Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott has long since been one of my favorite writers as well as my idol. I greatly admire her determination to remain unmarried in an era when few other options were open to women. She also championed reform and wrote some pretty great children's books!

PBS aired a documentary on Louisa May Alcott last night on American Masters. I enjoyed the documentary a lot. Rather than straight interviews about Louisa, they used actors to portray the Alcotts, their friends and Louisa's first biographer. The documentary showed Louisa from childhood to adulthood in various scenes from her life. I loved seeing the scenes set in Concord. Other times Louisa addressed the camera directly, sharing her private thoughts from diaries and letters. The acting is great and really adds another dimension to the film and makes it more entertaining. Even though I've read extensively about Louisa, I learned a lot. Louisa suffered from periodic bouts of severe depression and even considered suicide when her life seemed meaningless. She disliked writing "moral pap for the young" and wrote pulp fiction stories under a pseudonym. Some of the thrillers have been published recently and are quite good! I also discovered that modern doctors think Louisa may have suffered from Lupus or another auto-immune disease. At Orchard House the tour guide says Louisa died from mercury poisoning from medicine given to her after an illness contracted while working as a nurse during the Civil War.

I think this documentary does a great job capturing Louisa's life and contributing to an understanding of her importance.

Learn more about Louisa at the filmmaker's website

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Young Victoria

The Young Victoria

I just returned from seeing the movie The Young Victoria starring Emily Blunt as young Queen Victoria. The movie is about the first two years of Victoria's reign as she struggled to break free of her sheltered childhood and the political machinations of her relatives to become a grown woman and a queen. It is also a love story between Victoria and her handsome, shy cousin Prince Albert.

I absolutely loved this movie! Being an avid fan of the Victorian era, it was incredible to see the world which I have read so much about. Marissa Doyle's excellent young adult novel Bewitching Season stuck in my mind as I watched the movie. Fans of the book will be excited to see Dash, the spaniel and watch the scheming Conroy try to manipulate Victoria. The costumes are to-die-for and the acting was great. Rupert Friend and Emily Blunt worked well together and really seemed like a young couple in love. I fell in love with Albert myself! He was sweet and a little shy and nerdy and like Victoria, he was a pawn in an elaborate chess game controlled by his uncle.

Being nitpicky, I noticed that Victoria's accent was more BBC than 19th century royal and she used "I" instead of the royal "We." Also I felt that the scenes detailing Victoria's early childhood were rushed and glossed over and the end dragged on a bit. I would have liked to have seen more childhood and more about Victoria's controlling mother, who comes across as a weak-willed woman in the film. Also, Sir John Conroy wasn't well-developed. We're told about what he wants and how he means to achieve his goals but not much from him. He also comes across as too villainous, physically threatening Victoria, which I doubt he did in real life.

I wouldn't recommend this the general public but for die-hard Victorian wannabes, lovers of costume drama and those who love a good love-story, this is a must-see! The movie theater went to still has a projection screen and I would love to see this again in digital!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

History of Concord, Massachusetts

Concord, Massachusetts

Align Center One of my favorite places to visit!

When I'm there, I love to visit Louisa May Alcott's home, Orchard House. Orchard House is the little brown house where the March family lives in Little Women. Little Women is based heavily on the lives of Louisa and her sisters. In the kitchen you can see the breadboard where youngest sister Abba May (Amy) burned a portrait of a man. You can also also see her bedroom where she drew all over the walls and Louisa’s bedroom where she wrote Little Women! There is a little room belonging to Louisa’s nephews featuring toys and games from the 19th century. There are items in the house which visitors will recognize from Little Women throughout the house, such as Beth's piano and the old sofa where Jo and Laurie sat to chat with pillows between them.

Another place I love to visit is The Wayside, the home of three famous authors: Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Margaret Sidney (author of the Five Little Peppers series and other stories for children).

The home was originally built in the colonial era and has had many additions over the years.
The Visitor’s Center tells about the families that lived there. The Alcott family lived there from 1845-1848. It was the first house they
owned and Louisa spent her happiest days there and it is the setting of Little Women! In fact, the visitor’s center is in the barn where the girls performed their plays! Visitors can view the room Louisa’s father used as a study and that he had turned into bedrooms for Louisa and her younger sister. In one room, you can view a place where Louisa’s family hid a runaway slave. Louisa wrote her first book during this time called Flower Fables, based on stories she told Ellen Emerson while babysitting.

Nathaniel Hawthorne lived there next from 1852-1870.
The Hawthornes didn’t live there the whole time, they went to Europe for several years and the oldest daughter became very ill in Italy and the Hawthornes returned home. Visitors may see Miss Hawthorne's bedroom. The Hawthornes had many additions made to the house which caused Nathaniel Hawthorne to fall into debt. Hawthorne had a tall tower built on top of the house to use as his study. Visitors to the house climb a long narrow staircase to the study, which was modeled after a castle in Italy. The son of the next owners decorated the ceiling in memory of Hawthorne who died in 1864. In 1883 the house was sold to a publisher Daniel Lothrop as a late wedding present for his wife who admired Hawthorne. Mrs. Lothrop published a series of children’s books about a family called The Five Little Peppers under the pen name of Margaret Sidney. The Lothrops were the first historic preservationists and decided not to change the house too much from the time when Hawthorne lived there. They added the front porch in 1904 and the house is decorated in period furnishings from the Lothrop's era. After the author’s husband died, she lived at The Wayside with her daughter. They traveled around the world until her death in 1922. Her daughter turned the house into a museum. Both houses are well worth a visit for Louisa May Alcott fanatics, children's literature enthusiasts and lovers of old homes and historic towns!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Birthday, Jane!

