Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What I Read in October Part V

What I Read in October Part V . . .

Netherwood: A NovelNetherwood: A Novel by Jane Sanderson -- Historical Fiction/Romance

Eve Williams is content in her role as wife of one of Netherwood's colliers and mother to three growing children. She keeps her house neat and clean and her husband (and sometimes neighbors) well fed. Arthur Williams too is content; Lord Netherwood is a benevolent employer and Arthur has no reason to get involved in this union business his friend Amos Sykes is always going on about. Eve, however, is sympathetic to the striking miners at Grangely, another mine where she grew up. She knows about the despair and lack of hope in Grangely and wants to do something to help. First she helps move peoples' belongings and then the Methodist minister comes calling and asks the Williams family to put up a young widow and her baby. Eve knows she should help but where in the world will they put two more people and what about the extra work? Arthur readily agrees, earning the enmity of his son Seth. By the time the woman, Anna Rabinovich, moves in, Eve needs the friendship of the other woman more than ever. Through tragedy, the two women bond and Anna's ambition and keen business sense help propel Eve to heights she never dared dream. Soon she's embraced by the Earl and his family (though his heir's interest is in bedding her) and she's on a dizzying track to notoriety which will change her life forever. Meanwhile, Lord and Lady Netherwood have drifted apart. She has her gardens and social ambitions while he has his hounds and estate matters. The Earl and his Countess can agree on one thing: they have a problem with their children. Eldest daughter Henrietta aka Henry, is unmarried after 4 seasons, has a good head on her shoulders and plenty of compassion. If she were a boy, she would make an excellent Earl. Sadly, she's female and expected to look pretty and find a suitable husband. Henry's younger brother Toby is a ne'er to well who enjoys drinking beer at the local public house and consorting with the dairy maid and other willing women. Younger son Dickie shows up to luncheon in his tweeds and prefers horses to duty (like Henry) and baby Isabella, age 11, is a pert mix who is adored and spoiled by her father. When their world collides with Eve's, it may bring about the biggest changes in their lives they've seen in years.

This book was very different from what I was expecting. From the completely wrong description on the back of the book, I expected Downton Abbey fan fiction. The little bits of upstairs life is similar but the downstairs parts, which make up the bulk of the novel, are not at all similar. I really liked the setting of the Yorkshire coal mining town. It's obvious the author knew what she was writing about and did her research. The descriptions are so vivid, I can easily see it. I was fascinated by the culture of the town and how the people interacted with Lord Netherwood and how they felt. The story is more about labor history than anything else. I liked how the author had her characters represent both sides of the union issue. The descriptions of Yorkshire food are also incredible and there are recipes included. I gather that Eve's recipes are comfort food and the equivalent of serving pigs in a blanket or mac n' cheese. I really liked the business angle of the story too. I did not like the author's writing style. The third person head-jumping between many characters was jarring and made me feel detached from the action. Also, there are parts when i felt like the I was missing something because the action starts in the middle and then goes back to tell how the character got there. I couldn't really feel for Eve or anyone else because the writing style didn't pull me in. There are also two sex scenes I found vulgar and unnecessary. They are brief so don't let them stop you from reading the book.

Anna is my favorite character. She's amusing and ambitious. She provides the push Eve needs to maximize her potential. Her story is fascinating and she's a great character. I liked her better than Eve. Eve is a little too timid at first and then in the London section, which I hated, she does things that are so unlike her, it's hard to believe her personality changes that much in such a short time. I didn't feel her romance at all and didn't think it was necessary. It's introduced too late in the story to be interesting and Eve doesn't act like herself. I also found it strange that she is SO beautiful that every man who sees her instantly wants to sleep with her. That's just bizarre and detracts from the story. Henry is my other favorite character and I feel bad for her that she has such a keen mind but can't use it. She cares about the estate and the people and can't ever be Earl. My least favorite character was Toby. He's a stereotype of the typical young man of the period. I found him disgusting and in need of a good slap.

I give this book 3.75 stars. It should have been streamlined to focus on Eve and her coming into her own. Lose the romance and lose the upstairs plot and this would be a beautiful book.

Content warning:
Some language and violence
Two sex scenes that are vulgar and unnecessary. They are brief so skip them and don't let them stop you from reading the book.

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: Being a Jane Austen MysteryJane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: Being a Jane Austen Mystery by Stephanie Barron -- Regency Mystery/Austenesque

Jane Austen, her mother and sister are traveling the 17 miles from Chawton to Steventon to spend the holidays with her brother James and his family. They must travel by public stage all day and into the night to reach their old home. They're looking forward to seeing James-Edward, age 16 and Caroline, age 9. Jane and Cassandra have a special surprise for young Caroline to make her holiday special. Along the way, an accident forces them to make the acquaintance of a Mr. West who is staying with their old friends the Chutes at their home The Vyne. Soon an invitation arrives to join Mr. West and the other guests for some holiday cheer at The Vyne. Tired of James' parsimony and Mary's constant need for attention, the Austen women are eager for some gaiety. There's a lot to celebrate this season, with a new book, Napoleon in exile and an end to the unpopular American War (War of 1812). However, amidst all the gaiety come dark secrets and death. Jane suspects murder, as does Mr. West, an artist with a keen mind. Jane has not met such a mind in many a long year and she can't help but admire him, but can she trust him? If she can't, she could be the next to be killed.

If you love the idea of English Christmas then this book is for you. It's chock full of quaint customs and celebrations that seriously need to make a comeback! I loved reading about the celebrations throughout the 12 days of Christmas. There's a lot of background information on the Austens here as well.

The mystery starts almost halfway through the plot with a death. I loved how Jane jumps into sleuth mode because it shows what a sharp mind she has and how her talent is seeing people as they really are. This time she has assistance from Mr. West, a somewhat brooding man around her own age. He's a good counterpart for her. He appreciates her mind so of course I liked him. I wasn't sure who the murderer was. I thought I knew but there was so much going on, I couldn't connect the dots. I turned out to be correct about some things which were a little too obvious. I really liked the political context and learning the history of the War of 1812 from the British point of view.

The story contains plenty of humor to make it not so dark. Much of the humor comes from Mary Austen, who seems to be the model for Mary Musgrove. (If she were my sister-in-law, I'd slap her). There are other characters who are supposed to be inspiration for characters in Persuasion and Sanditon, which Jane has not yet written. The new characters are slightly more in depth than stereotypes of Regency stock characters. Only Jane Austen could make them come to life and be three-dimensional but I don't have any real complaints about the way the new characters are written here. They're mostly all secondary characters anyway.

This is another excellent entry into the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series. It's been far too long and Jane Austen's life was far too short so there's only a few years left in her life but perhaps Stephanie Barron can come up with more "missing manuscripts" that show Jane Austen as a sleuth.

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