Thursday, January 28, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Indescretion by Jude Morgan -- Regency Fiction
Miss Caroline Fortune has the unlucky happenstance to have such a name and such fortune. Her long-deceased mother was cut off from her country gentry family when she married a young Army Captain and was not cut out for such a rough life. Caroline's father was wounded in the Peninsular Wars and now dreams and schemes about reversing his misfortune. Alas for poor Caroline, her father has just lost his last shillings and she is forced to go to work as a companion for Mrs. Catling, a wealthy dragon of a lady who cares for no one, most especially not her niece and nephew who hope to inherit her money. After brief mistrust on both sides, Caroline quickly befriends Matthew and Maria and Caroline becomes the recipient of secret confidences which could cause trouble if the secrets were to be known to Mrs. Catling. Poor burdened Caroline would rather flirt with the handsome Mr. Richard Leabrook, a recent acquaintance who came to Brighton with Matthew and Maria. Circumstances cause Caroline to lose her position but some good fortune comes her way when her estranged maternal aunt and uncle take Caroline home to their country village. There. Caroline becomes involved with the Miner family, local gentry for whom Caroline's uncle is rector. The head of the family, Stephen, puzzles and infuriates Caroline with his constant irony and sarcastic, witty comments. Isabella Miner instantly becomes a bosom friend and headstrong little sister Fanny hero-worships Caroline for living a life outside of convention. Caroline becomes the source of more confidences and the cause of much trouble. All Caroline wants is a settled life and a man she can count on and give her heart to. Is that too much to ask? In the tradition of Jane Austen, Indiscretion is a comedy of manners that had me laughing out loud. The humor is a little more worldly than Austen's and some lines could be construed as double entendres but Austen fans will enjoy reading about some familiar characters and situations in a completely new story. The plot had me guessing almost the whole time, I couldn't put it down and absolutely loved it. I was a bit startled out of my equilibrium by some passages in present tense but they don't take away from the appeal of this novel, which Austen lovers should definitely read!

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman -- Austenesque YA Romantic Comedy
As recommended by my friend Irish
Julie's best friend Ashleigh is an enthusiast. She throws herself into her unusual hobbies so completely, she loses sight of all reason. In her fifteen years she has wanted to be a knight, a candy maker, and now a Jane Austen heroine. Poor Julie, always a loyal friend, gets dragged along into Ashleigh's schemes for better or for worse. Ashleigh decides that in order to find True Love, she and Julie are going to crash a school dance at a local boys' prep school. On the verge of being tossed out of the boys' school for gate-crashing, they are rescued by their very own Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. Unfortunately, the one thing Jane Austen did not write about is what happens when both girls fall in love with Mr. Darcy! Julie decides to be noble and try to ignore her feelings for her Mr. Darcy, but it's not easy when Ashleigh gets them involved in the boys' school musical! To complicate matters further, there's another suitor vying for Julie's attention (Mr. Collins maybe?) and even a high school Mr. Wickham preying on girls. There's a lot of miscommunication, embarrassing situations and angsty moments before the love knot can be untangled and Julie finds her Mr. Darcy. I liked the premise of the book and Ashleigh is an exaggerated version of me. I can totally see myself doing some of the things she does, short of crashing a dance and I absolutely loved the dancing scenes, thanks to my experience at a local Regency dance event. Though Julie is more quiet than Ashleigh, she has normal teenage problems and not so normal teenage problems, which make her more realistic and appealing than her friend. The boys are too good to be true but charming in their own way. There are some cute laugh-out-loud moments and sweet romantic moments that make this a good read for any girl who has ever dreamed of finding her own Mr. Darcy! If you like The Princess Diaries series, by Meg Cabot you will also enjoy this book.

Hazel: A Novel by Julie Hearn -- YA Historical Fiction
Hazel is 13 in 1913 and is privileged to be the daughter of a gentleman In Sugar. She adores her Daddy, who tells her stories about how he met her beautiful, former artist's model mother at the Battersea dog shelter and fell instantly in love. Hazel is sheltered and comfortable in her world but on June 4, she tumbles into young adulthood when she witnesses a woman being trampled by the King's horse at the Epsom Derby. The woman was a suffragist, something had never heard about or thought of until that moment. Another crack in Hazel's easy existence comes soon after, when her beloved father suffers financial reversal and a nervous breakdown. Hazel is kept in ignorance of the true facts and carries on as if her father will return home shortly and everything will be the same. She continues to attend the Kensington School for the Daughters of Gentlemen, where her teachers censor Shakespeare and collect nature specimens. The new girl at school, Gloria, stirs things up and introduces Hazel to thoughts and feelings Hazel has never experienced before. Hazel's crush on Gloria and her new-found interest in women's suffrage cause Hazel to create a scandal which results in her being shipped off to her grandparents' sugar plantation in the Caribbean where mysterious and uncomfortable events of long ago resurface and Hazel makes the final transition into young adulthood. This is an unusual coming-of-age novel about a little girl who seems much older than 13. Hazel is very young and naive and her actions reflect that, but she seems rather young to be the heroine of the plot. I kept thinking she was 16 or older. Gloria, especially seems too old to be in school. I also didn't understand why the teachers didn't use the Bowlderized editions of Shakespeare, which would of course take away some of the incidents that transition Hazel from girlhood to young adulthood. Her family secrets can be easily guessed by any reader who knows enough about the history of African peoples transplanted to European societies. Hazel matures rather quickly and the ending is rather rushed and abrupt. I have mixed feelings about this book. I didn't really care for it and most of Hazel's coming-of-age seemed unrealistic and over-the-top. The proper young miss shedding the confines of her stuffy society plot has been done so many times before and it's a plot I normally like but I just couldn't find Hazel sympathetic or interesting. This is a sequel to Hearn's previous novel, Ivy, but enough background information is given for this book to stand on it's own. If you liked In The Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson, you will probably like Hazel, though it's not a romance.

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