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

Today is the anniversary of Jane Austen's birthday. Happy Birthday, Jane! Thanks for bringing us readers such joy with your witty and wonderful books! We are forever grateful to your parents for bringing you into this word and teaching you the pleasures of a good book.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Brightsea by Jane Gillespie -- Sequel to Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility
This book revisits the Steele sisters from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Remember them, the nieces of the kindly Mrs. Jenkins, whose daughter is married to Elinor and Marianne's relative. Lucy Steele was secretly engaged to Edward Ferrars but switched her allegiance to Robert when she learned he was to inherit and Edward to be a poor clergyman. It's not nine years lady and Lucy's sister Nancy is 40 years old and still silly, wanting in sense and on the lookout for a husband. Lucy is more disagreeable than ever with the cares and concerns of a profligate husband and a young family. Nancy bounces around from relative to relative ringing up massive debts until finally, Mr. Palmer decides he's had enough of her and recommends her to an acquaintance of his as a companion for a young lady just out of the school room. Nancy is reluctant to take employment (the horror!) but decides a house with servants and money to spend in a town by the sea outweighs the negative connotations of being a paid companion. Instead of the lively and gay young lady Nancy is expecting, Louisa is sober and bookish, she doesn't know how to dance and wants to learn Latin! While Louisa is busy studying Latin with the handsome young clergyman, Nancy spends money and flirts with the other visitors to Brightsea, in particular, a Mr. Forgan. Louisa begins to enjoy Brightsea society and the attentions of Mr. Forgan but her grandmother's old nurse warns her that Mr. Forgan is not what he should be and Louisa must decide what to do about Mr. Forgan. Lucy and her children pay a visit to needle Nancy and help move the action along and all concludes as it should. I read this book before but didn't remember until I had started reading. It didn't hold my interest very easily. The plot was rather slow moving until the end when it wrapped up in a quick summary of what happens next. Nancy is still disagreeable and Louisa is kind of a bland heroine. If you're looking for romance, or even as much romance as Jane Austen, this book isn't for you. The romance is quiet and blooms slowly and we're told what happens rather than seeing the action. If you loved to hate the Steele sisters and wonder what happens to them, then you'll enjoy this quick and imaginative sequel.

A Country Flirtation by Valerie King -- Regency Romance
After turning down 8 offers of marriage because she could not love the gentleman, Miss Constance Pamblerley is now nine and twenty and a confirmed spinster. She isn't bothered by that though and is happy being the mistress of Lady Brook Cottage and the surrounding estate. She has her hands full caring for her invalid mother and four younger sisters and soon she has two more charges on her hands when a treacherous bend in the road causes a young man to wreck his curricle in Lady Brook's yard. The young man can not recall his identity and is under doctor's orders to remain at Lady Brook until he does. Constance's younger sisters dote on "Mr. Albion" or "Alby" as they call him and Constance fears they are in danger of falling in love with a penniless man, which will not do. Constance has little time to consider whether Alby is faking his illness because soon, Alby's (real name Charles Kidmarsh) guardian, Lord Ramsdell comes crashing his curricle into Lady Brook's yard. Lord Ramsdell's accident causes a broken arm and a fever and Constance spends most of her time nursing the Viscount. When Lord Ramsdell awakens from his fever, he falls instantly in love with his nurse and she soon follows. They become close confidants and friends as well as flirting and kissing partners. Constance tells herself that it's only a summer country flirtation and that it doesn't mean anything but her heart has other ideas. Meanwhile, Alby/Charles thrives under the Pamberley sisters' care. He grows from a coddled boy into a man with chores and vigorous exercise. He also falls in love with the youngest sister, Augusta, and she helps him gather the courage to face his future. This is a silly, lighthearted romance. The characters continually behave out-of-bounds for that time period and the whole plot is unrealistic. I liked Charles and his coming-of-age story but I felt that Lord Ramsedell, whose name isn't revealed until Chapter 12, wasn't fleshed out enough to be a proper hero. I admired Constance in the way she managed her estate and took care of her sisters and mother, but this Cinderella story was a bit too much of a fairy tale for me. Hopeless romantics rejoice because this book is for you; hardcore historians, not so much.

Changing Seasons by Jessie Watson -- Regency Romance
When Charlotte Middleton discovers that her fiance and best friend Rupert Frost has been keeping company with a lightskirt, Charlotte is angry and embarrassed enough to break off the engagement. She and Rupert exchange heated words and threats they don't mean. In a fit of pique, Rupert enlists in the army and Charlotte marries a dull local man. Nine years later, with the wars over, Rupert has begun to think about how lonely he is. His correspondence with the uncle of a fallen comrade leads Rupert to the small English country village of Edenshade, where Charlotte resides. Charlotte is now a widow of means, happy performing charitable works and socializing with the neighbors. Rupert's return stirs up old feelings and she isn't sure she's ready to confront them or whether Rupert's attentions mean anything more than friendship. As the seasons change, Rupert, Charlotte and the people of Edenshade are consumed with the summer flower show/content, the biggest event in the area. The spring and summer bring new friends and new romances and the idea of marriage to mind. This is a nice, quiet story in the manner of Jane Austen. The small town locals are quirky and charming and Rupert quickly becomes part of life in Edenshade. While Rupert and Charlotte are kind of bland characters, I appreciate their quiet romance and their close friendship without all the adjectives in the dictionary describing their feelings. Much of the novel is taken up with gardening and the flower show. There are a lot of characters, which I found hard to keep track of but I liked meeting them and seeing life in this small town as an insider rather than an outsider. This is a nice novel for Jane Austen fanatics who prefer stories about country families to heady romance.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jane Austen Tea Dance

Jane Austen Tea Dance

This afternoon I attended a tea dance in honor of the 234th anniversary of Jane Austen's birth ( a few days early). Dance historian Susan de Guardiola from Connecticut taught English country dances, the Boulanger, and Sir Roger de Coverley (aka The Fezziwig Dance). There were many ladies and gentlemen in costume including Susan, Gail Eastwood and Liefe Wheeler, our hostesses.

de Guardiola

The first dances were what Susan termed "flirty dance;" the ones mentioned in the novels where Mr. Bingley stood up for two sets with Jane Bennet (a total of about 3 hours!) and where Mr. Darcy and Lizzie bantered. These were exceedingly difficult with many little hopping steps and turns.

Next we danced cotillion dances, popular at the end of the 18th century. They are the forerunner of modern square dancing and I enjoyed those but it was hard to remember all the movements and remember when it was my turn! I sat out the Boulanger, but learned that it is the only dance Jane Austen ever mentioned by name and wrote about in her letters. She preferred the older style dancing of her youth to the modern dancing done by her nieces and nephews. We concluded with the Sir Roger de Coverley, which is the dance done at Fezziwig's in A Christmas Carol. As A Christmas Carol is my family's favorite Christmas story, I enjoyed learning this dance.

Watch a slideshow of the dancing:

They hope to host another Regency dancing event in the spring so stay tuned for more details!

