Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

In this sequel to The Dark Unwinding, Katharine Tulman is trying to put her life and home back together after the events of 18 months ago. She learns that dangerous men are after her beloved Uncle Tully, she knows she must protect him at all costs. Both the English and the French want Uncle Tully's brilliant engineering mind to create an underwater bomb which can blow apart even iron clad ships. The two countries are currently allies fighting the Russians in the Crimea and need all the help they can get. Katharine refuses to allow Uncle Tully to be a part of such evil. Katharine, her maid/friend Mary, her solicitor and Uncle Tully move across the Channel to Grandmother Marianna's home in France. Katharine has an alterior movtive for going to Paris - she wants to find her beloved, Lane. She's been told he's dead but in her heat she refuses to believe it. Katharine finds herself thrust right into the very English Society she has hoped to avoid. Life in France is more difficult than she expected. Katharine faces great challenges including a recalcitrant housekeeper with a mad husband, the biggest gossip in England living next door, a mysterious man keeping watch outside the house and the handsome and persistent Frenchman Henri Marchand always trying to be gallant. Katharine soon finds herself thrust in the middle of political intrigue and old scandals. This is a thrilling, fast-paced novel. I couldn't put it down and read far far too late into the night to finish it. My heart was pounding the entire time. Nothing is what it seems in this novel and there are many many secrets that come to light. The mystery plot sucked me in. I really couldn't have predicted much of anything that happened in this novel or what Katharine would do to solve her problems. The opening scene contains some graphic violence I didn't much like and there's more at the end that I felt was OK. This book is more historical fiction than the first novel. It deals with real English and French history in the mid-19th century. I didn't know much about Napoleon III in the 1850s. I learned something new. The story also deals with scientific advances of the mid-19th century and the history of electricity. I didn't really understand or care so much about the science. There's a little dash of romance but hopeless romantics beware- only a dash. The ending was a bit rushed. There are some random moments and then a lot of discussion but at least it plays out in the plot and isn't summarized at the end. I disliked Katharine's reflection at the very end and I wish YA publishers would allow authors to write without lessons. There's little character development in this story. It's more plot-driven than character driven. Katharine is an admirable character. She's grown up a lot since she first appeared in the pages of A Dark Unwinding. She knows what she wants and has little time for fools. She's very human. She makes mistakes and admits to them. She admits she's afraid and doesn't know what she's doing but she acts like she's in control and takes charge. I love Uncle Tully and I think we could all learn a lot from him and I don't mean specifically engineering. I really liked when he appeared on the scene and I think the author created a very realistic portrayal of someone with special needs. As always, Mary provides the more lighthearted moments as does a new character who caused me to nearly chuckle out loud. The very minor characters exhibit more development than the major ones and we discover a lot about Mary's ever-expanding circle of acquaintance. This story does not work as a stand-alone. I had a hard time remembering who some of the characters were who had been in A Dark Unwinding. I figured it out from the plot but it was hard at first. If you read the first book and wonder what happens next, then you will want to read this one. 

An Intimate Arrangement by Nancy Lawrence -- Regency Romance

Two elderly brothers are fighting over the same piece of property each doing something with it to spite the other. Cecil Madison has given the estate to his great-niece but his brother, Arthur, claims to have sold it. The solicitor suspects Cecil of lying for he's never done a kind thing in his life. Miss Marianna Madison is thrilled to have a home no matter how derelict. She and her little brother Robin and their old nurse Blessing had been living in a two-room tenant cottage. Their new home needs work but Marianna is certain she can teach village girls foreign languages, music and art. It's not ideal but it's a start. Perhaps they'll even take in borders since they're close to Newmarket. Then Major Ulrick Beauleigh shows up informing everyone that he has purchased the estate and nothing will stand in his way of claiming it. Marianna refuses to give up easily and stands her ground. The two have no choice but to share the house until the solicitor works out the paperwork to determine the rightful owner. Marianna considers Major Beauleigh a proud, stubborn man and he feels the same way about Marianna because she refuses all his offers of help. He can't just let her family starve. She's the only one in the house who seems to hate him and he can't figure out why. Her beautiful cousin Isabelle certainly doesn't seem to hate him. All Ulrick wants is peace and quiet to be left alone to recover from his war wounds. He may discover that alone equals a loneliness he's never felt before. Despite the really unrealistic premise, this story is actually quite cute. Marianna is very naive and innocent. She has no idea how gossip spreads and stories grow. Beauleigh does though but he seems to be able to handle it. Despite Marianna's youthful naivety, she's actually an admirable character. She's strong-willed and determined. She acts much older at times because she's the head of her family. At first I didn't care for the hero but he improves upon acquaintance to become one of the most amiable heroes I have encountered.  He has a reason for wanting the estate and when it was revealed, my heart went out to him. Young Robin provides some comedy and lighthearted moments. The plot kept me interested enough but it takes too long to come to the point. I really liked the story though and would recommend it to sweet Regency fans. There's a tiny bit of sensuality (looking) in the beginning and a cad appears towards the end but nothing more. It's perfectly clean and sweet for a book written in 2001. 

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