Friday, March 17, 2017

What I Read in January 2016 Part VII

What I Read in January 2016 Part VII . . . 

Murder Most Malicious by Alyssa Maxwell
Murder Most Malicious (A Lady & Lady's Maid Mystery, #1) 

Lady Phoebe Renshaw feels frustrated that even though the war is over and their lives have changed forever, her grandparents go on as they did in the old days. They are desperate to marry off Phoebe's older sister Julia and have invited her latest suitor, Henry Leiton, the Marquis of Allerton; his younger brother Lord Theodore; their mother and great-aunt to Christmas along with Lord Owen, Phoebe's crush. Phoebe overhears Julia fighting with Henry and witness a difficult scene but Julia won't confide in Phoebe. Phoebe's best friend and confident is their maid Eva Huntford. When Eva receives a nasty shock on Boxing Day and the Marquis of Allerton goes missing, the police are called in. The local inspector is quick to make an arrest but Phoebe and Eva are convinced that person is innocent. They team up to find out what really happened to the Marquis and why. Eva also has to deal with the attentions of her old childhood friend, Nick Hensley, she isn't sure she wants. Can they solve the mystery before an innocent man goes to his death?

This story has many of the same old elements that appear in stories set at this time. Think Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs. Thankfully the author restrained herself and didn't include ALL the cliches. The writing is good but not stellar. The dialogue especially is a little clunky in parts and I had a hard time telling who was speaking without paying careful attention. I liked the English country manor house setting but it wasn't as descriptive or interesting as the Newport mansions in Alyssa Maxwell's other mysteries. What this story has going for it is an engaging mystery. I could NOT figure out who the murderer was. Actually I did have my suspicions but I thought it was too obvious a choice and also I couldn't figure out a motive. I didn't want it to be that person. I didn't stay up all night reading this but I did nothing productive all afternoon while I finished the book.

I also really liked the characters. Though I couldn't tell who was speaking at times, I felt the characters have the potential to become more three-dimensional in future books. I especially liked Phoebe and could relate to her feelings of wanting more than the dull life her grandparents expect of her. She wants to be more than a pretty ornament or a wife and I admire that. She's spunky but not too modern for the period. Eva, the co-heroine, is kind and motherly towards Phoebe and her sisters. She would give her life for them. She's very sensible without being stuffy and disapproving. She knows when Phoebe is crossing the line and when to get help. I liked how she was a co-heroine and how she was content with her position. Lady Amelia, Phoebe's younger sister, reminded me of Beth in Little Women. She's sweet, kind and wants everyone to be happy. She has a little more depth to her than is first realized. I found Julia seriously annoying for many of the same reasons Phoebe did and because she comes across as an awful snob. However, as with most characters in this book, there's more to her than meets the eye.

The slightly roguish Miles Brannock, the constable, is a charming and intelligent constable who is more likable than his superior, which is typical for this sort of mystery. I couldn't figure out at first whose love interest he was meant to be but it becomes a little more clear at the end. He doesn't get involved in a romance in this book. Nick is a young man returned from the war who wants to pick up where he left off with his friendship with Eva. I liked him a lot and wanted him to be happy. I also liked Theo, despite Phoebe's mistrust of him. He is brooding but has a good reason to be and I didn't suspect him the way Phoebe did. I didn't trust Lord Owen at all. Usually, the girl's first crush isn't worthy of the heroine's respect. I won't spoil the plot but I was surprised at what happened. I also really liked Lady Cecily, Henry's maiden aunt. She's an eccentric more because she seems to have dementia than for shock value. I didn't want her to be a murderer. The butler and housekeeper are pretty typical stuffy snobby types who rule the household with strict decorum. They're stuffier than Phoebe's grandparents who are pretty soft and easy going for nobles of their day.

I liked this book but not as much as the Newport mysteries. I will read another book in the series to see what happens next.

