Friday, January 22, 2016

What I Read in March 2015 Part IV

What I Read in March 2015 Part IV ...

The Chelbeck Charger
The Chelbeck Charger by Audrey Blanshard -- Regency Romance

The Honorable Piers Aubery is on the prowl for beautiful ladies at the Exhibition Room at Sommerset House when he spies his quarry: two young ladies who love art and appear to be alone. Emily and Sophie Marwood are far from alone - their father, a wealthy baronet and art lover is in town with his daughters for the Season. Piers thinks it's worth his while to cozy up to the old man with an eye to marrying one or other of the girls. 18-year-old Sophie is infatuated with the handsome Piers but Emily is more cautious. She strikes up a friendship with Piers' older sister Harriet and Harriet's off-again suitor Ned Grimsby and his mother. When Piers finds himself at point-non-plus, he comes up with a grand scheme, but with the capital his brother, Lord Bittenden, is willing to lend him, he needs to marry one of the Marwood heiresses and fast. Sir Marwood proves to be slightly more downy than Piers expected. What to do now?

The writing style in this book flows well and there is enough period description worked into the story to set the year firmly in 1816. I really liked all the details not just about life in London or a brief mention of Waterloo, but also the conditions of the roads, travel and even crops. It's that kind of detail that Georgette Heyer always excelled at. There are some historical inaccuracies in the etiquette but the story can be pulled off without them if you choose to mentally correct the mistakes. The plot moves quickly and I had a hard time putting the book down (or closing my laptop). However, I would hesitate to call this a romance or even a love story. Let's call it a Regency romp.

I really liked and identified with Emily and Harriet as an older sister. They're both mature, level-headed young ladies and older sisters, such as I am. Emily's caution makes her a bit reserved and most of the story is not from her point-of-view. Piers was my least favorite character and unfortunately the main character. He's young but he's completely impetuous and irresponsible. Some of it is his brother's fault but they blame most of his nature on his true parentage. His story is unappealing. While I didn't like Sophie, I could see why she is the way she is- being a young girl fresh from the country, eager to experience romance for the first time. Emily and Sophie reminded me of Elsa and Anna from Frozen.

I downloaded the book for free from Open Library. It was worth it for a quick, fluffy bedtime read.
The Companion  by Ann Granger-Victorian mystery

The Companion (Lizzie Martin, #1)
Elizabeth Martin has just arrived in London from the coal fields of Derbyshire to be a companion to her godfather's widow. Elizabeth isn't used to the hustle and bustle of the city, which is extra loud due to construction on the new St. Pancras railroad station. No sooner is Elizabeth on the way to her new home when her cab is held up in traffic by a cart carrying a dead body. Being a doctor's daughter and nearly 20 years of age, Elizabeth is not squeamish and wants to know the particulars. All any one knows is that the body is of an unfortunate young woman found underneath one of the homes that was demolished to make way for the railroad station. Ben Ross has made it to Inspector in the metropolitan police force and he's convinced the young woman that was found was murdered. He's determined to see justice done even if it means stepping on the toes of the railway company and the elite shareholders. Elizabeth finds her new situation difficult, with her aunt demanding her attention all day; her aunt's nephew coming in drunk at all hours and a pompous clergyman who won't shut up about improper behavior. Elizabeth is shocked to discover the murder victim was none other than her predecessor Madeline Hexham. Elizabeth wants the poor girl's murder to be solved and she thinks she can gather clues the police might have missed. Ben worries Elizabeth is putting herself in danger by staying in the house but an unmarried young lady in London can not go anywhere on her own. With the railroad executives breathing down his neck will Ben ever solve this case?

At first I had an eerie sense of deja vu. I'm sure one of the Mrs. Jeffries mysteries had the same premise. I was also certain I knew the identity of the murderer. It seemed so obvious to me... until I discovered I was wrong. I did figure it out but only just before Elizabeth. I was rather surprised but there were clues I (and Inspector Ross) missed. The thing that makes this novel stand out above the rest is the descriptions. The author included all the sights, sounds and even smells someone in Victorian London would have encountered. There are splendid descriptions throughout the book. It felt like being there in Victorian London, which is something the Mrs. Jeffries books lack. Also from reading the Mrs. Jeffries books, I gathered that forensic methods were known to the metropolitan police but not widely used. I'm going to trust the author did her research because everything else seems so real.

I loved Lizzie. At nearly 30, she's a spinster by London standards but she doesn't mind. She helped her father, ran his household and managed the money until it ran out. Now she has to make her way in the world and she seems to be glad to do it and not mind much. At first her situation sort of reminded me of Jane Eyre but the two stories are very different. Elizabeth is strong, confident and intelligent. She knows how to get information out of the servants without them knowing it. She's compassionate and caring towards those "beneath" her and she can't stand hypocrites. Ben Ross was harder to get to know. His sections of the book read like his deposition. There's little spirit or emotion in them. As a result, his relationship with Elizabeth is a bit more subtle and slow than I would have liked. It was pretty obvious to me how he felt but the whole thing relied on coincidences, childhood memories and brief encounters. The end felt a bit rushed.

I recommend this book to fans of Y.S. Lee's The Agency novels and those who like mysteries a bit darker than Emily Brightwell's Mrs. Jeffries mysteries.

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