Sunday, May 20, 2012

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend  . . .

Contagion by Joanne Dahme -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

It's 1895, almost a new century and Philadelphia is a rapidly changing city. Irish families like Rose's are becoming more respectable all the time. Her husband Patrick is a top contractor in the city and he wants to win the contract to construct a brand new water filtration plant. Rose and her best friend Nellie are on a committee of concerned citizens who want to preserve the city's parks, including the old water works. Sean, a manger at the water works, loves the old park and the old machinery. He feels the solution to the problem is not a modern filtration plant but to enforce the city's sewer laws to keep people from dumping refuse into the city's water supply. Unfortunately for Sean, powerful men are dead set on the new filtration plant. When Rose recieves threatening notes directed at her husband, she's scared but Patrick doesn't want to involve the police. Then tragedy strikes close to Rose's heart and she feels that someone is trying to hurt her and the dastardly act may have been connected to the notes. Rose defies her husband and turns to a sympathetic police officer and homicide detective for help. Sean finds himself attracted to Rose and wanting to keep her safe. Rose is fond of Sean too but she's a married woman so there can be nothing more than friendship. Then a deadly outbreak of Typhoid seems to threaten everything and everyone. It seems that someone will stop at nothing to get what they want - not even murder. This novel reads more like an adult novel. There's lots of violence and dramatic moments that kept me reading far too late at night. I could not put the book down until everything was resolved. The description of the Water Works is beautiful and so detailed I can almost picture it. The book seems well-researched but there isn't an author's note to tell the reader where fact meets fiction. I felt really bad for Rose being a woman in the nineteenth century and unable to really fight for herself. The villain is truly supremely awful and the outcome of the plot is a bit shocking but realistic. I would have liked one more chapter as an epilogue to tell how things turn out ever after. I think realistically, a different outcome would probably happen than the one hinted at on the last page but it wrapped up everything nicely. I enjoyed this thriller and learned a lot too. To learn more visit Fairmount Water Works, Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center and Drinking Water and Public Health in 19th Century Philadelphia. For more on Laurel Hill Cemetery see this exhibit by the Library Company of Philadelphia.

A Lady of Qualities by Meredith Leigh (aka Daisy Vivian) -- Regency Romance

Sabrina Fairchild wants nothing more than to ride her beloved horse all day long and avoid the trappings of the social whirl. Her younger sister Posey dreams happily of romance and hopes to marry their neighbor Gerry Afton, while Aunt Alice deplores Sabrina's bluestocking ways. Papa is a military man and almost never home so the upbringing of the girls is left to their maternal aunt who local gossips say wishes to marry Colonel Fairchild. When a Mr. John Lawlor arrives the lives of the Fairchild sisters and Mrs. Cunningham will never be the same again. Not only is he an infuriating know-it-all, Mr. Lawlor is a factor for the family's estates in Devon and Cornwall - estates that belong to Sabrina and Posey's new step-mother! When the new Mrs. Fairchild arrives on the scene she is not at all what the girls were expecting. Phoebe Fairchild is very bright and lively and it seems that she and Aunt Alice were old school chums. Phoebe stirs up excitement in their sleepy country village with her eccentric ways and fascinating friends. Even Sabrina is somewhat drawn to the raffish Polish Prince Kozlowska and his wife Fanny, a former actress, is most amusing. Also interesting is Gerry's pal Phillip Quarles who seems to know Phoebe from Brussels. Posey is far more interested in their new step-brother Raymond, a dreamy artistic type. Before the end of the novel, secrets will out and the entire countryside will be set on it's ear. This book really has very little plot and it comes crashing to a halt without much resolution either. It's difficult to describe more than I just have. The characters are well-drawn. I adore Sabrina and I would be just like her were I a Regency era young lady. Phoebe has surprising depths and I felt a bit sorry for her. I also felt really bad for Aunt Alice who loses her place after 17 years of mothering and keeping house for the Fairchilds and especially bad for Fanny who is just trying to get by the only way she knows how. Lawlor is a bit of a mystery. He appears a lot early on and then mostly is kept in the background. Gerry is the typical amusing brother/friend boy next door who isn't ready to grow up. He provides a lot of comic relief. There are some rake characters as well to round out the typical Regency cast of characters. The secrets exposed at the end aren't really surprising. I thought one was common knowledge because it was mentioned earlier in the book. Because there's no plot, this book was very slow moving and I was able to put it down halfway through and start again later without wishing to finish it. The story had potential. It could have been a cute comedy of manners but I think it got away from the author due to too many plots and characters.

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