Thursday, January 9, 2014

What I've Read This Week Part I

What I've Read This Week Part I . . .

Memoirs of a Hoyden by Joan Smith -- Traditional Regency Romance

Miss Marion Mathieson has traveled extensively in the Orient. She's survived all manner of conditions with her dignity and virtue in tact, however, now she is back in England to promote her memoir, people seem to think she's scandalous for traveling without a female companion! Marion isn't one to care about what others think but sometimes her secretary poses as her nephew to protect her reputation. On the way to Canterbury to give a lecture, the coach Marion and Ronald are traveling in picks up a gentleman passenger after his carriage breaks down. Then a curious thing happens: highwaymen hold up the carriage in a rainstorm, search Lord Kestral and don't seem to notice that Marion's reticule is inside the coach. Furthermore, they were speaking French! First Marion must direct the other passengers to safety and tell them how to survive in the freezing cold cottage. Then, when all is quiet, she has a chance to confront Lord Kestral about her suspicions. He confesses he's a courier for the government and the letter that was stolen contained important information that if delivered to the French will ensure Bonaparte's invasion. Marion invites herself and Randal along on Kestral's mission to find the French highwaymen and his letter. For some reason, Lord Kestral has a problem with Marion, her adventures and her authoritative nature. He even tries to lose her several times. Marion isn't one to be left out of an adventure though, especially not one with such a handsome man... not that she's interested in him, of course... 

This story is more of a traditional Regency in the style of Georgette Heyer's The Talisman Ring with the mystery/adventure forming the primary plot and the romance the second. The adventure was a lot of fun though I figured out the clues easily. The plot lends itself to further adventures with the hero and heroine. The adventure drags on too long and then the romance comes in at the end. It makes the book feel longer than it is. I would have cut it off a bit sooner. As fun as the adventure is, I just didn't like the characters. I wanted to like Marion because she's in her 30s, uninterested in marriage, writes novels and loves to travel, but I found her really really annoying. Her constant anecdotes about her travels are irritating and come across as bragging. They sound impossible to those who weren't there and I would agree. I wasn't sure she had actually done all the things she said she had but it seems that she did. I thought her adventures seemed impossible for a lady of her time but she's apparently based on Lady Hester Stanhope, who actually did have some of the adventures ascribed to Marion in the novel! She comes to recognize her annoying behavior, but her strong will and bossiness were a bit too strong to make her fully likeable, though I KNOW I'm exactly the same way!! She is so determined to be right but she makes big mistakes and doesn't trust Kestral even though Lord Castlereagh obviously does.  Kestral is an alpha hero. We're told he's a Corinthian and I love Corinthian heroes but not Kestral. He's way too alpha for me. He disapproves of Marion right away and fights for control wherever they go. He softens a bit and I began to feel bad for him because Marion continued to be rude to him. He grows and changes a bit but I'm not sure he could really ever accept Marion's adventurous nature. Since the story is first person limited (Marion), we don't know that much about Kestral. We don't even know his given name until almost the end. I didn't find all his alpha manliness and authoritativeness attractive and I didn't really feel the romance between them. I actually liked Randal better, barring his infatuation with a beautiful face, he's a fun sidekick. He's ready for any adventure and he finds Marion amusing and fun to be with. He lets her ride all over him but when he wants something, he's not afraid to speak his mind or try to knock her ego down a bit. I wasn't super crazy about this novel. It just was too outlandish and the characters too unappealing for my taste. There were some typos/wrong spellings in this print book. It could have used  a better editor. If there are other books about the same characters though, I would definitely read them just to find out how the hero and heroine handle married life and whether they have stubborn children!

Mrs. Jeffries Appeals the Verdict by Emily Brightwell -- Victorian Mystery

Bimpey Groggins turns the tables on Smythe and comes to Upper Edmonton Gardens for help. A young pickpocket is sentenced to hang for a murder he swears he didn't commit. Blimpey believes the lad and wants to see justice done. Mrs. Jeffries and the staff want justice but if they fail to convince the authorities, then the lad will hang anyway. The staff decides to investigate because they owe it to themselves, the convinced boy and those who believe in them to see justice done. This is going to be a tricky case without their beloved Inspector involved. Finding suspects is going to be difficult. Mrs. Moran, a wealthy businesswoman, was beloved by everyone. There was no one on the dark street that night who could have seen what happened. Her husband was with her when she was murdered but coshed on the head so he isn't a witness or a suspect. The police believe the murder was simply a robbery gone wrong. Constable Barnes thinks otherwise, especially once he discovers Inspector Nivens was on the case. Would the man be so obsessed with self-promotion that he would lie about conducting a shoddy investigation? How to convince dear Inspector Witherspoon to get the Chief Inspector to reopen the case? This mystery is unusual because it doesn't begin with the murder. It's very hard to solve the mystery without seeing the murder happen. I find the stories more engaging when the murder happens on page yet easier to solve. I'm not sure which way is better but I like that the author shakes things up a bit. This mystery was so completely different from any other case. It was refreshing to have something difficult and to have the extra added complication of the inner workings of Scotland Yard at work. There were some great period details in this novel, especially right at the very beginning. The author seamlessly worked in details that set the period without hitting the reader over the head. The cast of characters shines as usual. I liked seeing a different role for Blimpey. He's a fun character. Wiggins is growing up and changing a bit too and I liked seeing him take on more responsibility instead of bumbling around. I also liked seeing Inspector Witherspoon become more aware of what's happening in the police force. He's still clueless and naive, just the way he's supposed to be, but he's not so completely innocent anymore. This is another good entry in the series. My only wish is that the books came with recipes because I would love to have one of Mrs. Goodge's treats with a "cuppa." 

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