Monday, March 10, 2014

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Marisa's ChoiceMarisa's Choice by Kadee McDonald -- Regency Romance/Young Adult Regency Romance

***I received a promotional copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review. This review reflects my own honest opinion. ***

Marisa Landon is not interested in a London Season or the wealthy Viscount her step-father wants her to marry. She is not so secretly in love with her best friend's older brother, neighbor William Wycliffe. She's loved him since she was 14 but he has always seen her as a little sister. Marisa realizes she must have her Season and attract the attention of other gentlemen to make Will jealous. Before she arrives in London, her mother has an accident and can not travel. Marisa heads off to London with her best friend Lyvia Wycliffe and her family, which puts Marisa is close proximity with Will. Lyvia is an instant hit with the gentlemen but has eyes only for a penniless Lieutenant. It's up to Marisa to keep her friend from doing something rash. Will's best friend, Jamie, Lord Rockwell takes an interest in Marisa. Marisa enjoys his company but he's not Will. She has reason to fear for Lord Rockwell's life and is often seen in company with him, sharing details of what she knows. The young Viscount, Lord Allendale, also takes an interest in Marisa, but he's more interested in plants than people. Will Wycliffe is home from the wars and at loose ends. His little sister's best friend Marisa seems to have grown up while he was away. He's confused by his feelings for her. He knows he SHOULD feel honorably bound to protect her, yet, he's jealous of the would-be suitors who surround her even his own best friend. Should he do the right thing and allow Marisa to enjoy her Season and accept an offer from someone with more money and a higher social position or should he act on his strange new feelings?

This is a pleasant, predictable sort of Regency romance. It's not my favorite plot but it's not my least favorite. The first quarter of the story was a bit slow but it picked up with a mystery in the second half and I couldn't put it down until I was done. The writing style is decent. It's a bit modern but not too modern. I caught a few phrases and words that sounded too modern but not many. The main thing I really found jarring was the gentlemen asking Marisa to call them by their first names, which just was not done. (Think of the Austen heroes; they are usually associated with their surnames: Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, Captain Wentworth). The author has done some research and puts in just enough period detail to set the scene but not too much as so to overwhelming. She explains a lot of the basics of Regency Society and etiquette. There isn't really any period language to contend with so the writing is accessible for all readers. The romance doesn't really develop very well, in my opinion, largely due to the underdevelopment of Will. The ending is a bit rushed. There are a few other romances happening in the background of the story. The central romance gets lost within the other plots that would be better off in their own separate books. I predicted a subplot right away and found it a bit too convenient and obvious. I also didn't think it was entirely historically accurate but it works OK for the story. I felt left hanging at the end though and needed to know how that was going to turn out.

The characters in this book are pretty good. I really liked Marisa. She's young but she's sensible. She is reading a book by "A Lady" about two sisters who have very different outlooks on life and that describes Marisa and her best friend Lyvia. Marisa is an Elinor. She's practical and sensible and willing to act grown up in order to get what she wants. Marisa loves to read and discuss politics but she's not a bluestocking. Lyvia is spoiled and bratty. She's a typical teenager and not at all ready to be let out in public. She could learn a lot from Marisa. Marisa stays steady throughout the whole novel. She's not perfect; she's outspoken and stubborn at times, but I liked that about her. Her reaction to the events towards the end was very realistic. She knew what she wanted and when she didn't get it, she wasn't about to settle. I wasn't crazy about Will. He admits he doesn't have a lot to offer. He's home from the wars and at loose ends. He needs to grow up a bit before he can be the hero of a romance. He's a flat character. I don't know why Marisa loves him. I can see her having a school girl crush on him, but not why she continues to love him. There are some sweet moments when I can see why she would feel attraction, but it's not enough for me. She asks him a question, which he never gets a chance to answer, and that would have made him a much more appealing character. She spends more time talking to Lord Rockwell than she does with Will. As a result, Lord Rockwell is a better character and I liked him immensely.

This story is good for newcomers to the genre and young adult readers. It serves as a good introduction for those who can't/don't want all the period details and language of Georgette Heyer and just want a simple love story. For this experienced reader, as a historian, I need those details and the language. I need to learn something new in an entertaining manner. My romantic nature needs to be pleased by a sigh and awww at the romance. This book doesn't quite fit the bill. It's not bad, it's very nice in fact, it just didn't wow me.

If you liked The Season by Sarah MacLean, you will like this one. 

