Monday, March 17, 2014

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Jubilee Year by Margaret Evans Porter -- Regency Romance

Justin Blythe has spent the last few years in Russia as the honored guest of Princess Natalia Levaskov. He loves her two young sons and was a good friend to her late husband, but now it's time to return home to England. His brother has died unexpectedly and now Justin is the new Viscount Gavender. All his brother left is an empty title. The estate is heavily mortgaged and inhabited by a tenant with a lengthy lease. Lady Miranda Perevel, ward of the Duke of Solway, is in London to find a husband. Her first Season was tainted with scandal owing to rumors about her mentally unstable mother. Miranda doesn't know or care to know the particulars. All she knows is that her father is dead and her mother is as good as. She loves the Duke and Duchess but longs for a home of her own. She's determined to find a comfortable husband. She doesn't need to marry someone wealthy, for she has 50 thousand of her own, but she wants to be content. Her aunt, the Duchess, wishes Miranda to wed her best friend Damon, Lord Elston. Damon is decidedly NOT the marrying kind. Damon invites his cousin Justin to Miranda's ball and the young man is smitten with the beautiful young woman. They could be comfortable together but he has nothing to offer. He plans to enter the diplomatic corps and hopes his political star is on the rise. Miranda is also interested in politics. The pair seem to be getting on well when Miranda learns that Justin may be a fortune hunter. Her aunt directs her attention to the younger, unmarried heir to the Duke of Devonshire. While he's a charming companion, he is not Justin. How can Miranda marry someone who doesn't love her? Justin is determined to prove to Mira that he loves her and sets out to woo her. He understands that marriage entails a partnership and endeavors to break down some of Mira's barriers and help her come to terms with her feelings towards her mother. Then his past threatens to catch up to him and a shakeup in the government may curtail his political dreams. Can he convince Mira to wed him after all?

This story started off well enough. I liked that the misunderstanding happened early on so the hero actually sets out to woo the heroine. The dialogue is ordinary but shows two people who are of like minds coming together. I especially love how Justin shows Mira that she doesn't have to be alone and how to deal with her family problems. However, Mira and Justin are not on page together very often and when they are, the action is told rather than shown. This is the biggest failing of the first half of the book. If the plot ended with the proposal, it would have been a pleasant story, but then another misunderstanding happens. A lot of the problem could have been solved by communication. Justin isn't around to talk to and he doesn't know Mira very well and doesn't know what she's feeling and thinking at that time. That causes another misunderstanding and a riff between two cousins. As a consequence, the story ends up being rather sad. I liked the first half of the book better than the second. The ending is very rushed and I wish there was less pointless plot in the middle and more good plot at the end. The romance is clean aside from mention of a character supposedly having been the mistress of another character and what someone should think about that.

The period details are excellent. The story is set in 1810, the King's Jubilee year. There is a lot of good detail that shows the author did her research. The downside is that there's too much about politics. A very long section involving a diplomat from Persia goes on too long and contains too much unnecessary dialogue. It could have been summarized easily. I didn't really understand or care about all the political maneuverings. There are too many names tossed around without a good explanation as to who they are and what's happening. That's just too much detail and could also have been mentioned in passing in a letter from Justin to Mira or just in passing.

I really liked Mira. I think I can relate to her though we don't have experiences in common. She's practical but more vulnerable than she lets on. She's intelligent and not afraid to show it. She turns into a watering pot at times though and that I didn't like. I liked Justin. He is a nice man and perfect for Mira, but they don't know each other very well. Their loving families make a nice change from the usual angst filled family relationships. Damon is a colossal jerk or a colossal idiot. I'm not certain which. He's charming and handsome and obviously loves Mira so I'll go with idiot. I would have done something different with him. I expected him to meet his match but apparently he gets his own book for that. There are a lot of secondary characters in this book and events that happened in a previous book which I have not read. This story doesn't entirely stand alone because of it but it made me curious enough to want to read the first book

Mrs. Jeffries Defends Her Own by Emily Brightwell -- Victorian Mystery

Ronald Dearman, manager of Sutcliffe Manufacturing is murdered in his office. Inspector Witherspoon is NOT on the job! He is busy with a fraud case so Inspector Nivens is on the case. When a suspect overhears Nivens complaining about Witherspoon getting help on his cases, the woman has a choice to make: either allow Nivens to do his investigation and risk being taken up for murder or beg help from someone she hasn't seen in years. Mrs. Jeffries is astonished to see her late husband's sister Fiona Jeffries Sutcliff at Upper Edmonton Gardens. When Fiona married Sutcliffe, it broke David's heart. He hated to see his sister become a greedy social climber and the siblings became estranged. Even so, Mrs. Jeffries knows they have to see justice done. This case will be extra difficult without the Inspector but hopefully Constable Barnes can help. Also, Smythe and Betsy are on their way to Canada so they're short handed. The investigation seems to be going nowhere. Mr. Dearman was not a "dear man" and no one seems to be mourning his death. The clues lead straight to Fiona but did she do it? How can Mrs. Jeffries send her sister-in-law to the gallows? She worries a lot over the right thing to do. 

The mystery part of the novel got very repetitive as the characters repeated their findings over and over. Since the Inspector was not on the job, it lacked Mrs. Jeffries probing him for more details. I didn't figure out the identity of the murderer or even the motive. I was completely wrong. I did guess one piece of a puzzle that seemed rather obvious but it turned out not to have any bearing on the murder case at all. It was irrelevant though it served as a red herring. I thought for sure I was right. It seemed obvious in the opening scene who the murderer had to be so the big reveal was a surprise. The motive seemed a little weak to be plausible. What I really liked about this story was the absence of Smythe and Betsy. They've gotten boring. Their story is done. I loved seeing Phyllis blossom and become a part of the family. She's becoming a very likeable character. Luty and Hatchet were not used much in this story. I didn't miss them too much but the story then lacks the humor they bring. I also liked the police bits and seeing something different from the usual investigation.

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