Friday, January 29, 2016

What I Read in October 2015 Part II

What I Read in October 2015 Part II ...

The Blue SapphireThe Blue Sapphire by D.E. Stevenson-- Historical Fiction/Historical Romance

Julia Harburn lives with her emotionally distant father and young stepmother in London. She's engaged to the very suitable and proper Morland Beverley and the couple are waiting for him to get a partnership in his father's firm before marrying. When Morland is late meeting Julia in Kensington Gardens one day, she sits down on a bench to wait. A young man by the name of Stephen Brett walks by and into love. He sits down to chat up Julia for the very true reason that he knows no one in London. Recently returned from Africa, Stephen is a mining engineer from Devonshire. Stephen can't get Julia out of his head and sets out to woo her away from Morland. He was given a blue sapphire in Africa that matches Julia's eyes exactly. He feels it's fated they should be together. It's not an easy task as Julia proves elusive and stubborn. First she decides to strike out on her own while her father and stepmother are on vacation. She finds a room at a lovely boarding house for actors and finds a friend in the owner, May Martineau. Then Julia gets a job and a mysterious letter which will change her destiny.

This is a nice, pleasant sort of book. Except for a few modern references to televisions, cars and hospitals/operations, this story could have taken place at any time between the late 19th century and now. It's a little old-fashioned for the 1960s when women were beginning to have more options. D.E. Stevenson has a theme: young women finding their voices. This book is no exception. It also had a theme of forgiveness and Christian love. The first half was a little slow but the second half moved much faster and I couldn't put it down. I wanted to know what happened to Uncle Roland and which one of the three potential suitors Julia would choose, if any of them.

I really liked Julia. At first she seems too proper and Victorian but she emerges into a strong-minded young woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. She's such a sweet, kind, lovable person and doesn't ever act rude or spoiled and bratty about what she wants. She sees only the good in people and wants only the best for herself and who she loves.

Morland is a pompous, prosy, stupid bore. He's one of those suitors straight out of a Georgette Heyer novel. He doesn't care about Julia and what she wants. He's very selfish and stupid. He means well but he's just a really unlikable person by modern standards. He's not a strong alpha male romantic hero, he's just old-fashioned and obtuse. Stephen is much more fun, but he's kind of the anti-Morland. Stephen is also selfish in a way but he is really a nice guy. He has good business sense, is a kind and caring person and he's close to his mother. I just loved his relationship with his mother. It's so sweet! The story of how he got the sapphire is amazing and shows his wonderful character.

The story is rounded out with some colorful, memorable secondary characters. There's May Martineau, a widow and former actress who runs Julia's boardinghouse. She's very nosy but you can't help but love her despite her flaw. Then there's Madame Claire, a Frenchwoman who runs the shop where Julia works. She's a little effusive in her native language but like her friend May, a real dear. These two women become Julia's first friends in her new life. Then in Scotland there's Uncle Roland, Julia's estranged uncle. He seems like a lively character who has many wonderful stories to tell. He's so kind, it's hard not to love him. Then there's Maggie Walker, the devoted housekeeper/nurse to Uncle Roland. I liked trying to decipher her speech and how she kept forgetting anything that didn't concern Roland. Neil, a promising young doctor, who may be a love interest for Julia or perhaps a good friend. I'll let you read the book to find out.

Love by the Morning Star

Love by the Morning Star by Laura L. Sullivan-- Young Adult Historical Fiction/Young Adult Historical Romance

Anna Morgan's father has risen from being a lowly grocer to the mouthpiece of the National Fascist Front working for the preservation of "true British way of life." Anna is thrilled that her father's rise in social status allows her the opportunity to better herself. She's determined to be a heroine and marry a titled gentleman. When a German higher up in the NAFF asks Anna to be a part of a secret mission, she's willing to help. At least until she discovers that her role is to play kitchen maid to an noble British family. As if! Sadly for Anna, she isn't allowed to say no and is bundled off to Starkers Castle outside of London. Hannah Morgenstern has grown up in her father's cabaret singing opera and cabaret songs alongside a host of bohemian entertainers who care nothing for politics. Hannah's parents have friends in high places and Hitler's rise to power hasn't meant anything to them - until now. A frequent patron warns the Morgensterns it's time to get out. Jews are unwelcome in Berlin and the situation is about to go from bad to worse. Aaron makes plans for his cabaret and Cora, Hannah's mother, makes plans to send Hannah to her distant English relatives at Starkers Castle. Lady Liripip is said to be kind enough but his third wife is reported to be a harridan. Hannah believes she can endure the unkindness until her parents arrive and everything goes back to normal. When she arrives at the castle, penniless and ragged, she's mistaken for the new kitchen maid and Anna is whisked away upstairs as a member of the family. Neither girl realizes her destiny has been changed by fate and Hannah bravely puts up with the indignity. Anna is determined to play her role and marry Teddy, Lord Winkfield, Lord Liripip's heir, but it's a hunky gardener who haunts her dreams. Meanwhile, Hannah falls in love under the morning star. Their fates are about to intertwine and two teenage girls will become a part of history.

The plot got off to a slow start. If you don't know anything about the politics of the time or the cabaret scene of the Wiemar Republic, I recommend doing a little background research before reading this book. The cabaret is populated by eccentric bohemians I couldn't keep straight and most never reappear in the story. I hated the deception that was forced on the girls by fate and was tempted to skip ahead to see how it was discovered and when. All was discovered way too late for my tastes. I hate love stories based on deception and this one was so incredibly improbable, not to mention predictable. I was more interested in Hannah than Anna but felt that both the love stories were told rather than shown. Anna's doesn't make a lot of sense and Hannah's loses out by being told. I don't really get what she sees in her love interest. He isn't very bright or worthy of her at all. Anna's love interest is not very appealing either. I did root for Hannah to get her wish because she deserved it. I was most interested in finding out what happened to Hannah's parents. There's enough information given but too late in the story so we can read between the lines but it's all handled with a light touch. Though there are references to Kirstallnacht and Buchenwald, it's all kept in the background while the story takes place at Starkers Castle in an insulated world not unlike a Wodehouse novel.

Anna is introduced first and she comes across as stupid, silly and vain. She is the only one in the book who experiences any character growth. All her life she's done what she's been told and parrots the beliefs of her father and his cronies. She isn't smart enough to learn to think on her own and form her own opinions until she learns about hate first hand. I felt her growth was OK. I was glad she changed but she is not the heroine of the story and her character growth is secondary to Hannah's story. Hannah is not as innocent as Anna but naive enough and foreign enough not to understand British culture. All she knows about life in Britain is from P.G. Wodehouse novels and Gilbert and Sullivan operas. She doesn't really grow and change in this story but she does become stronger in her beliefs. How her story ends is completely silly and unrealistic.

If you're not familiar with cabaret life, which I was not, some of the goings-on may make some readers uncomfortable. Characters are fluid in their gender and sexuality; there's frank mentions of sex/sexuality and gender bending. None of that bothered me but some readers may be uncomfortable with it. Adultery, premarital sex and crude language also appear in this story. There's also hints of two love scenes which I found incredibly stupid and unrealistic.

If you love a good Cinderella story set in a more modern and familiar world, this is for you. It wasn't precisely my cup of tea.

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