Friday, December 11, 2009

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Bluestocking Bride by Elizabeth Thornton -- Regency Romance
Richard Fotherville, Marquis of Rutherston is now 30 years of age and promised his mother he would give up his wild ways and settle down. First, though, he must tend to his new estate, Branley Park,inherited from an uncle. There he encounters Catherine Harland in his library, absorbed in a book and mistaking her for a servant insults her and orders her off. Catherine plays dumb and mocks Rutherston which results in his bestowing an extremely passionate kiss upon Catherine. Before the kiss progresses into anything more, they are interrupted by Rutherston's cousin and Catherine's old friend Charles Norton. Charles reveals Catherine's true identity as the intelligent niece of their old Oxford don who resides on a neighboring estate. Rutherston is shocked by Catherine's further hoydenish and bluestocking behavior. He believes the Greek heroine Andromanche is the ideal woman because she is meek and passive. His future bride must submit to him in all things. Of course he can not ignore his physical attraction to Catherine and follows her to London where she is enjoying her first Season. Catherine is convinced Rutherston doesn't meet her ideal but she also can not hide her physical attraction to him, so she marries him! Then the plot turns to the obvious misunderstandings of young married couples of that time. Meanwhile, Catherine's sister and Rutherston's cousin have fallen in love and without the money to support a her, Charles's hopes seem lost. Finally, the book reaches it's predictable conclusion with a number of cliched plot points and graphic love scenes. Needless to say, I could not stand this novel. Catherine seemed like a promising heroine at first but she gave in too easily and allowed self-doubts to nearly ruin her marriage. Richard was a selfish pig and I hated him. There were way too many plots in this book and none of them played out realistically or uniquely. Catherine and Richard spend much of their early weeks of marriage in bed and there is little description of anything else. Skip this novel if you like well-written, plot-driven, realistic stories.

Rapture of the Deep: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, Soldier, Sailor, Mermaid, Spy (Bloody Jack Adventures) by L. A. Meyer -- YA Historical Fiction
Jack's back in the arms of her beloved Jaimy and they are soon to be wed but of course they are again separated, this time by the British Intelligence who have a score to settle with Jacky and whisk her off to a secret mission in the Caribbean to dive for buried Spanish treasure. Jacky embarks on her latest adventure on the Nancy B. Alsop with her crew and some new characters. Jacky must contend with a wooden diving bell, cock fights, romantic and treacherous pirates and a wicked Spaniard. All the while, she's up to her old cunning tricks and is determined to survive by her wits. An extra bonus for Jacky is that Jaimy is nearby on the Dolphin, but poor Jacky and Jaimy have sworn a vow of chastity before the captain so they might as well be apart. This is a typical Jacky adventure meets Pirates of the Caribbean. I like all the historical details about Havana and the Navy but dislike how violent this adventure is. If you're a fan of Jacky Faber then you're sure to like this novel. I think I know where Jacky's headed next and I can't wait to see what else she gets up to. I'm a little tired of the star-crossed lovers plot and Jacky's over-the-top manner. The first three books were the best in my opinion, but the quality of writing isn't any less entertaining and I enjoyed reading about Jacky's latest adventure.

Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels by Deirdre Le Faye -- Non-Fiction
This book is full of factual information about Jane Austen's life and times and how those topics relate to her novels. It includes information about cultural activities such as games and dancing, homes of the day, the Royal family and much much more. There are full color plates and photographs which enhance the information. Though I've read considerably on Jane Austen, the Regency era and her novels, I enjoyed this book and learned a few things.
I especially liked seeing the pictures of Jane Austen's writing desk and table as well as the portraits of what her characters may have looked like. This is a great book for new and old Jane Austen fans and a worthy addition to any Janeite's library.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Miss Darby's Duenna by Sheri Cobb South -- Regency Romantic Comedy
Now that Harry Hawthorne has inherited his father's title and estate, he feels it's high time he takes a wife. He chooses his childhood pal, Olivia Darby, because she's a mild-mannered girl who won't stand in the way of his pursuit of pleasure. Olivia feels it's too soon to marry and wants to have a London Season before she settles down. Harry isn't happy with that idea but he can't override her decision. Harry's younger sister, Georgina wants to marry the local vicar, but Harry, sensing this his sister is in the throes of a school girl crush, decides she should go to London with Olivia and have a Season. Olivia's mother accompanies the girls to London while Harry avoids the social scene and oggles opera dancers. Harry's rival for a popular actress, Lord Mannerly, seeks revenge for his hurt pride and decides to make Olivia his prey. Olivia finds Mannerly charming and insists on seeing him though Harry forbids it. Harry feels he has no choice but to masquerade as his own grandmother in order to properly chaperon Olivia! Harry's sister isn't fooled and Lord Mannerly is suspicious but Olivia misses the absent Harry and draws closer to Mannerly. Harry's charade causes some gossip belowstairs and the faux Dowager attracts the attentions of an old flame. This story has all the makings of a screwball comedy but for me, it fell flat. There wasn't any chemistry between Harry and Olivia and Harry was boring and rude. I couldn't understand their attraction to one another and the reader is only told how Olivia used to worship Harry when they were children. Their feelings seem to come out of nowhere. The relationship between Mannerly and Georgina showed promise but the dialogue wasn't quite witty enough to charm me. Overall, this book failed to meet expectations and I was sadly disappointed.

Elizabeth And The Major by Lynn Collum -- Regency Romance
Miss Elizabeth Fields left off her hoydenish ways when her mother died three years ago and has become the model daughter and a mother to her younger siblings. Elizabeth's father encourages her to accompany her shy best friend, The Honorable Julia Powers, to a house party where Julia is one of several young ladies who may inherit the estate from her eccentric cousin Esme. Elizabeth is hesitant to leave her family but realizes that Julia needs to get away from her domineering mother for awhile and agrees to go off to the country with Julia. While in the country, Elizabeth and Julia meet the other two young ladies who are Esme's prospective heirs; the flirtations society girl Myra Bradford and Miss Imogene Shelton, a silly schoolroom miss. Imogene is accompanied by her handsome older half-brother, Major Roderick Shelton, who is home on leave after being wounded in the Peninsular Wars. Roderick is a doting brother who wishes to see his sister's future settled before returning to war. He must make his own way in the world though he is heir to a Viscountcy. When Elizabeth first meets Roger, she's embarrassed by her unladylike behavior but thinks he's the most handsome man she's ever seen. Likewise, he's physically attracted to her but worries about her behavior. As they get to know each other, Elizabeth and Roderick discover they share common interests, including a dislike of the fashionable fribble Sir Gordon, Esme's greedy cousin who has crashed the party in hopes of slandering the women and gaining the inheritance for himself. When someone seems to be trying to scare off Imogene, the major believes the worst with nearly disastrous consequences for everyone involved. The plot summary on the back of the book is misleading. I expected an amusing romp with witty dialogue and over-the-top situations. I couldn't find any of the aforementioned in the plot of this novel. The story moves slowly and isn't very interesting. There isn't much character development and when there is, it's tossed in and then glossed over. I didn't find the romance believable at all because of the lack of characterization. The plot was entirely predictable from beginning to end and I just didn't feel anything for the characters or care what happened to them. Some of the situations were funny and I liked Julia and wished she were the main character. Overall, I found this to be a mediocre story and won't read it again.

