Monday, April 5, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

A Lady of Talent by Evelyn Richardson -- Regency Romance
Years ago Sebastian, Earl of Charrington purchased a painting of a young woman in a print shop and the young woman in the painting quickly became his confidant and true companion and has in fact ruined any other woman for him. He's spent most of his adult years in business, working to regain the fortune his father lost. Now he is affianced to his mentor's only daughter, the beautiful Miss Barbara Wyatt. Barbara and Sebastian could not be more different: Barbara enjoys flirting and parties and longs to be part of the ton while Sebastian is more interested in intellectual pursuits. He feels that in a marriage of convenience, it doesn't matter much if the partners are not soul mates. As a betrothal gift, Sebastian hires a painter, C.A. Manners, whose paintings he admired at the Royal Academy, to paint Barbara. He is shocked to discover that C.A. Manners is a Miss Cecilia Manners and the woman in his painting! Cecilia loves painting more than anything and works hard at painting portraits to support her brother's expensive habits and to reclaim some of the cachet they lost when their father gambled away everything. Cecilia and Sebastian quickly become friends and confidants, discovering rhe passion and love that they've never known. However, Sebastian is engaged to Barbara and Cecilia is too proud and independent to rely on a man's help to solve her problems which of course creates more problems! This is not the best of Richardson's novels. Sebastian comes across as creepy and kind of stalkerish. The young woman in the painting was only 12 at the time she painted herself and Sebastian fell in love with her picture! He didn't even try hard to find out who she was or whether she was really his ideal companion and when he did find her, he kept intruding on her privacy and trying to help her when they barely knew each other. They confide in each other too quickly and the solution is so painfully obvious that I didn't even really care about how it came about. Like all of Richardson's heroines, I admired Cecilia though she was more weepy and less independent than some of the others. Unlike most of Richardson's novels, this one doesn't get too bogged down in historical details which is a plus. Unless you feel compelled to read all her books, skip this one.

Hellie Jondoe by Randall Platt -- YA Historical Fiction
Helena Smith alias Hellie Jondoe has lived most of her life on the streets with her brother and their gang of Street Arabs. She likes her life just fine the way it is, but she's growing up and soon she won't be able to pretend to be a boy and for girls on the streets, there's only one option which Hellie is absolutely not interested in. Hellie's brother Harry has the solution to the problem - the Orphan Train. Hellie refuses to go west to be adopted by strangers but Harry thinks they can hop off the train anywhere they want and start over. Harry becomes involved in a struggle with another gang member and Hellie is forced to make her way on her own. Her street sense and tough talking ways make life difficult on the closely chaperoned Orphan Train but she is befriended by the lady photographer/journalist Amanda Collins and makes her first friend in the disfigured girl Lizzie. At the end of the ride Hellie, Lizzie and baby Joey with the club foot are taken to live with a wealthy woman on a large ranch. It's there that Hellie finally meets her match in the tough Scholastica Gorence! An unexpected visitor and a tragedy force Hellie to figure out where she belongs. Hellie is who she us and is unapologetic, which makes her an interesting character. She's also quite funny. Hellie speaks in street slang but the author makes it easy to understand from the context. I had a lot of sympathy for Lizzie but wish her story had been told in more detail. I had a pretty good idea of how the story would end but getting there was the fun part. This book is so well written and can be enjoyed by teens and adults alike. This is a great self-discovery story without being corny or moralistic. My biggest complaint was the alternate narrative but it became clear why that story was necessary by the end. I also thought the ending was rushed and I'm hoping for a sequel!

The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction
Tally is content with her life in London attending school with the nuns and living with her loving father and doting aunts. She feels safe there, despite the fact that the Nazis are on the march and war is imminent. In order to keep Tally safe, her father has the opportunity to send her to boarding school in the country. Tally refuses to leave at first and is terrified by her cousin's horror stories of life in boarding school, but she soon discovers that her school, Delderton, is quite different. Delderton is a progressive school where the staff are kind and the children do pretty much whatever they want. Tally soon comes to make new friends and love the school, especially the great cedar tree standing for centuries in the courtyard and hands-on, all-hours biology lessons from the mysterious Matteo. Tally's dream is to make the world a better place, starting with a folk dance festival held in the little country of Bergania, where the proud and brave king refuses to give in to Hitler's demands. Tally and her classmates enjoy befriending the children of other European nations, while Berganian Prince Karil watches wistfully from his bedroom with a telescope. Young Karil wishes he were an ordinary boy, free from the rules and restrictions his strict governess places on him. Karil's world changes in an instant and it's up to Tally and the other children to save his life and help him become free. The plot is entirely unpredictable and I could never figure out where she was going with it. There is an epilogue that provides that "what happens next" for anxious readers who need to know. The book does borrow elements from her adult novel, A Song for Summer but the plot is mostly different and much more innocent. Tally is a bit of a do-gooder but she's so sweet and innocent, you can't help but love her and want to assist her in saving the world. Karil is a complex character and his story really shows how difficult it is to be a young royal and the troubles of ruling a nation in the 20th century. I loved Delderton and wish I could have gone to a school like that. The quirky characters who populate the school are lots of fun and the children's stories are developed well. The descriptions of Bergania, probably based on Austria where Ibbotson grew up, are so lovely they make me want to go there immediately! Eva Ibbotson blends historical fact and reimagined history in this compelling story. This is a great read for all ages. The dust jacket of this novel warrants mention for it's beautiful blue tones and shimmery dragonflys. It attracted my eye and drew me in immediately.

The Rogue's Bride by Paula Roland--Regency Romance
The book opens with 26-year-old, twice-widowed Lady Alexandra Redcliffe walking down the aisle in the wedding of the Season, however the bride and bridegroom are not in attendance! Lexie is standing in for her best friend, Dulcie Winford, who has had the misfortune of contracting measles before the big day. It doesn't matter to Dulcie because she has never met the groom, Major Brandon Clive, nor wishes to marry him, but it means a lot of her father who arranged the marriage. After muddling through the ceremony with an elderly vicar, Lexie discovers she inadvertently signed the marriage license on the wrong line and is now the legal wife of Major Clive! Lexie does not wish to be married again and immediately plans for an annulment. She allows Papa Winford to handle things and escapes to Bath with Dulcie to visit Dulcie's kind aunt and see Lieutenant Daniel Symington, the bridegroom stand-in, whom Dulcie is determined to marry. Major Clive is furious when he discovers the mix-up. He fears being saddled with an old wife and/or a fortune hunter and heads to Bath to track down Lady Redcliffe. In Bath he is mistaken for his older cousin, Mr. Peyton Clive! He goes along with the masquerade once he discovers that his bride is actually young, charming and witty! Brandon is determined Lexie shall be his true wife and she is determined to avoid marrying anyone ever again! Dulcie has other ideas though and is determined to rearrange everyone's lives to suit her romantic notions. The rest of the plot involves the usual silly and pompous suitors, jealous rivalry, a scheming teenage girl and romance. There are some love scenes but they are discreet and can be skipped easily. The author seems to be trying to copy Georgette Heyer in tone but fails miserably. The plot is silly and the characters behave too modern for the Regency era. I didn't like or care anything about any of the characters but couldn't put the book down because I wanted to know how it would all be resolved. I would not recommend this book to those who enjoy the excellent writing of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen. This book earns a letter grade of C from me.

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