A Gentleman of LeisureA Gentleman of Leisure by P.G. Wodehouse -- Historical Fiction/Romance

Jimmy Pitt, a gentleman of leisure, strolls into his club one night as the members were discussing the latest popular play on Broadway, Love, The Cracksman. The actor, Mifflin, claims it takes brains and science to be an expert cracksman but Jimmy feels otherwise. He's largely distracted by thoughts of the beautiful girl he saw on the ship to New York. He was traveling Second Class for a lark and she was traveling First so they never spoke. He felt a connection to her though and now he's in love. Before he knows it, Jimmy has entered into a bet where he will successfully break into a house or owe the 12 men dinner. Later that night, upon returning to his rooms, Jimmy catches a would-be thief, Spike Mullins and somehow lets Spike think Jimmy is a master burglar. Jimmy convinces Spike to break into a house on the Upper West Side and allow Jimmy to tag along as supervisor. Jimmy thinks it will be easy but he didn't count on Spike being a bumbling fool or the dogs that look ready to tear him to pieces. He also didn't expect the house to be the home of the corrupt Chief of Police and his beautiful daughter, the one woman Jimmy has been searching for! Mr. McEachern comes from English upper middle class stock but was disinherited by his wealthy uncle. He moved to New York where he changed his name and became a cop. He married and had a daughter. Since his wife's death in their daughter's early childhood, Mr. McEachern has only had thoughts of his daughter. His goal is to amass as much wealth as possible, take her to Europe and marry her off to a prince. Molly loves her father and wants to please him so she agrees to the plan. A year and some months later, a dejected Jimmy has been wandering the world searching for Molly. He doesn't know her name or remember where she lives. Now he has arrived in England and feels the need to be off again. Circumstances intervene in the form of an impecunious young Lord who borrows money from Jimmy. Spennie, Lord Dreever, invites Jimmy to Dreever Castle along with another acquaintance of his. Just before leaving London, Jimmy runs into Spike again and knowing that Spike is the key to finding Molly, brings Spike along as his valet. At Dreever Castle, Spennie's wealthy uncle (from trade) rules with an iron fist. He has plans to marry his nephew off to an heiress. Spennie can not stand up to his uncle. Spike has his eye on Spennie's aunt Julia's diamond necklace and Jimmy tried to keep his pal on the straight and narrow. His life is complicated trying to solve a mystery and keep out of trouble. Things are not always what they seem and he seems to have stumbled into a tangle of relationships that may prevent a happily ever after ending for himself and his new friend.

This story starts off really slow and complicated. Jimmy doesn't appear until page 10 and doesn't meet the heroine for a few more chapters. They don't officially meet until the middle of the book. The story picks up from there and I couldn't put it down. I really wanted to know how Jimmy was going to get out of one scrape when he fell into another and I couldn't stop until I found out how he untangled the knots. Wodehouse borrowed a lot from his earlier book, Piccadilly Jim which makes this story feel less fresh. He also relies on a lot of coincidences to move his plot forward which makes it all rather hard to believe. It's also difficult to believe that the characters would just give in. It's all resolved too quickly and neatly. The romance is very rushed. There's more kissing than in the other two Wodehouse books I read but the development of the romance isn't as good. It relies on love at first sight and a deep connection between two people who have barely spoken. The story seems more like a fantasy than something that could have actually happened. I also wanted more of life at an English country home. They talk a lot about amateur theatricals and how bad rehearsals were but we don't get to see any of it. There's a tiny bit of racist language that appears in the novel. There's also some commentary on marriage and how a character needs a wife to comfort him and how another character needs a somewhat masterful husband who can match her intelligence and spirit. Such descriptions are common for the 1920s but not very appealing.

The characters are largely flat. The most colorful character is Spike and he seems right out of a bad black and white detective movie. He speaks in the most ridiculous accent and is nearly unintelligible. Apparently this is called a Bowery accent. I've heard it in movies but didn't think anyone actually spoke like that. It makes his dialogue difficult to read. He provides a lot of comic relief and in spite of being a thief, is a likeable character. Jimmy is a colorless version of Piccadilly Jim. He's more or less a saint, aside from the one incident. I don't know why the heroine loves him. He's quiet and listens to her so apparently she feels a connection but she's very innocent and I don't think she knows many men besides her father. She's hardly in the novel at all and spends more time with another character than the hero. When she is with Jimmy, they're mostly silent. Spennie is more a boy than a man, which he readily admits. I didn't like him very much because he was so naive and so weak. I kept wishing he would stand up for himself with his uncle or take up Jimmy's suggestion of getting a job. The conclusion to his story is predictable but I liked it. It makes him a more interesting character. Mr. McEachern is a nasty sort of man. He thinks he wants what's best for his daughter but he doesn't do it in a honorable or kind fashion. She adores him and lives to please him, but he doesn't give her the same unfailing love and support in return. He and Sir Thomas are quite the nasty villains though they don't think they are.

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