What I've Read This Week . . .
The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani, read by Cassandra Campbell -- Adult historical fiction
The story opens in 1924 and fourteen-year-old Nella Castelluca dreams of leaving her family farm in the slate belt of Pennsylvania for the Italian-American village 3 miles away where she could go to high school. She becomes smitten with Renato Lanzaro, an older boy who is kind and charming. An opportunity arises for Nella to go to high school in Roseto and she's on her way to the big time. A terrible accident ends Nella's dreams of becoming a school teacher, instead she goes to work at the local blouse mill and works her way up the ladder of success. Along the way, she experiences the joys and heartaches of being part of a large, loving Italian family. She also experiences romantic love and learns what it means to really live. This is the story of Nella Castelluca's life from age fourteen to her death. It will make you laugh and cry along with the Castelluca's as they struggle through life. I mostly enjoyed the first third of the book when Nella was a teenager. It took a dramatic (or melodramatic) turn halfway through and became a little bit predictable. There was one major plot twist I didn't see coming that affected the final third of the novel. Trigiana excels at describing the landscape and lifestyle of the people of Delabole and Roseto, Pa. as well as the Italian village where Nella's family is from. The strength of this book lies in the character development. The book reads more like a memoir than a novel, telling the reader about key events in Nella's life, rather than one coherent plot with a rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. At times, the timeline jumps too quickly and the events summarized. Campell is a good narrator, pitching her voice differently for each character so that the listener can easily identify who is speaking. I loved her voice for Chetti the best and it's exactly how I would imagine a girl like Chetti to sound. This would be a good book for older teen readers. There's some romance but nothing terribly descriptive or at all racy. I think many women will be able to relate to Nella and her struggles to find her place in the world and enjoy reading about Nella.
Lady in the Briars by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance companion to The Black Sheep's Daughter
Rebecca Nuthall has lives most of her life with an abusive uncle. The day after her twenty-first birthday, she secretly leaves his house, vowing to never let another man have power over her. She takes a position as companion to an elderly relative to make her own way in the world. Lord John Danville, younger son of the Duke of Stafford, finds himself in hot water after a joke goes wrong. His father, tired of John's wild lifestyle, threatens to send John into exile. John wishes to go into Parliament on the Whig side, but first, his father promises to have John sent on a mission for the Diplomatic Corps. John's first stop on his journey is his brother Tom's home, where he encounters Rebecca hanging from a bridge in an attempt to rescue a little boy from drowning. John rescues Rebecca and thereafter feels protective of her. John's adventurous cousin Teresa arrives with her Diplomat husband Sir Andrew, and their little daughter Esperanza. John adores little Peri as well as his brother's two children and finds that Rebecca is also good with the little ones. He recommends Rebecca for the position of governess as John, Teresa and Sir Andrew leave on a spying mission for Russia. At first Rebecca is timid but soon finds herself enjoying the social life in St. Petersburg; she even catches the attention of a prince! John's protective instincts turn to love as the situation in St. Petersburg becomes dangerous for innocent Rebecca. John is willing to risk his life to save the woman he loves and convince her that not all men are like her uncle. This book is told mainly from John's point of view. His development from wild child to reliable man is very good and realistic. I liked John a lot. He isn't too high handed and his occasional flares of temper are justified. Rebecca is a very different sort of heroine. She has difficulty overcoming abuse and for most of the book she's very meek, though has strong opinions about right and wrong. Teresa is the best character in the novel. She's lively and fun and a really strong woman. She's a good role model for her daughter as well. When the true adventure happened, I couldn't put the book down. The rescue is accomplished in a daring but realistic manner. This is a pretty good book for those who enjoy traditional Regencies.
Orphaned at the age of sixteen, Celia went to live with the young widowed Duchess of Harbrooke in the role of companion and governess to the Duchess's two young boys. Despite protests from the Duchess's brother, the Duke of Severly, Celia proves to be an excellent governess and a true friend for Imogene. The Duke spies Celia playing with his nephews one day and instantly struck by her beauty. He makes every effort to be kind to her, despite Celia's apprehension. Celia's life takes an unexpected turn when the Duchess's old beau returns and encourages her to go to London for the Season. When an old friend dies, Celia's life changes again and she gets swept away in the current of the haut ton. The Duke enjoys Celia's transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, yet believes he has no intentions of getting married any time soon. Someone from the Duke's past tries to prevent Celia from getting close to Severly and Celia must decide whether she will spend her life in spinsterhood and loneliness or swallow her pride and surrender to love. This is not the best book in the series. It's a little slow in the beginning and I just didn't feel anything for the main characters. The plot development is a little weak because the basis for the antagonism between Celia and Severly is quite pointless after the first few chapters. I enjoyed Imo and her romance much more and would have preferred her to be the main character. I also really liked the Duke of Westlake but found Severly and Celia boring. This is a sweet Regency and if you liked the others by this author, then you will like this one. Moonlight and Mischief remains my personal favorite of Woodward's novels.
Miss Hartwell's Dilemma by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance
Miss Amaryllis Hartwell's Papa created a scandal and left Amaryllis to fend for herself. With the help of her godmother, aunt and former governess, Amaryllis runs a successful school for young ladies. Two new pupils, the innocent Isabel Winterborne, daughter of the rakish Lord Daniel Winterborne, and the incorrigible Louisa, niece of Lord Bertram Pomeroy, bring romance to Amaryllis's quiet life. Lord Pomeroy, the suitor she left behind, is determined to marry her and Lord Daniel comes across as hot-tempered and rude. Through Isabel, Amaryllis learns to see another side of Lord Daniel. The vicar is courting Miss Tisdale aided by Amaryllis and her aunt Eugenia, who scheme to remove the vicar from his sister's control. A mysterious stranger lurking about provides more drama and excitement in Amaryllis's life and is unwittingly the key to her happiness. The characters in this novel are fully fleshed out and very interesting. I would like to inhabit their world and know them. Some of the Winterborne family drama bears a strong resemblance to Susannah Carleton's Winterbrook clan, but sufficiently different enough to add suspense and drama to the plot. This is a sweet Regency along the lines of Georgette Heyer so the romance develops slowly and unobtrusively. The dramatic scene is concluded too easily and quickly and the very end is very Heyeresque. I enjoyed this novel but it isn't one of the very best.