Friday, March 11, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . . 

Daughter of Winter by Pat Lowery Collins -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Twelve-year-old Addie and her family live in the shipping town of Essex, Massachusetts in 1849. Her father headed off to the gold fields of California just before an epidemic of the flux hit Essex. Addie's mother and little brother were both ill, but not Addie, who was determined to care for them all alone, without the interference of strangers. Addie is devastated when her mother and brother die of the flux and must gather her strength to take care of the bodies and do what it takes to survive until her father returns. Addie, like her mother, doesn't like strangers. Her mother always called them "interfering busybodies." Addie makes plans to disappear before the townspeople discover her secret and make her work as an unpaid servant. She's reluctant to give up school, which she enjoys, and the friendship of her only true friend John, but she is determined to take care of herself. Addie meets a mysterious old Indian woman, Nokummus, who takes in Addie and teaches the girl things she never learned in school. Nokummus also holds the key to a secret about Addie's past and she is convinced that Addie is the one she has been looking for to become a great leader of her people. At first Addie isn't convinced, but as she grows to love Nokummus, she is torn between her life in Essex and her life with Nokummus. She has to make a momentous decision about who she is and what she will do with her future. This beautifully written novel opens and closes with poems that frame the story. Addie is a plucky heroine that most girls can relate to. She's not perfect, she's not too noble and she's not too much of a hoyden to be unrealistic. She's been shaped by certain factors in her life that have made her stronger. I like her a lot because she seems realistic. There's a budding romance that's very sweet and unfolds nicely.  Nokummus is also an interesting character, though perhaps a bit stereotypical : the proud, wise, old Indian woman. The story is rich in detail and well-researched historical facts. I can easily see the story unfold in my head. This is a great coming-of-age/identity story and I highly recommend it for ages 11/12 +.

An Improper Suitor by Monica Fairview --Regency Romance
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a lady in possession of an independent fortune is not in need of a husband, or so Miss Julia Swifton thinks. She has no wish to be married and despises rakes, like her father, who abandoned her family years ago. Julia has a happy life with her Grannie in London where she has a reputation as a bluestocking and an old-maid. When Lady Bullfinch, Julia's Grannie, falls ill, she informs Julia that Julia is indeed in need of a husband. When Julia protests, her Grannie points out the misfortune that awaits a young lady without the protection of a male relative. Grannie gives Julia three months to find a proper suitor or Grannie will choose one for her. Grannie's idea of a husband for Julia is her friend's grandson, Lionel Blake, Earl of Thorwynn, a notorious rake. Julia is horrified at the prospect of marrying a rake. She still longs for her absentee father and hopes he will repent and return to her. The idea of doing the same thing to her own child is abhorrent to her. Before Julia can find herself a proper suitor she has an unusual first meeting with Lord Thorwynn that arouses feelings of mutual physical attraction. Together, they rescue a beautiful cherub from a fall in the park and Julia forges an unlikely friendship with the younger girl. Julia's idea of a more proper suitor is Captain Neave, a handsome officer of the Rifle Guards, whom Lord Thorwynn takes objection to. Determined not to be subjected to Thorwynn's opinions, Julia tries to avoid him and focus on Neave, but wherever she goes Thorwynn is there to remind her of her failings and her newly awakened feelings. Julia is forced to rely on Thorwynn for help and discovers that he seems to have a side of him that he doesn't show, though he is reluctant to share his true feelings with Julia. Thorwynn instead acts like a sulky schoolboy in the throes of his first crush, which makes his courtship of Julia quite awkward. Julia learns from her new friend Amelia how to have fun and realizes that her life has been to staid and proper. Determined to live life to the fullest for a change, Julia creates an embarrassing tension between herself and Thorwynn but she soon needs to rely on his protection again to affect a rescue and she discovers her true feelings at last. If only Thorwynn weren't such an improper suitor... This book has all the hallmarks of a cliched Regency romance. I wanted to like this book because I like older heroines and bluestockings. I feel this book suffers from a lot of problems though. First, there are too many plots going on in one story. There is also too much lust and not enough actual romance (as in courtship or wooing). Thorwynn and Julia don't really know much about each other even when the story ends. I can see why Thorwynn loved Julia and why she would be attracted to him but his lack of openness really bothers me. There are also mistakes in the names and ages of characters that caused confusion and inconsistent plot points that didn't add up. I did like Julia's outspoken Grannie, who is from an earlier, saltier, generation. I also liked Amelia and her character development. She's the only character who isn't a stereotype and I found myself wanting to know more about her. This book falls in between kisses only and subtle sensuality but closer to subtle sensuality than a chaste romance. Out of five stars, I would give this book 3 1/4 stars.

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