Rumors: A Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen -- YA Historical Fiction/Romance
Picking up two months after The Luxe left off, this book continues the story of the Holland sisters. Elizabeth has faked her own death to head west to find her boyfriend, Will leaving Diana to deal with the societal pressures of finding a husband and navigating the sticky situation with Henry Schoonmaker. The plot of this book is far more contrived and soap operaish than The Luxe. It features star-crossed lovers who do forbidden things that are entirely unrealistic for that time and place. The book also continues the story of the former maid, Lina, a scheming social climber who is determined to be a society lady aided by Penelope Hayes. I felt like I was watching a CW (TV) teen drama while reading this book and I was very disappointed in the way the characters behaved given their situations. I sympathize with Elizabeth but I also feel she was selfish to leave Diana alone. Diana is very young and silly and I didn't like her as much in this novel as I did the first. I'm not sure I am going to continue with the series. I'm not really into melodrama.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Georgette Heyer

The Foundling

The hero of this novel, the Most Noble Adolphus Gillespie Vernon Ware, Duke of Sale and Marquis of Ormesby; Earl of Sale; Baron Ware of Thame; Baron Ware of Stoven; and Baron Ware of Rufford, a sickly orphan, was raised by a host of well-meaning relatives and old family retainers. He's been coddled and cosseted his whole life but now that he's on the verge of coming of full age, his uncle Lionel encourages him to make his own decisions, yet every time Gilly makes a move, he's told he should listen to his olders and betters, including the issue of marriage and Gilly is tired of it all. After doing his duty and proposing marriage to his shy neighbor, Gilly takes himself off to London to mope and complain to his big cousin Gideon. Gideon is sympathetic and encourages Gilly to "shake his leash" yet Gilly is afraid of hurting anyone's feelings and much too timid to break out on his own. When his younger cousin Matthew gets into a scrape, Gilly decides it's time to act like a man and disappears from London without telling anyone where he's going or what he's doing. When Gilly heads to the countryside to rout out the villain who is blackmailing his cousin, he finds an adventure he never dreamed of involving runaway schoolboys, a beautiful empty-headed foundling, kidnappers, blackmailers, would-be murderers and various other people Gilly has never encountered before. Meanwhile, rumors about Gilly's disappearance swirl around London and Gideon is considered the prime suspect! Refusing to divulge his cousin's secrets, yet discovering Gilly is in danger, Gideon races off to rescue his little cousin and learns that Gilly is more than capable of handling anything that comes his way. Gilly learns to stand up for himself and his friends and finally becomes a man.

The plot of this book is a departure from Heyer's usual formula. It's a screwball comedy/coming-of-age story rather than a romance. It also features a hero who is neither a Corinthian or a Buck or a Beau and the hero's closest relatives do not desire his title! The story also centers solely around Gilly and doesn't enter into the mind of a heroine. The plot starts off slow and Gilly seems like an unappealing hero. He is rather boring and acquiesces to the wishes of his uncle far too easily. At first, Gideon seems like a better hero because he's tall and dashing with a crooked smile, but he's relegated to the background and this is only Gilly's story. There are some red herrings in the plot that depart from convention as well. I had a hard time getting into the story until about 3/4 of the way through when the adventure really began. Then I found myself engaged in the story, dying to find out what happened next and laughing out loud at Gilly's young protegee Tom and his destruction of Gilly's reputation. It seems like Heyer was poking fun at conventions and romance novels and created the antihero, anti-romance novel. It's not necessarily bad but I miss the charm and witty dialogue that is the hallmark of her romance novels. If you're looking for something different and well-written, give this a try, but don't expect convention.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What I've Read This Week

]What I've Read This Week

The Ideal Bride by Nonnie St. George -- Regency Romance
Handsome, wealthy Gabriel Carr dislikes a fuss. He has made a life plan (Corinthian until 25 - check, make fortune 25-30 - check, find a wife, set up a nursery by age 30 - not done!) and the only thing left to do is find a wife and set up a nursery. Gabe has three months to find the ideal bride and makes a list of the attributes he wants in a wife. At the top of the list is lady from merchant class. Gabe is used to being chased for his looks and fortune by the ladies of the ton and would prefer a wife who shares his interest in business. He also wants his wife to have a pleasing figure (i.e large bosom). Enter Lady Nola Grenvale, tall, red-haired, flat chested and the daughter of an Earl, most certainly NOT the ideal bride! At 25 and without a fortune, Nola has no intentions of marrying anyone, let alone Gabriel Carr. She is devoted to helping the poor helpless war widows and is determined to set them up in a bazaar where they can sell their handmade wares in a single location instead of running around the city to various merchants. Nola learns that Gabriel Carr is a noted real-estate genius. His latest plan is a sort of early department store/mall, which will leave an empty warehouse in Soho Square just right for the widows' bazaar. However, Gabriel does not see it that way, and wants nothing to do with Nola or her opinions. He's delighted to hear that Nola will be leaving London soon to live with her aunts in the country so he will never have to see her or hear about her widows' bazaar again, but Nola is determined he shall hear her out. Gabe tries to escape to the country but returns to find his mother has invited Nola, her maids, her aunts and her cook to stay at his home! When Gabe is injured and must stay in bed, it's Nola's deaf, old nurse who nurses him! Poor man is surrounded by scheming women determined to push Nola at him and Nola continues to only be interested in Gabe's warehouse, or so he thinks. Nola and Gabe learn to appreciate their mutual interest in business and soon, of course, find each other physically attractive as well, but Gabe stubbornly refuses to give up his list and admit that Nola is the ideal bride for him while his life spirals out of control as Nola and Gabe's relatives and servants meddle until the get the intended results. This is a hilarious romantic comedy. The crazy secondary characters provide a lot of laughs as does Gabe's stubbornness. The romantic plot becomes sensual as Gabe and Nola become more aware of each other. This story may not be for everyone because much of the humor is a bit bawdy and many of the jokes revolve around bosoms. Normally, I find such humor crude and unfunny but I found myself giggling madly through each chapter. The only real fault I found with this novel is that there isn't much depth to the characters. We know what they do and what they're thinking but not why they're so driven or what their pasts were like. This may be a good book to share with a teen who is just becoming interested in the genre due to the rather modern jokes. Does anyone have a copy of the follow-up Courting Trouble I could read?

