Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Leigh Ann's Civil War by Ann Rinaldi -- YA Historical Fiction
Leigh Ann Connors is 11 years old when her home state of Georgia secedes from the Union. Leigh Ann doesn't understand what's happening. She is content with her life as a spoiled mill owner's daughter. Her older brothers have brought her up while her father slowly goes mad from business worries and her mother, a Yankee, "carries on" with other men. The only African-Americans she knows are the few house servants who spoil her and the distant field hands who are all treated with courtesy and friendship. When her brothers, Teddy and Louis, head off to fight for the Confederacy, family secrets are revealed and Leigh Ann begins to grow up. As Sherman's troops march to the sea, the Conners family fear for their mill and Leigh Ann tries to thwart the Yankees and win back her estranged brother's affection. Her mother, with the power of a Yankee officer, stands in the way and has all the women and children connected with the mill arrested, including Leigh Ann, her sister and sister-in-law. During the journey from Roswell to Marietta, Leigh Ann summons her courage and bury the spoiled child she was before the war in order to save her family. This story combines history with a bit of American-Indian and African-American beliefs to successful create a page-turning novel. However, none of the characters are developed well enough to make them likable. They are all pretty much stock characters used in Rinaldi's other recent novels. This book doesn't have the same depth or detail that make Rinaldi's early novels so wonderful and memorable, but it's worth a read for fans (ages 12-14) of the Civil War period.

The Fleeing Heiress by Gayle Buck -- Regency Romantic Comedy
Companion to The Chester Charade (not read) Lord David Cardiff stops at an inn on his way back to London from a house party. His intention is to wrap up his business in London before rejoining his regiment in Spain. However, plans go awry when he rescues a young lady from an abduction. Miss Thea Strafford has been taken against her will by her sister's fiance, who is after her fortune. She wants nothing to do with him and is grateful for David's rescue, grateful enough that she does not wish to subject him to her eccentric family and urges him on his way. Being a chivalrous gentleman, David stays with Thea to ensure her safety. Unfortunately, when Thea's hot-headed, crazy father and brothers arrive, they behave badly and cause Thea much embarrassment by demanding that David and Thea marry to save her reputation. The young people refuse to be coerced into marriage but Thea's brothers have other ideas and take matters into their own hands. A wild and crazy adventure follows, causing Thea further embarrassment and ruining her reputation beyond repair. There seems to be only one solution to her difficulties, one which she does not want to consider, even as she gets to know and like the kind and considerate gentleman. This is a sweet Regency, with emphasis on the adventure and only a small amount of romance. I really liked it but I thought the middle dragged on a bit too long so the ending was awkward and rushed. I would have written it differently, but I was pleased that the characters came up with the same solutions that I would have recommended. The relationship develops realistically enough for a novel and David is an exemplary hero; a gentleman to the very core. Thea is stubborn and opinionated without being too modern or sassy. She's a likable girl and I wanted everything to work out for her. The secondary characters are very funny and made me giggle a few times. Though I really liked this book and would recommend it, it doesn't match up to Georgette Heyer or even some other authors who excel at screwball comedy. For those keeping track, there are a few sweet kisses but no overwhelming passion or descriptions of feelings of attraction. This is a nice, old-fashioned romance.

The Miser's Sister by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance
Lady Ruth Penderric struggles to keep her crazy, miser brother from starving the family to death as well as to keep her spoiled younger sister ignorant of the true situation. She believes that marriage to the local curate will provide a better life. One foggy day, Ruth is hit on the head and abducted by wicked villains who mean to kill her if her brother doesn't pay ransom. Oliver Pardoe is the son of a wealthy London banker and an aspiring engineer. He travels to Cornwall to learn more about the latest invention to catch his interest, hot air balloons. His father and Ruth's maternal uncle are friends and Oliver has been charged with calling on the Penderrics to learn whether the young ladies are safe and well. Before he can accomplish anything, Oliver is set upon by ruffians, abducted for ransom and placed in the same hideout as Ruth. Ruth is overcome with fear and exhaustion, but Oliver is clever and levelheaded and sees a way out of their difficulties. Still fearing for Ruth's safety, Oliver begs her to write him if she feels she can not live with her brother any longer. When the situation at Penderric Castle goes from terrible to horrid, Ruth grabs her sister Letty and turns to Oliver and his friends for help. Oliver whisks Ruth and Letty off to London where his mother and sister are eager to meet them and share the delights of London while Ruth's uncle and aunt are in Paris. They are quickly enveloped in the family fold and Ruth finds a friend and confidante in Rose Pardoe. When Uncle and Aunt Hadrick return to London, their selfish aunt dismisses Ruth as an old maid but is eager to bring out the beautiful, young Letty. Lady Hardick also decrees that the Pardoes, as "cits" can not be proper friends for the Penderrics. Ruth learns to hold her own against her aunt, but fears her aunt's snobbishness will drive away the man she loves. Oliver falls in love with Ruth but being a typical hardheaded male, he misinterprets a situation and the path to true love does not run smooth. This story is a lot darker than Dunn's later books. The villains are really nasty and Ruth's brother is not merely a miser, he's mentally ill and downright frightening. The dark plot turned me off at first, as did the misunderstanding. I really liked Ruth's development throughout the novel. She didn't seem like my kind of heroine at first but she grew and changed as the story progressed, which is Dunn's strength. Dunn also excels at writing quirky secondary characters and Auntie is no exception. I liked her the best of all the characters! Oliver isn't a very dashing hero but he's intelligent and interesting and kind. The story has lows and highs throughout the plot before rushing to a predictable conclusion. Fans of the more traditional Regency genre will like this one but those who prefer comedies of manners will not.

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