Monday, January 18, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

An Accomplished Woman by Jude Morgan -- Regency Fiction
Though set in 1799, this book could have been written by Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer, therefore, I place it in the Regency category.
Thirty year-old Lydia Templeton in as accomplished woman, a bluestocking, well-educated in the classics and coolly determined not to let her heart, or any man, rule her. Though Lydia dreams of travel, she is happy at home with her father in the country,writing literary criticism and trading verbal jabs with their cynical bachelor neighbor, Lewis Durrant, whose hand she rejected nine years ago. Lydia is reluctantly talked into chaperoning her godmother's ward, the beautiful young heiress Phoebe Rae, in Bath in order to help the young woman choose between two suitors. Mr. Durrant has also come to Bath in search of a wife in order to cut his extravagant nephew out of an inheritance. Soon Lydia and Phoebe are involved in a social whirl, making new acquaintances and forming and reforming opinions of old ones. Finally, Lydia discovers that she has a heart after all. The first half of this novel reads very much like a Jane Austen novel. It reminded me a lot of Emma. However, the pace is extraordinarily slow and not much happens, much like Emma. The second half of the novel could be a new Georgette Heyer novel with romantic entanglements and quirky characters. None of the characters really appealed much to me though. As much as I really wanted to like Lydia, I found her too cynical and hardened to be the heroine of a romance. I would have preferred it if she didn't make the decision she did. The ending of the story almost belonged to a different book entirely. Many of the characters were reminiscent of Jane Austen characters and there are a few little winks to Jane Austen fans who will immediately recognize the references. I think this is a good read for Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer fans. Those who prefer the more modern, sweet (or spicy) romance novels would do best to avoid this one.

Dragon Kiss (Tales of the Frog Princess) by E.D. Baker -- Middle Grades Fantasy
Audun is an ice dragon who has lived for 15 years in the Icy North without ever meeting anyone outside his own dragon family. Just a few weeks ago, Princess Millie, the human/dragon daughter of Princess Emma and Prince Eadric, saved Audun and his family from an evil spell and now Audun is madly in love with Millie. Of course their families object to the match and Millie is taken away from Audun. Audun turns to the Dragon King for help in learning to become human. Before that can happen, Audun must complete three dangerous tasks for the Dragon King and avoid being trapped into marriage with a lovely young Dragoness. Audun learns that being human means more than changing his body and it's up to him to help the dragons with one more difficult task before he can return to Millie and seek her hand in marriage. This is the 7th (and second-to-last) novel in the series but works well as a stand-alone. The plot is overloaded with adventure, danger and sprinkled with humor. There are lots of new wacky characters to enjoy and some old ones too. Audun's story is a classic hero/coming-of-age tale told in an unusual way. I can't wait to find out what happens next!

Strawberry Hill by Mary Ann Hoberman -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction
Because of the Great Depression, Allie's dad loses his job in New Haven and takes a new one in Stamford. Allie, her little brother and their mother must leave their apartment and move to a new home in Stamford. At first Allie doesn't want to leave her best friend Ruthie and their cozy apartment, but she's cheered by the prospect of living on a street named Strawberry Hill. Strawberry Hill turns out to be rather disappointing for Allie but soon she makes friends with Martha, the Catholic girl next door. Martha tells Allie that the other Jewish girl in the neighborhood, Mimi, is a "crybaby" and Martha avoids her. Allie is excited to have a new friend but when Martha's best friend Cynthia returns from summer vacation, Allie learns a person can not have TWO best friends. Cynthia's prejudices cause conflicts in the neighborhood and Allie has to figure out what makes a good friend and how to be a friend. This is a sweet, old-fashioned kind of story that modern kids can relate to and learn from. Allie is an appealing character because she's very realistic and her conflict is one every kid goes through. I also liked Mimi and her story was sweet though maybe unrealistic. I do have an issue with the way the friendship conflict was resolved and the message it may send to kids, but I think it's more realistic and less preachy that way. I recommend this to kids 8-12 and their parents.

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