Friday, January 22, 2016

What I Read in February 2015 Part VII ...

What I Read in February 2015 Part VII ...

Death Comes to London by Catherine Lloyd-- Regency Mystery
Death Comes to London (Kurland St. Mary Mystery, #2)

Lucy Harrington is finally getting her chance to leave Kurland St. Mary and have a season in London. While her younger sister Anna stays with their uncle, the Earl, and is brought out by the Countess, Lucy will stay with her widowed friend Sophia and her mother. While Anna can make a splendid match, Lucy feels she is too old and plain to aim too high and will look more modestly for someone to suit her. Major Robert Kurland feels deserted by Lucy and overwhelmed with new responsibilities. When the Prince Regent summons Robert to London to honor him with a baronetcy, Robert's first wish is to refuse. His second is to throttle Lucy for bringing him to the Prince's attention. Off to London he goes, where he reunites with his old army friend Lieutenant Broughton. Broughton is selling out and turning to scientific pursuits as well as being on the hunt for a bride. His first choice is Penelope Chingford, Robert's ex-fiance! When Broughton sees Anna, Penelope is forgotten, causing an intense argument within the Broughton family. To make matters worse. Broughton's grandmother, the Dowager Countess, is engaged in a public feud with a former rival. When the Dowager Countess drops dead at Almack's no one is stunned. It's assumed the old lady died of a heart attack, but Robert isn't so sure. He believes she was murdered and engages Lucy's help to solve the mystery. The deeper they dig, the more secrets come out and when more people end up dead, it will take a combined effort of intelligence and modern science to solve the murder.

I enjoyed this story much more than the first one. The glittering world of the ton as told by Georgette Heyer is one of my favorite subjects to read about. Though the story is darker than a Heyer plot, the familiar characters are there in the background. The descriptive details were just enough to set the scene but not too many as to overpower the mystery. The murder happens within the first few chapters and the story keeps going from there. I wasn't quite as enthralled by the mystery as I was in the first book. I figured out about halfway through who the murderer was. They tipped their hand quickly and then made it glaringly obvious later. I don't know why Lucy didn't pick up on the clues earlier. Robert was blinded by friendship and red herrings. There were some secrets that surprised me. The subject matter wasn't that dark but all the deaths were a bit much. There's a bit too much about "modern" science vs. herbal lore and scientific study. Like Anna, I'm an animal lover and two scenes really disturbed me. The method of murder was a bit overkill. That plot is used too often (especially by Julian Fellows). Kudos to the author for actually doing research and understanding the method and how to prove it in 1817. The ending was so predictable that at least one or more of the characters should have known what would happen. It happens in every period mystery. The plot with Penelope Chingford just dies never to be brought up again. That needed some resolution. The relationship between Lucy and Robert really develops nicely. We get to see a softer side of him at times and a tender moment at the end is nice but then it ends.

The characters really make this novel. Lucy is a no-nonsense woman and she's very much a woman of her time and place. She claims she's managing but that just means she doesn't have airs or nerves or any of the silly womanly attributes women were supposed to have. She can take charge in a crisis. She's kind and caring and knows how to deal with people. Her dialogue with Robert is great. He's still crusty on the outside and clueless about women but Lucy forces him to rethink his opinions and accept that her silly ideas need to be considered. His respect for her grows and he comes to consider her a true friend. He has a long way to go before they end up happily ever after though. That was frustrating to read.

The secondary characters are not as well developed but certainly interesting. The Broughtns were all complex characters. The Dowager Countess was so nasty but yet I felt sorry for her. I hated Lord Broughton. He was arrogant and condescending and too caught up in his goal. Oliver was the most complex of them all. Most of what we know about him comes from another source so we do not know if it's true or not. I wish that had been explored a bit more. Dr. Redmond serves an interesting role in the story and I liked learning a bit about the history of modern medicine through him but he wasn't an entirely likable character. Lady Bentley was funny at first and then got on my nerves and then I felt very sorry for her. This author really knows how to create multidimensional characters. The weak links were Sophia and Anna. Sophia is kept largely in the background and I felt like I never got to know her at all. Her story was predictable and I wish she had been more of a major player throughout the story. Anna is a sweet girl and I liked getting to know her better. She has a plot thread that gets dropped too quickly.

Fans of cozy mysteries, especially Stephanie Barron, Kate Ross and Deanna Raybourn will like this series.

Content warning: Some violence, mentions of Homosexuality, mention of animal cruelty

Christmas BellesChristmas Belles by Susan Carroll-- Regency Romance/Christmas 

Chloe Anne Waverly loves everything about her home and the traditions her family holds dear, especially the magic of the Christmas season. She's a dreamer like her father and on the eve of his departure to return to the diplomatic corps in Spain, he encourages Chloe to hold on to her dreams. When Papa is killed and an unknown relative becomes their guardian, Chloe keeps on dreaming of love and happiness. Her eldest sister Emma is too busy being practical to think much about dreams though Chloe knows Emma dreams of marrying the vicar, Mr. Henry; middle sister Lucy only cares for frivolous fashion and finding a wealthy and titled husband; youngest sister Agnes has her nose stuck in some dusty old tome and doesn't have dreams. Only Chloe Anne is left to hold the memories, magic and dreams in her heart. Captain William Trent is used to life at sea. He's the commander of his ship and used to having everyone obey his orders. He knows nothing about estates or young girls but feels guilty about Sir Waverly's death so takes his leave time and heads to Windheaven Manor. He has plans to marry Emma; a marriage of convenience after a courtship conducted by letters. It seems the right thing to do. Chloe Anne mistrusts the Captain and is at odds with him at every turn. She tries her best to prevent his marriage to her sister and wishes for a miracle. Why then does she keep thinking about Trent and how being near him makes her feel? Captain Trent can not get the image of a laughing sprite with remarkable light blue eyes out of his head. Could it be he's making a mistake for the first time in his life?

This is a beautiful, sweet story that will warm your heart. It made me cry a little bit in the beginning. I strongly identified with Chloe Anne's dreams and love of tradition. It broke my heart when she saw all she loved slipping away. The plot moves pretty slowly and the ending is way too rushed. The epilogue doesn't cover enough time period to give much detail. I was easily able to put the novel down and pick it back up the next night and the next after that. Do not be deterred by the slow pace though for the story is worth reading. Though the book is set at Christmas and contains a few Christmastide traditions and mentions being in church and listening to the sermon, I think anyone can enjoy this story. It's not religious in any way.

The characters in this novel are what makes it shine. Chloe Anne is a young adult on the verge of womanhood faced with great changes in her life. Naturally, she clings to hope and tradition for comfort. Her family and friends are her first priority and she's such a lovely girl that her story broke my heart. I can also relate to Emma because I'm the oldest and practical by nature. I liked that Emma kept a cool head and looked after everything in the house. The one thing she overlooked was her heart. I can also relate to Agnes because I'm more likely to have my nose in a book than dream of marriage. The only sister I did not like was Lucy. She comes across as selfish and shallow in the beginning and the story doesn't take place in a long enough time frame for it to be believable. It's certainly predictable though. Captain Trent - Will - starts off stern and a bit cold. He made Chloe cry and that made me sad. He has zero people skills having been at sea for longer than he can remember. Once he opened up and told his story, it touched my heart and I saw him in a new light. I liked the way he develops over the course of the story and he still has a ways to go to really thaw out. By far the best character is Trent's man Doughty. Doughty provides the comic relief and some suspense in the otherwise slow relationship-driven novel. He is quite the charming character.

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