could be a Mary Sue (or Fanny Price) because she's so sweet and kind and good, but I didn't see her that way. She's also strong and can be outspoken when she wants to be. She fights hard for what she wants. She displays brief moments of temper and impatience with those she considers rude. I really liked her and her journey. The way she blossoms and learns to stand up for herself is wonderful. At first I did not like John. I wanted to because he's shy, socially awkward and loves animals more than people, but I found his brooding to be completely unfounded. He has no reason to neglect his wife. I kept wondering what was wrong with him! Perhaps it's a difference in the male/female way of thinking that he couldn't see how Amelia was lonely and suffering? Then a quarter of the way into the book, he reveals his reasons for brooding. He was once bitten and is now twice shy. He is afraid of being hurt again. With his horses, he knows where he stands and they wouldn't deliberately hurt him. I can understand that but I still think he treated Amelia badly. He was also quite clueless about why Magnum didn't like Amelia. I don't know much about horses but I figured it out right away. Once he realized he could trust Amelia and began to open up, of course I liked him much better. I think at first he thought of her like one of his horses who was being mistreated so of course he had to rescue her, but once she was at Hollyoak Farm, he panicked. He wasn't so off the mark though, Amelia is a lot like a combination of two of his favorite female horses, the wounded, proud Contessa and the fiery Fiernza. The relationship develops slowly and quietly. It's paced just right and doesn't go too fast or drag on with too many misunderstandings the way marriage of convenience plots usually do.

There are also secondary humans in the story, in addition to the horses, who are the main secondary characters. The villains are largely stock characters culled from the standard book of Regency villains. They show a tiny bit of depth but not a whole lot. I didn't like any of them or feel anything except annoyance at them. I wished they would disappear from the story and let the h/h have their HEA more quickly. The servants don't play a large role in this book but I liked the outspoken Turner and her unwavering devotion to Amelia. She offers up a little nudge when needed. Hennessey too takes a minor role in directing the love affair and the vet, Marcus Fletcher, offers his unasked for opinions. The servants aren't funny the way I expected them to be though. Only Dorcas offers some comic relief. Rounding out the secondary characters are a grande dame Duchess, Lady Bellington and her daughter, Lady Prudence. Lady Bellington would get along with Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lady Prudence is an amusing hypochondriac. Her chronic, scientifically named diseases made me chuckle. I didn't find her manipulative, merely wanting attention and felt a bit sorry for her.

There was a bit too much about horses and horse training in this novel. If it was dogs, I would have listened with rapt attention, but I'm not a big fan of horses. I also noticed some small errors. A vet would be titled Mr. not Dr. and sugar cubes didn't exist yet. Sugar came in loaves and had to be broken off into lumps. I'm sure the author knows that and the publisher chose to make it the more familiar cube instead of lump.

This is a sweet, tender, heartwarming love story. I recommend it to everyone who wants more substance with their romance, and Mr. Thornton lovers, as the hero is modeled a bit on Richard Armitage. (The picture on the cover is supposed to look like him, but I don't see it. Brooding John Hascot and Brooding John Thornton are sort of similar though.)