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen Narrated by Nina Siemaszko -- YA Historical Fiction

It's 1899 and Elizabeth Holland is one of New York's elite society girls, or rather was, for Elizabeth is presumed drowned in the Hudson River a few days before her wedding to society's playboy Henry Schoonmaker! After the initial shocking beginning, the story goes back to the weeks prior to the funeral, when Elizabeth's seemingly perfect life comes to an end with the knowledge that her father died in debt, leaving the family destitute and it's up to Elizabeth to save the family by marrying Henry. Elizabeth has no choice but to agree to the wedding, after all, it will help her family and she is the perfect society girl, but underneath her perfect facade, Elizabeth is hiding secret feelings. Elizabeth is in love with Will the coachman and finds marriage to anyone else unappealing, yet she knows she has no choice. Younger sister Diana, reader of torrid romance novels, thinks being poor would be a grand adventure and doesn't let the news of misfortune dampen her high spirits or her budding feelings for her sister's fiance! Penelope Hays, Elizabeth's best friend, had been, until now, the amour of Henry Schoonmaker and doesn't want to give him up! Meanwhile, the maid, Lina Broud, is becoming increasingly dissatisfied with her position and learns how a little gossip can go a long way. This story plays out like a modern High School drama crossed with a Jane Austen novel with jealous catty girls, clandestine meetings, secret romances and family misfortune. Though it seems like the novel is full of fluff, the characters demonstrate complicated emotions and the difficulties of being a young woman in upper-class society in the 19th century. The historical details are excellent and seem well-researched. I especially enjoyed the interesting newspaper articles, etiquette tips and letters that open each chapter and serve as a teaser as to what the chapter will be about. Though Elizabeth is a passive heroine, never really letting her emotions show or taking steps to control her life, I felt sorry for her being stuck in a difficult situation. Diana is a more appealing character, of course, but she seems too immature to really understand what's happening. She's a typical selfish teen, not caring about anyone except herself. Penelope is the stereotypical "frenemy" but a delicious villain with witty lines and I found myself eager to know what she would do next. This book is a real page-turner and I can't wait to read the next two! The narrator sounds like a young woman and has a pleasing voice though sometimes it was hard to tell who was supposed to be speaking because the narrator doesn't create different voices. Overall though, this is a pretty good audio book and good for long trips.

My Darlin' Clementine by Kristiana Gregory -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction
Based on the popular ballad, Kristiana Gregory provides the story behind the song. The book opens in 1867 just after Clementine Kidd "fell into the foamy brine," with Clementine's younger sister Josie sharing the details of Clementine's disappearance with her father and with the reader. Flash back to 1866 and sixteen year-old Clementine takes up the tale of her life with her parents and younger sister in the mining town of Nugget in Idaho Territory. Life is rough in the small mining town with saloons, opium dens, abandoned mine shafts and vigilante justice. Clementine's Papa is unable to mine due to rheumatism and spends his time drinking, gambling and losing the family's hard-earned money. Clementine's sweet mother does her best to provide for the family and keep them safe but she hints there may be a time when Clementine and Josie have to look after themselves. Also watching out for them is Tall Sing, a Chinese doctor who works for Clementine's family and is devoted to them. Clementine worries about her father and her wild younger sister growing up in a rough environment and longs for a better life. Clementine takes an interest in medicine, helping Tall Sing with his doctoring, and harbors secret dreams of attending a ladies' medical college in Pennsylvania. Clementine's ambitions are tested when Boone Reno, the judge's son begins to court her. Boone is kind and gentle and her family all love him, but Clementine doesn't wish to be rushed into marriage. When the rough and violent ways of their western mining town begin to intrude on Clementine's life, she's forced to choose between her dreams and the welfare of her family. The story is concluded from Josie's point-of-view two years after Clementine is "lost and gone forever" and the reader finally learns what happened to Clementine and what happens next. Gregory has long since been one of my favorite historical fiction writers and I was anxious to read her latest. She does not disappoint with this unusual story. The imagery is so vivid that I can easily picture the wild west and follow Clementine around in my mind. Though the violence of life in a mining town is distasteful, Gregory doesn't shy away from depicting the realities. Clementine is a sympathetic character but I found her almost too easy going. I preferred young Josie, the spunky tomboy as a narrator. Even so, I liked reading Gregory's imaginative take on an old ballad. I would love a sequel!

Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild -- Children's classic
Rachel Lennox is happy living in the English countryside with her mother and adopted sister Hilary. The family is poor but Hilary is a superb dancer and expected to attend the Royal Ballet School and become a star. Rachel's mother dies after a terrible accident, leaving Rachel and Hilary to the care of Rachel's uncle and his wife, Aunt Cora, who runs a dancing school for Mrs. Wintle's Little Wonders. Mrs. Wintle is eager to add Hilary to her troupe but does not expect the girl to upstage her own darling daughter. Rachel is dismayed to learn that the Little Wonders focus more on tap and acrobatics than ballet and pushes Hilary to train ballet so she can fulfill Rachel's mother's dream of Hilary becoming a ballerina with the Royal Ballet. Hilary is lazy and prefers acrobatics to ballet and dreams of becoming a Little Wonder. Rachel hates to dance and feels life as a Little Wonder would be unbearable. Rachel bonds with her teacher, Mrs. Storm, who gives Rachel elocution lessons and sees in the girl promise of something special that Mrs. Wintle can not see. Rachel and Hilary also have to deal with their spoiled cousin Dulcie, who is on her way to stardom. As they grow older, Rachel becomes more despondent and Hilary happier. Finally, they each discover their true places in the theater world and learn to accept each other's decisions. The plot is very similar to Theatre Shoes but not as well done. I felt sorry for Rachel but didn't find her very interesting. Hilary wasn't very likeable either because she was silly and lazy. Dulcie is the typical spoiled girl with a stage mother and the story was pretty predictable. This is not my favorite installment of the series.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week. . .

