What I Read This Week. . .
A Poor Relation by Joanna Maitland -- Regency Romance
While traveling to London, Lord Amburley rushes to the rescue of a lady he believes to be in distress. he is distressed to find that not only is the lady a servant of some sort, she doesn't need his help. Instead, she snaps at him and comforts the supposed accuser. Amburley leaves in a huff, angry at this sharp-tongued woman. Isabella Winstanley, dressed in shabby clothing, is traveling to London with her young relative, Sophia. Along the way, Isabella stopped to visit the poor soldiers and orphans for whom she is a benefactress, when Lord Amburley, misinterpreting the situation, attempted his rescue. When they next meet, sooner than Isabella had hoped, his charming manner disarms Isabella. Aburley is confused and angry at Isabella for her deception, only he misunderstands the situation and believes her to be a poor companion masquerading as a member of the ton. He's determined to ferret her out and punish her for her deception. What he doesn't know is
that Isabella is a really a wealthy woman, but to discourage fortune hunters, she and her great-aunt, with whom she lives, have put it out that Isabella is a poor relation. During the social whirl of the Season, Amburley attempts to win her confidence so he can finally expose her for the liar he believes her to be. They battle wits in a high-stakes card game and challenge each other to a daring race through the London streets. As they prepare for the race, Lord Amburley comes to see Isabella for the lovely woman she is. He also decides to help his friend Lewiston in his pursuit of Sophia. Isabella loses her heart completely to Amburley but she fears he's courting Sophia. The outcome of the curricle race will be the final showdown between these strong willed individuals before the happy ending can be decided for one of the lovely ladies.
I really couldn't like this story as much as I wanted to. I couldn't stand Lord Amburley. Isabella believes him to be an honorable man, while he's scheming and plotting against her. He's a Mr. Darcy wannabe without Mr. Darcy's honesty. Amburley listens too much to gossip and pre-prejudges Isabella based on her appearance. If Amburley hadn't been so sure of himself and sneaky, I probably would have liked this take on Pride and Prejudice a lot more. Isabella is an interesting character and I would have liked more of the story from her point of view. Much of the plot borrows from classics like P&P and Georgette Heyer's Arabella and Regency Buck but without the sparkle and fun of the originals. The romance is clean, with one serious kiss and Isabella's feelings about the kiss.
College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy
In an alternate version of early 20th century Europe, Faris Nallaneen, the heir to the Duchy of Galazon, is sent by her uncle/guardian to Greenlaw College in France to learn polish, manners and magic. Faris absolutely does not want to be there and is determined to get sent home or run away as soon as possible. Her plans are thwarted and she must remain at Greenlaw and become a witch of Greenlaw. Faris keeps mostly to herself and doesn't bother anybody, but a nasty girl Menary spreads rumors about Faris's birth and Faris takes delight in her revenge. The rumor serves as a catalyst for Faris to make friends with the Englishwoman Jane, who plans to stay at the college as long as possible in order to avoid an unwanted marriage. Jane and the other girls of Study Number Five help Faris lighten up and enjoy her adventure. Magic isn't actually taught at Greenlaw and Faris doubts the existence of it but something strange happens when Faris is provoked by Menary just before they're set to graduate. Aided by Jane and her faithful bodyguard Tyrian, Faris leaves school and heads on a journey to discover her true destiny. This book is vastly different from Sorcery and Cecilia, which Stevermer co-wrote with Patricia C. Wrede. The story is set in a different magical world where magic seems to be all around and absorbed rather than learned. The author isn't very clear on the subject and all the magic parts of the story are very vague and confusing. Greenlaw is no Hogwarts and lacks the fully fleshed out description of the more famous magical school. The plot is full of adventure yet the adventure leads to... more confusion and a really odd ending. There's also an unusual romance that never fully gets off the ground and something about Oriental carpets that isn't fully explained. I like my stories to have nice, predictable, fairy tale endings and this one left me a bit puzzled and a bit sad. Jane is the best part of the whole novel. She's amusing, whimsical and prim all at the same time. I look forward to reading more about her in Scholar of Magics. Don't read this book if you're looking for something like Sorcery and Cecilia or Harry Potter.