Thursday, March 13, 2014

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Isabella (Trevelyan Family, #1)Isabella by Loretta Chase -- Regency Romance

Edward Trevelyan, Earl of Hartleigh faced down the French and nearly died as a spy for Wellington, yet nothing has made him more fearful than arriving home to his ward's governess tearfully confessing she has lost little Lucy! Hartleigh is terrified he has failed his late friend. He promised he would look after Lucy and now she's lost in the middle of an unfamiliar and dangerous city. How could this have happened? Isabella Latham is in Town to chaperone her younger cousins' first Season. She's a spinster at 26 and was penniless since her father's death but now has a decent fortune. As she's about to leave her dressmaker, she comes across a small child sleeping in the corner. When the little girl awakes, she cries for her Mama, and Isabella's motherly instincts are aroused. Isabella is about to return little Lucy home when Hartleigh finally finds them. Hartleigh is so worried about Lucy, he is quite rude to the woman he assumes is a shopkeeper. He admires the way she handles Lucy and immediately realizes his mistake. He calls to apologize, but as Isabella's Mama points out later, timing is the enemy. His disreputable cousin Basil has already set his sights on Isabella or at least her fortune. Isabella is discommoded by the man with the cat's eyes. She fears being caught in his trap but is also a little bit curious about what it would be like to be with such a man. At least he makes no pretenses about courting her fortune, unlike her other suitors. Lord Hartleigh decides he needs to find a Mama for Lucy. He tries to court the young ladies his aunt has picked out for him but none of them attract his attention as much as Isabella. He enjoys the time spent conversing with her and is attracted to her. Isabella's aunt is annoyed at Hartleigh's attentions to Isabella. He's way too good for Isabella and should marry her empty headed daughter Veronica instead. As Basil becomes increasingly desperate, he spins gossip in such a way that will damage not only Isabella's reputation but ruin the chances of her younger cousins. She's confused about which one to pick for Lord Harleigh doesn't seem to love her any more than his cousin does. Though she loves him, she can not marry him if he does not love her. Finally, old scandals come to light as the two gentlemen try to win Isabella's hand.

This is Loretta Chase's first published book and as such, it's a good one. The plot kept me interested to find out how the HEA would come about. I tried to stop at the halfway point but at the point, something happened and I couldn't put it down. The romance plot could use a bit more courtship but I liked it. There are a lot of misunderstandings and I felt like yelling at Isabella "Just talk to him even though it's not proper!" Isabella's time spent with Hartleigh goes by very quickly and is mostly his thoughts about her. I would have liked more dialogue and interaction showing how compatible they are. I do get a sense of why he loves her but not so much why she loves him. The scandal is predictable and I wondered about it early on. I would think there would be legal hurdles to jump if such a thing happened. It wouldn't be so neat and tidy. I also didn't like the end of Maria's plot. At first I did but then the other person does something that was typical of gentleman at the time but I didn't like it at all.

I liked the characters in this book a lot. I especially liked Isabella's Mama, Maria. She acts like the quiet beta heroes in Georgette Heyer. Isabella is sensible and had a good head for business. She doesn't allow Basil to fool her as to his intentions. She thinks she can control him. Basil is a nasty man. He convinces himself that his lies are the truth and will stop at almost nothing to get money and to thwart his cousin. He's entirely despicable and untrustworthy. However, Basil seems to learn a lesson at the end. Little Lucy is cute. She sounds and acts more like 4 or 5 than 7 though. She's used enough to forward the plot and add some humor but not so much as to be annoying. Hartleigh is an honorable gentleman. As far as the reader knows, he's pretty much a saint. He's a war hero, a devoted friend and trying to be a loving guardian. He's not entirely perfect. He acts like Mr. Darcy at first but he realizes his mistakes some of the time. The characters are driven by lust at times and there is some kissing not on the lips. The door closes on a married couple but the per-marital kissing is much more intense. This book is far more clean than Loretta Chase's current books. (She is now writing Regency Historicals). 

Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther -- Historical Fiction Stories

This volume of short stories provides snapshots of the daily life of an ordinary Englishwoman with an ordinary family. She's enjoying her 40s more than her 30s because she feels "suspended between summer and winter, savouring the best of them both." She has an ordinary husband with whom she can share a look every now and again when something significant happens. She also has three ordinary children: Vin, away at Eton most of the year; Judy, age 11 and Toby. There's also Nannie, a cook and a housekeeper. The Minivers time is spent between London and their summer home in Kent. Mrs. Miniver prefers Starlings. It feels more like home to her. There the children spend lazy summer and early fall days fishing, collecting rocks and doing what children do. In London there are dinner parties to be gotten up, shopping, the children's school, holidays and birthdays. There are also visits to see relatives in Scotland and a quick trip to France. War is on the horizon but not a part of daily life just yet. Mrs. Miniver is relieved to know this time they're fighting against an idea and not a nation as they were in her childhood. Everything is as it should be, just as Mrs. Miniver likes it.

I couldn't really relate to Mrs. Miniver (whose first name is finally revealed in the final story). I'm not a wife or a mother and though I like my routine, I like to learn new things and see new places. I could relate to the children a bit better because I remember my own summer days spent at my grandparents' very fondly. I also wanted dolls at an age when most girls have given them up, like Judy. This is a pleasant little volume of stories. There's nothing really remarkable about it. I kept falling asleep and having to reread passages. There's a professor character who uses impossible language and a trip to the zoo featuring animals I didn't recognize. Sometimes the writing is beautiful like the quote above. Unfortunately, occasionally the author uses the "n word" to describe black people and it's very jarring and took me out of the calmness of the story. I know it must have been acceptable back then but it's still shocking to read. The book sails along very peacefully and using that word ruined the image I had in my head of a sweet middle-aged housewife. The last story, written in letter form, appealed to me the most. The war is just beginning and we get a hint of how it will affect the family. I'd like to know more about the evacuees at Starling. Wikipedia notes there are other stories published in later volumes but I read the original first edition without those war stories and the library doesn't seem to have any of the later stories.

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