What I Read Last Week . . .
Polly and the Prince by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance
Companion to Lady in the Briars
Miss Polly Howard is a spinster artist, helping her family get by with her money from her artwork. Her mind ever on her art, Polly nearly meets with mishap and is rescued by the handsome Kolya. Believing he is a poor Russian laborer, Polly invites him to pose for her in exchange for food. At first her mother is skeptical of the unknown man, but Kolya soon endears himself to the family as he helps them prepare for their move from Tonbridge Welles to the country, where Polly's brother Ned makes his living as estate manager for Lord John Danville. Kolya and John are old friends from long ago and Kolya tags along with the Howards to ask his old friend for help building a new life in England. The Howards are surprised to discover that Kolya is on intimate terms with a gentleman but the news doesn't stop Polly from falling in love with the charming Russian. When Kolya is called to Brighton by the new King, Polly misses her friend, but is delighted when she learns that he has secured a position for her to paint portraits of Lady Sylvia Ellingham's young daughters. Lady Sylvia is kind and her daughters delightful and they are happy to welcome Kolya and Polly's brothers into the family fold. Soon Polly's talent catches the eye of the ton and even the King himself. Polly continues to receive support not only from her family but from Kolya as well. However, secrets may destroy the trust Polly has placed in the Russian and she inadvertently becomes involved in political turmoil which could cost her her life, not to mention her true love.
Lord Iverbrook's Heir by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance
High Carrick, Viscount Iverbrook returns to England from an extended stay in Jamaica after leanring of the deaths of his brother and sister-in-law from a fever. They left behind a five-year-old son named Peter, who is currently under the guardianship of his maternal aunt Selena Whitton. Hugh is furious at the idea of his heir living with a "passel of females" and decides to reclaim his heir. Hugh intends to install his nephew at Iver, where his mother is continually having spasms and his kind step-father is too busy raising pigs to notice much else. Hugh thinks he might sue Selena Whitton for custody and his devious lawyer puts the plan in motion before Hugh even meets his nephew. Selena has no patience and no time to deal with the high and mighty Lord Iverbrook, for she has a farm to run. When Hugh arrives at the Whittons he and Selena instantly clash over expectations for young Peter, but Hugh is soothed by Lady Whitton's refreshing lemonade with cooling borage flowers and Peter's charming conversation. It's clear to Hugh that Selena is in charge of the household and he must learn to get along with her if he wants access to his heir. Hugh sets about trying to relieve Selena of some of her most hated duties and finds himself enjoying the work as well as becoming good friends with Selena. Little Peter provides plenty of opportunity for bonding as his youthful spirits often land him in trouble and worry his older relatives. Hugh and Selena's romance is complicated by the beautiful Amabel Parcott, Lord Iverbrook's former mistress who is after his title. Furthermore, Aubrey Whitton, dandy and heir to Selena's late father arrives from the West Indies broke and hoping to make Selena his wife so he can inherit her property as well as her fortune and sponge off her. Also, Selena's romantic little sister Delia searches for a romance of her own. This is another of Dunn's typical light-hearted romances which can easily be read in one or two sittings. The character development is good, though not great. I admired Selena and fell a little bit in love with Hugh, once he lost his overbearing manner. I also liked Lady Whitton, the herbalist and it's obvious that her remedies are well-researched by the author. The secondary characters are as usual, amusing, but the comedic moments aren't quite as funny as some of her other books. The villains mostly work for their own gain from within the family party. The plot is a little too weak and contrived at times. A subplot about slavery makes this story stand out from the rest, in this otherwise mostly forgettable novel.
The Little Ottleys by Ada Leverson -- Fiction
This is a trilogy written in the Edwardian era. The stories revolve around Edith and Bruce Ottley, a youngish married couple and their society of friends. Edith is charming, calm and patient, the opposite of her husband. Bruce is selfish, boring and continually fancies himself ill. In Love's Shadow, the primary character is an independent young beauty named Hyacinth and the story revolves around the ins and outs of her love life as commented on by the Ottleys and their friends. In Tenterhooks, the second novel, revolves around marital troubles and flirtations with infidelity. Love at Second Sight concludes the drama began in Tenterhooks and brings the story of the Ottleys to a surprising conclusion. I didn't like these novels as much as I thought I would. I love Jane Austen's witty commentary on her society and other comedy of manners novels. I expected Leverson's books to be similar, but they are not. Her humor is more subtle and dry than Austen's and I really didn't find the characters or their situations funny at all. Rather, I found them all to be a rather pathetic lot and I didn't understand their actions and found them all whiny and selfish. It took me a long time to get through these books and I likely won't try to read them again.