Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

LarkRise to Candleford by Flora Thompson -- Classic
This is a semi-fictionalized trilogy of English country life in the late 19th century. Young Laura Timmins lives in a hamlet of farm workers but because her father is a stone mason rather than a farmer, she's an outsider looking in, which provides her with a unique perspective with which to observe life in the hamlet, village and nearby market town. The people are poor and live simply but they're a close-knit community, far removed from the village of Candleford and the market town of Candleford Green. Laura shares remembrances of local customs and observations about the simple pre-Industrial life of the hamlet. In the second volume, Laura and her brother have the opportunity to visit their relatives in town for the first time. The people are more well-to-do and think rather highly of themselves, which makes Laura feel uncomfortable, but she discovers a kindred spirit in her uncle, who shares his love of literature with her and helps her widen her horizons. The third volume follows Laura as she leaves childhood behind and goes to work for the postmistress in Candleford Green. This is the most entertaining volume as Laura experiences the beginnings of modern life and the pangs of early adulthood. This book reminded me a lot of Cranford in the way it tells a story of a life that no longer exists. Lark Rise to Candleford doesn't have much of a plot and is a little slow but the simplicity of life is made to be charming and appealing. I think this would be a good book to pick up and put down and pick up again with a nice cup of tea of a leisurely vacation. It's not one to read for quick entertainment purposes. Larkrise to Candleford should be read by those who love English literature and history to discover the peaceful world of 19th century Oxfordshire that no longer exists.

A Posse of Princesses by Sherwood Smith -- YA Fantasy
This story is set in a land where powerful magic is common and though the heroine, Rhis, Princess of the small kingdom of Nym, shows a great aptitude for magical learning, she prefers to sit in her tower room reading old ballads and dreaming of romance and adventure. When an invitation comes to attend a party with the Crown Prince of Vesarja and other young people, Rhis believes this is her chance to escape her stuffy sister-in-law/tutor and small mountain kingdom to have the adventure she's always dreamed of. Rhis is unprepared for court life but her sheltered upbringing allows her to make friends with everyone, from her sister-by-marriage Shera, princess of Gessam; Tanivia, a wild highland princess; Youzhou, the prince's cousin and especially the prince's charming scribe, Dandiar. The party is also attended by Iardith, the perfect princess, who has her sights set on the prince. Rhis and Iardith don't get along but when another party guest abducts Iardith, the time comes for Rhis and her friends to set aside their personal feelings and rush off into danger to rescue their fellow princess. Rhis finds the adventure of a lifetime and even discovers true love. This is a charming adventure story for girls without many angsty undertones or wickedness. Rhis is a delightful heroine and she is the perfect princess. I especially like the other princesses from foreign lands and their unusual behavior. My favorite is Taniva, the barefoot highland princess. The hero is funny and charming as well as intelligent, like the heroine, so they are a good match. I admire the princesses for being quick thinking and springing into action on their own. What's lacking in this story is the great romantic build-up that Smith created so well in Crown Duel. The romance seems kind of rushed and anti-climatic after the great adventure. The story took so long to get going so by the end I felt like the author was rushing to finish. She also borrows some elements from previous stories. The illustration of the princesses on the dust jacket is totally wrong. Two of them have skin in shades of brown, one yellow and one unknown. Overall, I think this book is great for younger girls who like to read about strong, intelligent princesses. Fans of Gail Carson Levine and Karen Cushman will love this one.

The Lady Disguised by Elizabeth Mansfield -- Regency Romance
When her eight-year-old brother Stanley goes missing, Miss Ada Farrington fears he has been kidnapped by Gypsies and she is the best person to find him. Disguised as a boy, she sets out on an adventure through the country in search of her much-adored brother. Along the way she meets the handsome, charming rake Derek Rutledge, Viscount Esterbrook. Guessing her secret, Derek is captivated by Ada and endeavors to assist young "Addie" on his search. Their quest takes them back to London where "Addie" meets Derek's matchmaking mama and tries to navigate the social waters of Polite Society while searching for Stanley in locations that aren't fit for a gentleman to see, let alone a well-bred young lady. Adventure, danger and near heartbreak are imminent as Ada and Derek grow closer to each other. This is a light, quick read. Ada is young and naive but not foolish and Derek behaves like the perfect gentleman but possesses a sense of humor that makes him a most charming hero. I can't stand lisping children in novels so I didn't feel as sorry for Stanley as I should have. His fate kept me guessing (and I guessed wrong) and I learned about lost/forgotten children in 1816, a subject which is truly horrible and unimaginable. The seriousness of the adventure kept this novel from being total fluff and balances out the romance nicely. I enjoyed this one and would like to read more of Mansfield's novels.

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