The Baron's Honourable DaughterThe Baron's Honourable Daughter by Lynn Morris--Christian Regency Romance

Valeria Segrave has lived most of her life at her stepfather, the Earl of Maldedon's estate Bellgarde. Until recently, her stepfather and been kind enough, but for the last year or so he has been carrying on like a bachelor and now he has the effrontery to bring a group of his new London friends home, including Lady Jex-Blade who is no lady according to belowstairs gossip. Valeria is angry for her mother, who is a devoted wife and turns a blind eye to her husband's escapades. Valeria is also worried her younger half-brother Saint John will witness something he shouldn't and lose respect for his father. It's up to Valeria to shelter her loved ones and the servants from the upset to the household routine. When the situation becomes intolerable, Valeria's mother urges forgiveness but Valeria can neither forgive nor forget. When the Earl dies suddenly and the will reveals just how little the Earl valued his step-daughter, Valeria vows to remain unwed and to help her little brother manage his estate. Unfortunately as a female in a man's world there is much Valeria can not do and she must rely upon her co-trustee, Lord Hylton, the son of her godmother. Alastair, Lord Hilton, is very proper and reserved. He has no use for the frivolous empty-headed, clinging females he meets in London. He is quite surprised but not displeased by Valeria's independent nature. When they meet again in London, he tries to keep Valeria on the right path but they constantly clash over his strictures on proper behavior. She is the most stubborn, fiery tempered female he has ever met. Valeria thinks Alastair is an old prude but why then can't she stop thinking about him. It's because he's so handsome isn't it? By the time the Season ends, Valeria will learn some important lessons.

I liked parts of this book. The writing style is terrible. The author constantly describes every.single.detail! She tells rather than shows what the characters look like, what they're wearing, the history of the house, the etiquette, etc. etc. It's TOO much! I love a well-researched story and though no one can be Georgette Heyer, that kind of thing can be incorporated into the narrative without dumping information. Huzzah you did your research! Well guess what? So can readers! This is the digital age and if they want to know, they can look it up the same way I did when I first started reading Regency romances. It's supposed to be a Christian romance which isn't really my thing but this one didn't seem too heavy on the Christian content. The family abovestairs and belowstairs must attend morning prayers, the family attends church and there are two passages about forgiveness and a brief prayer. I skipped most of that. The Reading Group guide in the back of the book has questions that relate directly to the Christian content of the book so I suppose the overall theme is Christian but non-Christians can read this book without wanting to bash the characters in the head with a stick.

The plot moves very very slowly because of all the info dumping. The hero isn't introduced until a third of the way through the book and the London section comes late in the story. By then I had almost lost interest. I'm glad I didn't give up on the story though because the London section was worth reading. The romance still moves too slowly and the realization comes almost too late. Readers will short attention spans will lose interest long before then. My advice to the author would be to tighten up the exposition and get to the plot. I had some quibbles with the historical accuracy. I can't see a nurse being promoted to ladies' maid because they have entirely different skills, not to mention the time each job takes up especially with a small child. I also doubt an indoor servant would marry an outdoor servant. There's also TMI about childbirth and did they really do cesarean sections and know what sepsis was in the Georgian era?

The characters are not all that lifelike and memorable. The only one with any sort of dimension is Valeria. She has a very hot temper but she is kind and loving towards her family. I really couldn't stand the way she willfully misjudged the hero (much like a certain literary heroine and hero. I think the author should have set the book in 1813 and not 1811!). I didn't really like Valeria very much. I kept cringing at the mistakes she made (sometimes deliberate mistakes) but at the same time, I felt kind of bad for her because everyone was telling her don't or be careful of your reputation but no one ever explained WHY. Of course that's what makes the plot fun is the constant push-pull between the characters and Valeria's escapades. I can see myself acting just like Valeria in the same situation. I liked Alastair much better than Valeria. He's a good man, an honorable one and tries so hard to help Valeria but she's constantly yelling at him.

The secondary characters are either hit or miss for me. I liked Valeria's little brother Saint John and his best buddy Niall. Their youthful activities lightened up the story a bit. I also liked Elyse, Alastair's sister and her husband Reggie. They're fun and Reggie is the type of sidekick that Georgette Heyer excelled at. I would have liked to see more of them. The secondary character I wanted to slap was Valeria's mother, Regina. She's the type of woman who depends on a man, trusts him and is devoted to him unconditionally. She should have been looking out for her daughter a little better. I also wanted to strangle the Earl of Maledon and Lady Jex-Blade for obvious reasons. However, I did feel a little bad for Lady Jex-Blade because Valeria was so critical about things Lady Jex-Blade couldn't help like not knowing the proper etiquette and yet didn't behave much better in London.

This is an OK Regency novel that would be a lot better if the author tightened up the exposition and cut out most of the factual information dumped into the story.

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