Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Wagered Heart by Rhonda Woodward -- Regency Romance
Julia Allard looks forward to a Season in London with her cousin Caroline until a rakish gentleman accosts her in the street and kisses her in broad daylight! The Duke of Kelbourne claims he made a vow with Dame Fortune to kiss the most beautiful woman he saw that day. Julia doesn't care about vows or wager; all she knows is that she's just been insulted and humiliated in public. Julia is forced to return home to the country in disgrace, where she becomes the subject of cruel gossip. A year later, cousin Caro, newly married, invites Julia to join her in Bath. Julia happily accepts the invitation. The last person she expects or wants to see in Bath is the Duke of Kelbourne. Kel shows up to do his familial duty at the summons of his adored older sister, expecting to be bored, but once he sees Julia, his boredom vanishes. Kel tries to apologize for his insufferable behavior, but Julia feels his apology is shallow and insincere. She wants to humiliate him the way he humiliated her and concocts a scheme of revenge. Her cousin warns her that she might lose her head, but she doesn't imagine she might lose her heart. The plot of this novel is a little bit unconventional since the "meet cute" occurs so early and Julia hates Kel for what he did. The story is paced too slowly and there isn't much plot. I feel like the reader doesn't get to know either of the main characters very well. I think the book could have benefited from being longer so there could be more character development. If I hadn't read Moonlight and Mischief first, I may have liked this one better. Kel and his friend Lord Haverstone appear so different in that book than this one. Moonlight and Mischief is a spinoff of this book but is superior in plot and character development.

The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson -- Historical Fiction/Romance
In Vienna, Austria in the 1920s, Karl Berger, professor and Zoology, and his wife Leonie are raising their daughter Ruthie to be intelligent and curious about everything. When Leonie's step-sister's son Heine, the piano virtuoso comes to live with them, young Ruth falls madly in love and Heine decides that Ruth is his starling, like the starling Mozart kept in a cage to sing for him. Quinton Sommerville, a young paleontology/zoology student comes to visit and is captivated by Ruth's recitation of an English poem. After Quin leaves, however, he returns to his work and forgets about the little girl but not about his kind host. Years later, when Quin is offered an honorary degree back in Vienna, he accepts because of the kindness of Professor Berger. However, the Nazis have taken over peaceful Vienna and the Bergers have been forced to leave Austria. Ruth was supposed to join her family in England, but was left behind. Wanting to help, Quin offers Ruth his protection. He finds it more difficult to get Ruth out of Austria than he realized and decides to offer Ruth a morgantic marriage based on the concept of the morning gift. After the wedding night, the husband absolves the bride of all marriage rights and her children will not inherit. Ruth reluctantly agrees, knowing it is the only way to get out of Austria. She believes they will be able to get an annulment or divorce easily, Heine will join the family in England, become a celebrity and she will marry him and live happily ever after. However, things don't go as smoothly as hoped and circumstances bring Ruth and Quin back together, this time, as student and teacher at Thameside University. Ruth quickly becomes a top pupil and a favorite with the other students and professors, all except the daughter of the Vice Chancellor whose goals include being the top student and marrying the wealthy Quin. Quin has no intentions of marrying anyone or producing an heir for his ancestral home. He's happy with his work and his experienced lovers, or so he thinks. The ending is a little surprising but not all together unpredictable. World events take a backseat to the romance in this novel, unlike some of her others, which is nice. I really liked the romance until 3/4 of the way through when the story gets rather melodramatic. I also didn't like the ending very much and would have done it differently. This is basically an update of the Regency novels I usually read. At first I was bothered by the double standards but soon ignored them as I got caught up in the romance. In order to love this novel, you have to overlook some really stupid behavior on the part of the characters and the beautiful, good, doe-eyed heroines Ibbotson likes to write about. I was able to do that and was so absorbed in the story I couldn't put the book down. This is a good read for adults and older teens who like sweet romances.

Magic Flutes (also known as The Reluctant Heiress) by Eva Ibbotson -- Historical Fiction/Romance
Found on the docks at Newcastle-upon-Tyme, Guy is a foundling who spent his earliest years at the Foundling Home fighting any perceived insult or injustice. At the age of 6 he was adopted by the widow Martha Hodge, who saw his potential and loved him unconditionally. Guy worked hard to please Martha and turned his energy to his studies. After attending University in Vienna, Guy came home changed and determined to make millions. Now, in 1922, he has become a multi-millionaire and is rich enough to buy a castle. He decides to buy Pfaffenstein castle to woo back his lady love who rejected him years ago when he was poor. Tessa was born and bred the Princess of Pfaffenstein but is now a republican and working backstage at a Vienna opera company for free because she loves music so much. She encounters Guy backstage when he comes to hire the opera company for his engagement house party. She is struck by his kindness to her but knows he will go away and she'll never see him again. When the opera company is engaged to perform Mozart's Magic Flutes at Pfaffenstein, Tessa is torn between her duties to her station and her heart. Should she marry Maxi, a prince who lives in a damp and crumbling home or can she help patronize the arts? Will Guy actually marry the spoiled beauty he believes he loves? Those are the questions that kept me turning the pages long into the night. This is a typical Ibbotson romance novel with a doe-eyed virtuous heroine who tried her hardest to please everyone and an older man of the world. The book is filled with beautiful descriptions and historical details of pre- WWII Austria and a number of quirky characters. This is a sweet, funny and charming romance novel for teens and adults.

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