The True Adventures of Charley Darwin by Carolyn Meyer -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction
Carolyn Meyer has chosen a male voice for her latest novel, the voice of a young Charles Darwin. Charley tells his life story as he experiences it from about the age of 8 to early adulthood. His father, a noted physician, was kind but had little time to spare for his youngest son. Young Charley was doted on and primarily raised by his older sisters and palled around with his older brother until it was time to go to boarding school. Poor Charley is bullied by the other children and condemned by his teachers for not doing his lessons. Charley would rather hunt bugs and newts than study Latin or Greek, but science was not considered a worthwhile occupation in the early 19th century. After trying medical school and schooling to become a Clergyman, Charles still longed to study nature. Then came the fateful offer of companionship on a round-the-world trip on the HMS Beagle. The story of Charles Darwin's voyage is recreated from his journals and letters and shares a vivid picture of all the hardships and exciting things he experienced. Five years after leaving England, Charles returns a grown man, still unsure of his future but pondering the weighty questions that would lead to his theory of Transmutation. This book really makes Charles Darwin human. The first person narrative allows the reader to empathize with Charley's very realistic doubts and fears. I liked knowing that Charles Darwin was self-conscious about his nose and got seasick. It's especially important to learn that he did believe in God, though he questioned the absolute veracity of the Bible. I think everyone 10 and up should read this book, regardless of whether they believe in evolution or not because this is a wonderful account of the man who later changed the world forever.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman -- YA Non-Fiction
This is a loving tribute to an unusual couple. This book looks at how Charles Darwin came to be the noted scientist and originator of the theory of evolution with the help of his devoted and loving wife Emma. Emma Wedgewood Darwin was intelligent, outspoken, lively, fun and most of all, a firm believer of Faith. Though it took Charles many years and a pro/con list to decide on marriage, he knew that his cousin Emma was the perfect wife for him. For 43 years Charles and Emma discussed and debated, read and wrote about issues of religion and science. Though their personal views differed, each understood and respected the other's viewpoint and never attacked, argued or criticized. They were best friends and companions through childbirth, death, ill health, and scientific explorations. This book gives the reader a peek into the Darwins' world and illustrates the true partnership of Charles and Emma. The book deals with Charles' explorations, scientific discoveries and questions of Faith as well as his personal life as a caring and devoted husband and father. What most impressed me was that though they had different religious beliefs, Charles and Emma remained a loving couple. The writing style is casual enough for young adults and lively and interesting enough for adults to enjoy as well. This is a great companion to the above book and takes the reader on an incredible journey of love. Again, it doesn't matter whether you believe in evolution, this is a portrait of a man and his wife who loved each other and stood by each other for 43 years despite their differences. Incredible!

Theater Shoes by Noel Streatfeild -- children's classic
Sorrel, Mark and Holly Forbes's father has been missing at sea during WWII for some time now, but the children have got along quietly living with their vicar grandfather and his housekeeper Hannah. When Grandfather dies, the children and Hannah move to London to live with the children's maternal grandmother, the great actress Margaret Shaw. At first the children find life at Grandmother's bleak and lonely, with only Hannah and Grandmother's funny housekeeper Alice for company, but soon Grandmother informs the children that they will be attending the Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training in preparation for becoming great actors themselves. Mark wishes to join the Navy and be an Admiral but as there's no money for proper school, he too must join his sisters at the Academy. Sorrel and Holly receive scholarships from the now-famous Pauline and Posy Fossil and the famous Fossils encourage Petrova to issue a scholarship for Mark. Sorrel is pleased, but worried, because she can't keep up with the dancing lessons, Mark is happy as long as he can imagine himself as an animal and sing and Holly likes to dress up and mimic people. At the Academy the Forbes children meet their vain cousin Miranda, already a good actress and sweet Miriam who loves to dance. As the children get more involved with theater training, they learn that they too carry the family talent. I loved this series when I was a kid and love the mention in the movie "You've Got Mail." I reread Ballet Shoes last year and I like Theater Shoes better. It's a bit more realistic than Ballet Shoes and has some good background information on life in London during World War II. The characters were pretty cliched and the plot not exactly new or lively, but I felt connected to the main characters and wished them joy and success. I think this series is best appreciated by the target age group 9-12 year old girls.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Gallant Guardian by Evelyn Richardson -- Regency Romance
Maximillian Stanforth, Marquess of Lydon is shocked to receive an imperious summons by his new ward, Lady Charlotte Winterbourne, for he did not know he had a ward, let alone two wards, as Charlotte's letter suggests. Not wanting to be bothered with children, Max allows his solicitor to deal with the situation until Charlotte shows up on his doorstep and Max discovers she's not a child, but an intrepid young woman who is determined to keep her slimy relatives from locking away her "simple" brother and taking over the estate. Max decides to visit Harcourt and his wards and takes a liking to young William and bonds with the boy over their shared love of horses. Charlotte too intrigues Max and he is awed by how she has been able to care for her brother and look after the estate for her long-absent father. Max, unused to any any sort of family feeling is touched by the devotion the siblings have for one another and finds himself captivated by Charlotte and anxious to protect her body and soul. However, Charlotte is not used to help and has a hard time accepting Max's loving attention. While the story's ending is predictable, the plot reveals more depth than most Regency Romances. At first it seemed like the story was going to be cliched because of the wording and plot situations, but once I got into it, I found myself feeling for the characters. The backstory in this novel is rather sad and I found myself nearly in tears by the end. Max's way of showing Charlotte that they are meant to be together would have won me over! This is an unusual story and I recommend it to those who like more substance in their Regencies.

