What I Read in September 2016 Part I. . .A Useful Woman by Darcie Wilde--Regency Mystery
Rosalind Thorne is an impoverished gentlewoman who makes a living being useful to members of the haut ton. Once she had it all- family, fortune and love; then it all went away when her father ran off, leaving behind a mountain of debts. Rosalind's Mama was unable to cope with the situation so Lady Blanchard, Rosalind's godmother, stepped in to help. Rosalind owes everything to Lady Blanchard and now Lord Blanchard is being transferred to Koningsberg, Rosalind needs to find her own way. When the imperious Lady Edmund commands a favor from Rosalind, it sets in motion a chain of events Rosalind never expected. First Lady Edmund's daughter Honoria announces her engagement to Devon, the Duke of Winterborne, Rosalind's former love. Then Rosalind discovers Honoria's brother son, Jasper Aimesworth, lying dead on the floor of Almack's ballroom. Bow Street is called in to investigate and Adam Harkness is on the scent of a scandal that involves several members of Rosalind's world and the hallowed assembly hall, Almack's. Rosalind knows the truth is difficult to accept but the mystery must be solved and the murderer brought to justice. Can she go where Bow Street can not and discover the truth that may ruin everything she's ever known?
This book is described as Jane Austen inspired, but it's more inspired by Georgette Heyer's world of the haut ton. The only thing in common it has with Austen is the heroine, who is an impoverished spinster. The story is a lot darker than Jane Austen's "light, bright and sparkling" romances. It's darker than even Heyer's romances, more like one of her mysteries without the humor.
The mystery is clever and complicated. I never guessed what was going on at all. I only guessed who just before Rosalind did. However, the mystery took a long time to set up and didn't get really interesting until after the halfway point. What I didn't like about the story is the switching of point-of-view between Rosalind and other characters. After being inside Rosalind's head for awhile, the switch is jarring. The end sets up the next story.
The historical details are OK but sometimes the story felt late Victorian or Edwardian. I really liked the quotes from period sources about Almack's. The biggest error may be Rosalind living alone. Alice, as girl reporter, gives the story a more Edwardian/WWI feel. I'm not sure there were female reporters like Alice in the Regency period. I'm also not sure Alice would be so pragmatic about losing her family fortune. More realistically, she would be a companion or governess. Mourning customs were less strict in the Regency than they would be later on in the Victorian period. There are a few errors in styles/forms of address towards the end of the book.
The characters are kind of flat for most of the novel. I liked Honoria better than Rosalind. She has a temper and speaks her mind- very modern and unladylike for the period. I'm not sure how accurate that makes her but I found her honesty refreshing. I also felt really bad for her because of her horrible Alva Vanderbilt type mother and also for the loss of her brother, the only family member she liked or who cared about her. I also liked Alice. She's eager for a good story but also a good friend to Rosalind. She seems to care more for her friend than anyone else in the novel. Rosalind is just a little too demure for me. For most of the book, she secretly resents her father's criminal activities and the defection of her elder sister but the only thing she can do to change her situation is act demure and toady to the haut ton to make them think her ideas are their own. She is in a precarious situation. Rosalind tries too hard to please everybody. She still harbors a tendre for a man she would never have been allowed to marry even before her father ran off. As the story progresses, her character develops and I expect she'll be a little different on her next case. Jasper seemed like a kind young gentleman. He was sensitive and caring; not as rakish as some of his peers.
Lady Blanchard is a complicated character. She's kind to Rosalind and she appears to respect the other Lady Patronesses but it seems like she doesn't really care for them. She enjoys her position in society as a lady patroness of Almack's but she's also the most caring of all of them. She loves Rosalind but she's only willing to stick her neck out so far to help Rosalind. She doesn't always do what is right but that makes her a more accurate woman of her time than the younger ladies in the book. Her husband, Lord Blanchard, is also confusing. He seems a kind man, a doting husband and godfather, but he turns on Rosalind when it matters most and is more worried about his own reputation than hers.
