Sunday, April 27, 2014

What I've Read This Week Part II

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

Palace of Spies (Palace of Spies, #1)Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

London, 1716: Margaret "Peggy" Fitzroy is a sixteen-year-old orphan living with her parsimonious Uncle Pierpont and family as a poor relation. Fortunately for Peggy, her cousin Olivia sees Peggy as a close friend and ally in whatever scheme they can come up with. Peggy's uncle has decided to marry her off to a young man she's never seen. While Olivia thinks of marriage in terms of freedom, Peggy is worried because she's never even laid eyes on the man. When she discovers his true nature, she refuses to marry him and is rewarded with a swift kick out the door with nothing but the clothes on her back. Enter Mr. Tinderflint, a foppish fellow who claims to have been a friend of Peggy's mother. Tinderflint and his confederates, the grim faced Mr. Peele and puritanical Mrs. Abbott, have an adventure in mind for Peggy. Her mission, should she choose to accept it, to pose as Lady Francesca Wallingham, maid of honor to Caroline, the new Princess of Wales. Pose as a Lady in a Hanoverian court just while the Jacobites plot to put the Pretender on the throne? Are they mad? Peggy really has no choice, at least until Olivia can find a way to rescue her. Peggy finds life at Court full in intrigue and danger. There's Francesca's secret beloved to fend off and the company of Tinderflint, Poole and Abbott. Not to mention Sophy, her fellow maid who, for some reason, can't stand Francesca/Peggy. There's also the kind painter's apprentice, Matthew Reade, who wants to be Fran/Peggy's friend. Then Peggy begins to realize not all is what it seems at Court and her very life may be in danger. Has she gotten herself too deep into a game she can't win? Is there anyone she can trust?

This book in non-stop adventure. I couldn't put it down and stayed up far too late into the night reading. I didn't even finish it before I fell asleep. Just when I was going to put it down, something happened that made me need to read one more chapter, and then in the next chapter after that there were answers to the questions and before I knew it, it was past 2:00 a.m.! Needless to say I enjoyed the plot very much. I had a hard time figuring out what was going on and who could be trusted. I had no doubt how it would all turn out because there is a sequel, but getting there was thrilling. I did sort of guess at what Francesca had been up to before her death. I never really figured out how deep she was playing and why until Peggy figured it out. The book is chock full of period details, especially lengthy descriptions of fashion and getting dressed. The plot revolves around politics and I liked learning about the Hanovers in the time of George I. It seems that people at Court were more frivolous and earthy than their descendants at the time of George III and IV. I'm taking off points for lack of author's note. I was hoping an author's note would explain the politics a bit better and tell the reader the history behind the plot. I'm also taking off points for a near ravishment scene that goes a bit too far and also a depiction of a young woman and young man "rutting." Both bits were necessary to advance the plot but I didn't like either scene.

I love the characters. Peggy is a plucky, intrepid young woman. She has a deep understanding of the way the world works but she's no Fanny Price like poor relation. Her cousin treats her as an equal so she feels capable of acting as an equal. Her talent for drama comes in handy quite often. She's very brave even when she hits rock bottom. She's a little naive at times but she doesn't have a choice but to trust people when she needs help. She's similar to other teen heroines of the later Georgian era like Cat Royall and Jacky Faber but I like her better than Jacky because she's not too over-the-top exaggerated. She's a teenage girl with real feelings. Also delightful is Peggy's cousin Olivia. She's very naive but not in a stupid way. Though her father is cheap, she's spoiled because she's lived a comfortable life. She goes through life treating each day like a stage drama and dreaming up adventures and schemes for she and Peggy. She does not have her head in the clouds though and she's able to think on her feet and come through when it counts.

Mr. Tinderflint, Mr. Peele and Mrs. Abbott are also well-rounded characters. They're very mysterious and Peggy doesn't know really what they're up to or whether each has his or her own agenda. One of the three comes across as a bit two-dimensional once it's figured out what they're all about. The other two remain fully developed characters. I wish there was more Mr. Tinderflint in the story because I like him, especially the way he talks. The other characters are largely flat. Sophy is a typical mean girl. I kept hoping for more about her and why she hated Francesca/Peggy so much and how much she had figured out. Another character I loved to hate experiences a personality change and isn't quite developed on page enough.

This exciting adventure novel will appeal to readers 13+, especially those who like Julia Golding's Cat Royall adventures and L.A. Meyer's Bloody Jack adventures.

The Bishop's DaughterThe Bishop's Daughter by Susan Carroll --Regency Romance

3 1/2 stars

Harcourt Arundel, Earl of Lytton was wounded at Waterloo and now he's on his way home to his estate for the first time in a year. He knows no one will be waiting for him because his stepmother is always "ill," his vicar cousin thinks harry is consigned to hell and his one true love, Kathryn Towers coldly refused his offer of marriage. Harry arrives home just in time to discover he's late for his own funeral - literally. The entire neighborhood has come out to Harry's favorite spot for a memorial service. Harry's momentary shock at everyone's believing he is dead, gives way to mirth. When Kate Towers hears that laugh, she thinks she's hearing a ghost and promptly swoons into Harry's arms. When she realizes he's alive, she throws herself into his arms for a passionate kiss and then, realizing what she had done, slaps Harry. Harry understands that Kate truly loves him or she wouldn't be so angry. He also understands that a Bishop's daughter would never marry a hell born babe like Harry was. He's reformed now; if he hadn't already been bored with his dissipated life, Waterloo would have cured him of it quickly. How can he convince the very proper Bishop's daughter they belong together? Kate is stubborn and clings to her father's notions of proper behavior. It will take some help to bring these two lovebirds to the alter, where they belong.

This is a straight up romance. There's no adventure or a true villain causing problems. There's are some minor villains who cause problems along the way, but not a central mystery or villain. The story involves courtship and romance. At first I feared it might be a reworking of The Taming of the Shrew/Kiss Me Kate, but it wasn't, fortunately. It moves a little slowly. I could have used more courtship and less of the middle. It would make a cute novella if it was tightened up a bit. It's not a long novel but it felt like it at times. The emotions of the story stay largely on the surface. The author keeps it very light and I wanted a bit more of an emotional connection. The hero and heroine share a moment at the end that I would have liked to have seen sooner and developed better. The romance is very clean. The sensuality is implied rather than spelled out. We know what Kate is feeling from her actions rather than thoughts. I especially liked this technique.

Kate is a very proper young lady. She cares for her invalidish mother all by herself, brings aid to the parishioners who need it and behaves just as a Bishop's daughter ought. That makes her really annoying, in my opinion. She's always claiming to be so proper and not wanting to do anything her father wouldn't have liked, but she possesses an inner rebellious spirit. I liked her better when she allowed her passion to show through. She supposedly loves Harry but she's quick to make assumptions, listen to gossip and pass judgement. I kept wishing for her to talk to Harry. They're supposedly very close and she's supposedly in love with him but she doesn't act much like it. I found her difficult to like.

I loved Harry! I usually do like rakes but Harry is done with all that before we meet him. He's handsome, charming, an excellent sportsman, good with people of all ages and social classes and trying really hard to do the right thing. He's a great hero who doesn't deserve such an annoying heroine.

The secondary characters are all mostly two-dimensional stock characters. One reminds me of a character in Pride and Prejudice. This person got very interesting at the end and I wanted to know more of their inner thoughts and feelings. I especially liked Lady Deane, Kate's formidable Grandmama. She adds some humor to the story.

I liked this novel but it was largely forgettable.

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