A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson -- YA Historical Romance
In 1912 England, Eighteen-year-old Harriet Morton lives a sheltered life with her strict, old-fashioned professor father and frugal aunt. Her father removed her from school when it was suggested that Harriet attend University and Harriet is not allowed without being chaperoned by her aunt or her aunt's dour lady friends. Her father wishes to marry her off to a boring young Zooology professor. Harriet's only real joy in life is ballet, though she's never been allowed to perform on stage. A Russian ballet master visits Harriet's dance class to recruit dancers for a ballet company tour of the Amazon region and specifically chooses Harriet, an honor she can only dream about because her father refuses to allow her to go. A visit to a rundown brings a chance encounter with a little boy who dreams of traveling to the Amazon and finding the lost boy, his hero, who used to live on the estate. When Henry hears of Harriet's ballet dream, he encourages her to follow her dreams and also to help him find the missing boy. Harriet devises a clever scheme and runs away to join the corps de ballet and is beloved by everyone she meets, especially Romain Paul Verney Brandon, alias Rom Verney, the wealthy British planter who happens to be the runaway boy now a grown man. Rom wants to protect Harriet from her foolish suitor who has come to claim her for her father and captures Harriet's heart forever. Harriet enjoys the blissfulness of being with Rom physically and spiritually for as long as she can for Rom's former love and sister-in-law is now widowed and on the brink of losing the estate Rom once called home. Rom fears Harriet will choose ballet over him and a misunderstanding may cause Harriet to disappear forever. This story is much more of a romance than some of her other books. The love story takes center stage and there is a closed-door love scene and mentions of being ravished. I couldn't find myself to like Harriet as a heroine because she is incredibly weak and helpless in addition to being pure and good. I felt sorry for her that she had such awful guardians and that some misunderstandings ruined her happiness. I thought it was strange that Rom first wanted to protect Harriet and then fell in love with her. As usual, there is more direct narrative than dialogue and Rom's backstory is revealed even before we meet him. There are some wonderful descriptions of the ballets performed and life in the corps de ballet. I could also picture Brazil from the details in the novel. This book isn't bad, it's just not my taste. I recommend it for romance fans in their late teens. Those who crave historical details over excessive romance, don't read this book.

The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap by H. M. Bouwman -- Middle Grades Historical fantasy

In 1775, a ship bearing 255 English prisoners headed for indentured servitude in Virginia was shipwrecked off the northeast coast of America. The prisoners that survived were helped by the native Colay people onto the main island of Tathenland and set up their own government as a colony of Great Britain. The Colay people were made subjects of the king and trade partners of the English Tahtenlanders and the two cultures coexisted peacefully for 12 years until Governor and Mrs. O'Kelly were killed and the Colay people blamed for inciting a rebellion. The Colay were banished to the outlying islands and the desert, but what the English didn't know, was that all the Colay men and boys were turned to stone statues. A Colay prophecy declares that a child born on the island of Sunset will be the one to save their people. When a baby boy is born, his rather unremarkable 12-year-old sister Lucy decides he will not become a statue and will grow up and save the Colay. Lucy and baby Rob set off on a mission to take the baby to safety. Meanwhile, the Child Governor Snowcap Margaret O'Kelly, a beautiful, spoiled 12-year-old, fears someone is trying to kill her and decides to escape the city. Sadly, Snowcap doesn't have anyone to turn to for help because her tantrums have exasperated and alienated everyone except the horse groom, Adam. When Snowcap and Lucy's journeys intersect, they must learn to trust in each other in order to survive. Together they continue on an amazing adventure that takes them through the woods where they are chased by wild dogs and up a mountain which descends into a steep cliff over the sea. The girls are helped along the way by Adam, and Philip, the foolish tutor, who listen to the girls' stories and share their own knowledge of the history of Tathenland. The girls discover that someone is trying to control the land and the land is angry as a result. It will take a great leader, a shaman, to right the wrongs and defeat the curse. Lucy and Snowcap realize that though they are young girls, they possess the knowledge and the courage to save Tathenland. Their journey takes them on a fantastic adventure before it's through. This story combines elements of magic with historical fact and teaches subtle lessons. It deals delicately with native/English relations and shows how history changes based on who is telling it. I think the lessons will be absorbed subconsciously by the reader and hopefully the reader will learn from it and consider applying the story of Lucy and Snowcap to real life. The magic element requires the reader to suspend disbelief but the magic is earth-based and realistic for the world in which the story is told. Snowcap and Lucy are both difficult to like at first but as they head further into danger and unknown territory, they grow and change and my attitude towards them shifted. I especially liked how the author fleshed out the history and culture of Tathenland through the writings of Philip and through the stories of the Colay. It made the world seem real and it wasn't hard to relate to real historical events. I couldn't put this fun book down and recommend it to girls 10+, especially Harry Potter fans who wish Harry was a girl!

Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Mattie and Sarah are two Mohawk sisters sent to the Carlisle Indian School in the early 1900s. Mattie tells Sarah to be brave and never cry, but it's hard to adapt and follow the school rules. Mattie excels in writing and makes a friend easily but Sarah has a harder time adjusting. Both girls are determined not to give up their heritage no matter what. Mattie is stubborn and defiant when the cruel headmistress accuses Mattie of stealing a broach. Mattie refuses to give in and Sarah must be especially strong for her sister. The story is told in blank verse poetry possibly reflecting the Mohawk language. There are some especially wonderful images of Mattie and Sarah's home and descriptions of their culture as they compare their new home to their old. This is a sad story about a terrible period in American History. I would especially recommend it as part of a school curriculum because the subject is important to know about. The story isn't particularly engaging as a novel.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson -- YA Historical Romance
Beautiful Ellen Carr is the daughter and niece of famous suffragettes and expected to become as brilliant as her foremothers before her. After refusing to marry the wealthy music lover Kendrick Fobisher, Ellen defies family tradition, attends domestic science college and takes a position as house mother and cook at an eccentric school for wealthy spoiled children in the Austrian countryside where her honorary grandmother had grown up. Though the children are labeled difficult, Ellen has little trouble getting them to worship her and is beloved by all the staff as well. Ellen is drawn to the enigmatic Marek, groundskeeper/fencing master, but then the Germans start marching, Marek's long-kept secret is exposed and he embarks on a dangerous mission to help right the wrongs of the world. Ellen and Marek are separated by the events of the war and circumstances lead them on different life paths encountering old friends and dangerous enemies. Ellen and Marek's story is heartbreaking yet inspirational. Ellen lives up to the family reputation for courage and becomes an admirable woman. As much as I prefer lighthearted stories, I can't really find fault with this one. I couldn't imagine how the story would end. The romance was bittersweet but I think much more real than in the typical romance novel. This novel is well-written though told from the third-person omniscient point-of-view, which is jarring at points with the narrator summing up the action rather than the reader being swept along with it. I love Ibbotson's books for young readers and though this one is entirely different in tone, I also found it to be a good read.