I have mixed feelings about Devon as Rosalind's love interest. My feelings about his changed as the story progressed and Rosalind began to see things more carefully. I don't think he and Rosalind would have been allowed to marry in the first place. He knows the rules as well as she does but he doesn't seem to care about her reputation, making a scene and being alone with her in public. I don't see Adam as a potential love interest either. Though some of the story is from his point of view, he's hard to figure out. He seems old beyond his years and is close-mouthed. He opens up a bit to Rosalind and is the only one who truly sees her for the woman she really is.
I would definitely give another book in the series a try to see how Rosalind develops and how her relationship with Adam works. I just wish there was more humor to balance the heavy story.
Allie McMurphy has always dreamed of taking over her family's historic hotel on Mackinac Island; she never dreamed the day would come so soon. Her Papa, Liam, recently died unexpectedly and left the McMurphy to Allie, along with enough money to renovate and keep in open for a year- IF Allie can open in time for the season and IF they are fully booked. Allie knows she can do it, but her plans hit a snag when she discovers her grandfather's rival and former friend dead in the utility closet. The police want to declare a crime scene and even suspect Allie as a "person of interest." She's determined to go forward with her plans, no matter what. She discovers that life in a small town is not always wonderful, especially when the townspeople take sides against her. Allie wants this case solved NOW so she can open her hotel, but when another mystery turns up, it may bring everything she's worked for to a standstill. She can't even think about the arrogant, but sexy, cop who seems to be flirting with her and tries not to think about how good Trent, the grandson of the murder victim, smells. She has a hotel to open, even if it kills her.
This is a mediocre cozy murder mystery that doesn't know where it's headed until 2/3 of the way through. The first third of the book focuses too much on renovating the McMurphy. The reason for the murder and subsequent mystery doesn't even appear until halfway and even then it's unclear what the motive is. There are some awkward attempts at romance, an out of place new heroine and plot and some improbable situations. The whole mystery seemed improbable to me but I did a little looking around online and I suppose it MAY be plausible but it doesn't sound like it should be possible. The motivation doesn't make much sense in the grand scheme of things and certain events that are not connected make the plot more complicated than it needed to be. The fudge recipes are mostly for Allie's 21+ line and it's not until towards the end of the book that normal classic fudge recipes appear. Shouldn't it be the other way around? I was very disappointed that I didn't see anything I had to try until long after the halfway point. Plus, if she's a culinary school graduate, she would know that there's not enough alcohol in a small piece of fudge to get anyone drunk but she probably can't sell it to kids.
The characters are also unappealing. Allie is stubborn to a fault. Who insists on staying home when the police tell you there may be a crazed murderer running around somewhere? Allie does. She's rude and blinded solely by her goal of opening the McMurphy in time. She does have compassion for the victim's family which is her only saving grace. That and the fact that she doesn't insist on investigating on her own to clear her name. The police and her friends urge her to investigate the hotel's secrets. Neither of the potential love interests were any better. Rex is an arrogant, alpha male jerk and Trent is a sullen, arrogant jerk. The townspeople are narrow minded and rude. Being friendly works both ways and Allie's Papa was involved in the community even if her Dad left. The townspeople take sides either for or against Allie being a murderer and show their support for their chosen one by wearing different colored ribbons. I think this author has been watching Gilmore Girls reruns because no one does that in real life! The situation in Stars Hollow was completely different.
The best main character is Allie's new puppy, Mal, short for Marshmallow, half Poodle, half Bichon. I don't know how anyone expects a toy breed to be menacing enough to protect Allie but she's super cute and plays a big role at the end. I also really liked Allie's friend Jen. She's fun and has great ideas though where she gets the money to pull off what she did and how she did it in such a short amount of time is a mystery. I also liked Frances, though she seems a little reckless at times for an old lady, and Mr. Devaney. I always love historians, of course. Their budding relationship is sweet and better than the central potential romance.