Thursday, March 15, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy

Nimira left her homeland in search of money and fame as a singer. Instead she found poverty and misery singing for pennies at a cheap dance hall as part of a troupe of exotic foreign performers known as "Trouser Girls" for the style of clothing they wear. Nimira scoffs at the girls who dream of something more but secretly wishes for something better for herself. When a handsome, wealthy young gentleman, Hollin Parry, takes an interest in her and invites her to come sing at his estate, Nimira takes her chance. Hollin wants Nimira to sing while an automaton plays the piano. The previous girls he hired all ran off in fright claiming the automaton was haunted. Nimira resolves to be brave for she has risked everything for this position. Nim finds life in the country beautiful, yet somewhat lonely. Hollin seems to be kind and interested in her despite still grieving for his wife who died two years earlier. Nimira finds his attentions a bit unsettling and his political beliefs about fairies and land ownership are not what she thinks is fair. Hollin is an ambitious sorcerer and Nimira begins to think he's hiding secrets from her. Nimira too has secrets. She has discovered that the automaton is really the trapped soul of a fairy prince imprisoned there during a war thirty years earlier. Nim becomes his confidant and friend. She's determined to save Erris even if it means being parted from the one she loves. This book mixes familiar elements from Jane Eyre, The Wizard of Oz series, Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio, Harry Potter and Pygmalion into an entirely new world where humans and dangerous fairies battle for land. The plot is slow to start off and I had a hard time getting into the strange world. The world isn't as well-drawn or as detailed as the world of Harry Potter or Tamora Pierce's worlds. It seems to be similar to Victorian Europe or America where women wear corsets and have no say in their futures, but it contains sorcerers and fairies and spirits. Nim is brown skinned and comes from a land where women wear harem pants. Her culture is looked down on by the people of her adopted land as are the fairies. The conflicts between fairies and humans over land ownership parallels that of American settlers and the Indians. This story also contains ideas about women's rights and the place of women in this society. The big mystery really kept my interest though I was really sleepy. The ending is a bit rushed and ends without full resolution leading me to conclude there is a sequel. (Magic Under Stone available in Feb. 2012) I liked the characters very much. They aren't stereotypical and their roles and viewpoints aren't black and white. Bad characters have some good elements and good characters may have or do bad things. I especially like Nim. She's a strong heroine despite her circumstances. She's faced with an extraordinarily difficult decision torn between her heart and her ambition. She doesn't have easy choices to make and when she makes her choices she stands up for what she believes in. Nim is a heroine to admire. I would recommend this book for young teen girls who like historical fantasy with tough, strong-minded heroines. 

Pride and Prescience: Or, A Truth Universally Acknowledged by Carrie Bebris -- Austenesque Regency Mystery

