Monday, January 25, 2016

What I Read in June 2015 Part VI

What I Read in June 2015 Part VI ...

A Cousinly ConnexionA Cousinly Connexion by Sheila Simonson--Regency Romance

Miss Jane Ash formed a tendre for Edward Wincanton, an Ensign in the Royal Navy when she was just 18. Her father forbid the match and Jane carried a torch for Edward, now Captain Wincanton, for the next 6 years. Now he has returned and Jane finds him repulsive. She knows they would not suit and refuses to marry him just because her father wants her to be married. She's perfectly content with keeping house for her father and older brother. When her Aunt Louisa writes to say her husband had died and her eldest stepson killed in a duel and the heir nowhere to be found but certain to turn her out of her home, Jane is quick to respond. Jane and her companion, Miss Goodnight, head off to Meriden to stay with her Stratton relatives while they transition to their new life. Jane finds a weeping aunt, self-indulgent male cousins, one watering pot female cousin and one hoyden female cousin and one pair of hellorn twin boys. She endeavors to take her cousins in hand and manage household affairs while Miss Goodnight deals with Aunt Louisa. Meanwhile, the missing heir, Julian Stratton, late of the Fighting 95th is in no position to deal with his eccentric family whom he has never seen. His stepmother banished him to his maternal relatives in early childhood and he had his first pair of colors at just 17. Now he has been wounded at Waterloo and forced to retire from the military. If it weren't for the goodness of his friend William Tarrant and Will's wife Peggy, he would be dead. When he meets his family for the first time he's puzzled at their reaction to him. They seem fearful of him and don't seem to understand him at all. The only one who does is Jane. The two band together to help their family. When Jane's father suddenly returns for her, life seems sadly flat for Julian and he can't figure out why. Jane knows why she is blue deviled but refuses to do anything about it. Perhaps some of their well-meaning relatives will help.

I'm certain I read this book before but the first half didn't seem familiar at all. It does resemble the author's book Lady Elizabeth's Comet and also some Georgette Heyer stories like The Unknown Ajax with a dash of Venetia. The second half of the novel sounded more familiar but not enough to put the book down. I had to know how the happily ever after happened. There's a little bit too much about agriculture and estate management in the second half of the novel and long chapters where the hero and heroine do not interact. This part moves slowly until the final third of the book when something happens that makes the book unputdownable.

I really liked Jane. She's level-headed and intelligent. I like that she has a sense of humor about herself and her family and sees the absurdity of life at Meriden. She's also strong-willed and can do battle with housekeepers and temperamental cooks. She's not missish at all. I loved how she formed a strong friendship with Julian. They share the same sense of humor and the same desire to see their family happy. Julian can be stubborn and proud at times but he's generally a nice guy. He doesn't dwell on his childhood with misery, in fact he thinks his childhood was a happy one. He is wounded and his injuries caused a bit of a blow to his manly pride but he doesn't dwell on that either. He begrudgingly accepts his limitations. I especially like how he quickly sized up his relatives and figured out how to win them over and most importantly, behave. The friendship develops nicely but the romance flounders and stops. The ending is most unsatisfactory for a romantic novel! Ah but Julian's siblings say he's not romantical so it's to be expected.

The secondary characters add a lot of comic relief. I liked the crazy twins and Julian's man Thorpe. I did not like the other boys, especially Feix, though I found the inclusion of a blind character very interesting and unique. Jane's cousins are all super bratty and spoiled. Aunt Louisa got on my nerves and I admire Jane's patience in dealing with her because I certainly would not have been able to.

There are a few minor historical inaccuracies: no chocolate candy in 1816 and I don't think licorice whips were invented yet. I also think one or both twins wouldn't have survived. There's a lot about the weather and I don't know if the rainy, wet weather was historically accurate or not. I know 1816 was the year without a summer.

Read this if you like Georgette Heyer, Regency novels published by Walker and other old-school Regency novels. 

The Butler Did ItThe Butler Did It by P.G. Wodehouse--Historical Fiction/Romance

In September 1929 a bunch of millionaires got together to decide what to do with their money. The only non-millionaire in attendance, Mortimer Bayliss, proposes a tontine: each one pays $1 million into a pool and the last one left living gets the lot. The millionaires disliked the scheme, so Bayliss proposed a new scheme to benefit their heirs: the money will go to the last of their sons to marry. This plan met with approval and by 1955 there are two heirs left on the market: Roscoe Bunyan, a thoroughly nasty chap and one other. Augustus Keggs, former butler to Mr. Bunyan, senior, knows of the tontine and tries to use the information to his advantage: he tips Roscoe Bunyan off in exchange for payment. However, Roscoe is notoriously tight fisted and tries to cheat Keggs. Keggs is smarter than he appears and decides that Bunyan will come off the loser if he has anything to say about it. Keggs' former employer, Lord Uffenham and his niece Jane share lodgings with Keggs while Roscoe Bunyan rents their family home. The niece, Jane, is engaged to a poor sculptor next door, despite the fact her uncle doesn't approve. She doesn't need his approval to marry, just money, and how Twine is going to get some money is up to Keggs and Mortimer Bayliss. They will do anything to thwart Roscoe Bunyan and promote the last remaining heir. Meanwhile, Bill Hollist, a frustrated artist, is working for an art gallery and has given up his own work. He has thousands of plans if he had money, but his boss doesn't see his potential. When he falls in love, he knows he needs some money which might come his way, but is he willing to give it all up for love? Roscoe is in a sticky situation and hires Pilbeam to do his dirty work. Will he succeed? Who will end up with the money?

This isn't Wodehouse's best work. It's a longer version of an earlier magazine serial titled Something Fishy. It's unusual because most of the story revolves around the tontine heirs and the love story is secondary. It lacks that extreme crazy screwball scene that Wodehouse was known for. The humor is less zany and not really all that funny. The main characters are two dimensional and downright unlikeable, with the exception of Jane. She's a true Wodehousian heroine: lovely, devoted and deeply attached to the man she loves. However, her love story comes out of thin air. I don't believe love can happen in an instant even if they had met before. Bill is an idiot. He has no brains in his head and everything he says is ridiculous. Same with Lord Uffenham but at least he's funny. He's similar to Galahad Threepwood and Uncle Fred but not as quick on the uptake. I couldn't stand him. I was torn between not liking Keggs and enjoying him. I guess I liked his dialogue because it was funny to have a butler speaking high-falutin' English when Lord Uffenham speaks so casually. I didn't approve of his morals. Roscoe Bunyan may have been a nasty child and is a cheapskate but I actually sort of felt bad for him. I also felt bad for Pilbeam, for all he's an unlikeable worm, he was up against external circumstances. There was plenty of room for Wodehouse to exercise his comic genius in Pilbeam's grand scene but it fell flat.

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