Elizabeth and Jane Bennet are happily married to their true loves at long last and both couples are looking forward to their honeymoons but Caroline Bingley interferes by announcing her own engagement to an American, Mr. Frederick Parrish, a plantation owner from New Orleans. Unhappily the Darcys and the Bingleys must put off their honeymoons to attend the wedding one week hence in London. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy set up housekeeping in Darcy's townhouse while Georgiana visits with the Gardiners. Darcy enjoys showing Elizabeth around London and introducing her to his friends. Elizabeth is especially fascinated by an exhibit of New World antiquities at the British Museum. The exhibit contains items relating to witchcraft and the supernatural. Darcy scoffs at the idea that there is something he can't see or figure out by reason (except God) but Elizabeth feels that there's more out there than meets the eye. She's interested in getting to know archeologist Dr. Randolph who specializes in supernatural objects. Caroline Parrish begins to act strangely shortly after her wedding and Elizabeth feels it necessary to help Caroline's family keep an eye on her while she recovers from her brain disorder at Netherfield. Dangerous and unexplained events overtake the Bingley family and Netherfield. Someone wants to extort money from kind Charles Bingley and someone or someones seem to want Jane and Charles dead. Elizabeth begins to think something akin to a curse has been placed on the family that is causing all the problems. Her belief in the supernatural causes a rift between her and her beloved husband. Can she solve the mystery before it's too late? This book is part Pride and Prejudice sequel and part mystery. The Pride and Prejudice aspects are very well done. The language is not quite Jane Austen's but sounds similar but modern enough to be accessible to a casual reader. There is a little bit of witty banter between newlywed Elizabeth and Darcy which is funny and sweet though not at the level of Nick and Nora. The characters from the original novel all behave in character which is both good and bad. It's bad because Mr. Darcy is such a paragon and Mr. Bingley and Jane are so kind that they're too good to be true. Darcy exhibits some temper which makes him seem more human but then the downside to that is that he quarrels with Elizabeth. I really enjoyed revisiting my favorite characters from Pride and Prejudice. What I didn't like about this book was the mystery. I figured out the mystery right away. The author plants some really obvious clues and it doesn't take much to solve the mystery. I did wonder who the villain was about halfway through but then a clue helped me figure out that my first impression was correct. The mystery is incredible unbelievable. I, like Darcy, do not believe in things that can't be explained by reason though like Elizabeth, I'm open to the possibility but the happenings of this novel stretched by credibility too much. The plot is far too Gothic and sounds like something Catherine from Northanger Abbey would enjoy reading. If you love Jane Austen and Ann Randcliffe then you will love this book. I will not be reading the rest of the series.

Brighton Honeymoon by Sheri Cobb South -- Regency Romance

This book is a companion to The Weaver Takes a Wife. Polly Hampton left her home in the country in search of work and adventure in London. She found a job as a bookstore clerk  which quite suited her for Polly loves to read, especially Gothic novels. When the ton leave town for the summer Polly loses her job. She has nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Her mother is dead, she does not know who her father was and now the kindly vicar who took her in after her mother's death is gone too. Polly's employer makes her an improper proposal which she is loathe to accept. Polly doesn't know what to do until she hears about a workhouse boy turned wealthy textile mill owner, Mr. Ethan Brundy (formerly Crump). She decides to beg him for a job but then she seizes on the opportunity to claim kinship with Mr. Brundy! Polly styles herself Polly Crump and declares herself Mr. Brundy's long-lost sister. Mr. Brundy knows Polly to be an impostor but Lady Helen insists on taking up the girl as her protegee. Mr. Brundy is unhappy at the prospect of having a third person in his home just as he and Lady Helen are about to visit Brighton on their honeymoon. Mr. Brundy's friend, Sir Aubrey Tabor offers to help scare away the impostor. Poor Mr. Brundy finds himself saddled with two more house guests and a wife too shy to show her love while they have guests. Mr. Brundy wants his guests gone and he doesn't care how. Sir Aubrey does his best to intimidate Polly but the girl is more stubborn and spirited than she looks. Polly dreams of finding her biological father who will recognize her instantly and take her into his heart and home. Polly's plans don't go exactly as planned and she finds herself attracted to the maddening Sir Aubrey who seems determined to expose her as a fraud. This story is a drawing room comedy type romance but fails to meet my exacting standards. I really felt bad for Polly. Her story brings home just how hard it was to be a woman in the nineteenth century. I wanted her to find happiness but I felt that she didn't have much of a connection with the hero. The hero is a bit arrogant and rude, understandably so, but he doesn't make much of an attempt to be nice or sympathetic not even once he learns her true story. Some parts of the story are funny and there are secondary characters taken from the Georgette Heyer catalog of quirky suitors. I liked the subplot about the Brundys and the trials of being newlywed and in love. Mr. Brundy is not quite as likable in this story, being impatient and short tempered. In contrast, Lady Helen is kinder and gentler and more understanding than she was a few months earlier in the previous novel. If you want to know what happens next to the Brundys or want a story with a heroine who isn't of the ton, then I would definitely recommend this book.

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