Kidnap Confusion by Judith Nelson -- Regency Romantic Comedy
At twenty-eight Miss Margaret Tolliver is on the shelf and not looking for romance. She lives an independent life with her eccentric Aunt Henrietta and Henrietta's pet rooster, Lazaurus and seldom visits her stuffy, pompous brother Charles in London. Her self-imposed exile has all but alienated her from her few friends in London, so when Charles writes that he'll be away, Margaret takes the opportunity to visit her friends in London. Sadly, Charles stayed home, laid up with gout and his overbearing ways send Margaret running back to Yorkshire, along the Great North Road, where she is mistaken for an actress and held up by two young men! The young men are Gillian and Peter Manfield, younger brothers and wards of Giles, Earl of Manseford. Gillian is often in one scrape or another and has been sent down from Oxford for pulling a prank on one of the nobs. Giles has imposed a period of study for Gillian and Gillian believes that Giles is in a bad mood because his ladybird has flown the coop. In order to save himself from six days of studying with his dull brother John, Gillian concocts a plan to kidnap his brother's mistress and bring her back, which will put Giles in such a good mood he will lift the Gillian's sentence. Unfortunately Gillian's reckless behavior endangers himself and his brother and puts Miss Tolliver in a difficult position. The Earl tries to do damage control by announcing his plans to marry Margaret, without consulting the lady! The Manfields, Margaret and their eccentric relatives all head to the Earl's home to save Margaret's reputation, however, Margaret doesn't care two figs about her reputation and wants nothing to do with the scheme and has no problems telling Giles what she thinks of him and his plans! Giles has difficulty dealing with Margaret so their nearest and dearest take it upon themselves to keep Margaret at Willowdale forever with nearly disastrous, but hilarious, results. This is a true romantic comedy in the tradition of Georgette Heyer. I laughed out loud in many places and wondered how Giles would manage to win Margaret's affections. My only real complaints are that much of the dialogue and action is summarized and the beginning of the story is a bit hard to follow when the rising action is interrupted by exposition. When the action picks up again, it moves right along with snappy dialogue and hysterical eccentric characters. This is a breezy, lighthearted romantic comedy with the usual predictable ending, but well worth a read.

The Voyage of the Continental by Katherine Kirkpatrick -- YA Historical Fiction Fed up with her life as a Lowell mill girl in 1866, Emmeline McCullough longs for a better life. She takes a spot with Asa Mercer and his flock of girls heading west to Seattle where she hopes to become a teacher. Emmy runs into problems before she even leaves the east coast and is taken in by a kind older woman named Ruby Shaw. During the long voyage around the continent, Emmy discovers things aren't what they seem: Mr. Mercer isn't a good businessman and someone is trying to kill Ruby and may be after Emmy next! Emmy discovers she has more strength and courage than she ever dreamed as the trip becomes more dangerous. She finally realizes who and what she is meant to be and is determined to live her own life. This is a great story about a little known historical event. The writing is excellent and Emmy's journal of the long voyage around South America is incredibly descriptive and you may even get seasick reading it. I could have done without the mystery plot but it helped form Emmy's character as well as demonstrated how difficult it was to be a woman in the 19th century. This book will appeal to adults as well as teens and is a good book to share with girls who may doubt their self-worth and those who have speech impediments like Emmy, who is a great role model!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Return to Georgette Heyer

Return to Georgette Heyer

Black Sheep

At 28 with a beautiful heiress niece soon to make her come out, romance is the last thing on Abigail Wendover's mind; she's even taken to putting on caps! Upon returning from visiting her middle sisters, Abby learns from her oldest sister that their niece Fanny has a new, charming beau. Abby isn't as easily won over as Selina and the more she hears about this Stacy Calverleigh, the more she is convinced that he is a fortune hunter. Abby becomes determined to put a stop to the romance without driving her headstrong niece into believing that she is the modern Juliet. After paying a call to old friends at their hotel, Abby learns that Mr. Calverleigh is also staying at the hotel and is determined to give him a piece of her mind. She is surprised to see that he is neither young nor a handsome dandy but middle-aged and a careless dresser, certainly not someone worthy of young Fanny. Abby lectures Mr. Calverleigh on the impropriety of courting a schoolgirl and Mr. Calverleigh pretends not to understand Abby as she gets more and more angry and flustered. When Abby discovers that the rude man is not Mr. Stacy Calverleigh, but his black sheep uncle, Mr. Miles Calverleigh, she is determined that he should control his nephew. Miles has other plans, however, and they include spending lots of time trading sarcastic remarks with the one woman who disregards family feeling as much as he! The more time Abby spends with Miles, the more she enjoys his witty manner and lack of social niceties. Alas, poor Abby is preoccupied by trying to prevent her niece's romance and the ill health of her hypochondriac elder sister, not to mention threats from her pompous older brother. Will Abby ever get her turn for romance or will Miles leave her life forever, taking all fun and pleasure away? This comedy of manners first attracted me to Heyer because of the not-so-subtle way she pokes fun at the conventions of the day. Abby and Miles mock the conventions with their witty dialogue and sarcastic humor. They perfectly understand one another and it's easy to see how and why they fall in love. There are very few couples in copy-cat novels who suit so marvelously. The secondary characters seem a little stereotypical, but their interactions with Miles and Abby are so much fun. While this is a comedy, the writing is mature and really makes the reader think about relationships and reconsider old prejudices. There is enough back story and plot details to satisfy readers who prefer more than fluff.

This is a great introduction to the witty style that Heyer is known for and of course I highly recommend it to everyone!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Merry Chase by Judith Nelson -- Regency Romance
Miss Drucilla Wrothton is 25 and unmarried but NOT on the shelf, thank you very much! If you ask her Aunt Hester, Dru is on her last prayers and in need of a good husband. Until now, Dru's mother has been content to allow Dru to follow her heart, however, the estate is entailed to any Wrothton heir and since Dru's brother died a year ago, Drucilla is the only one keeping her despicable cousins from inheriting. The Hovington cousins descend upon the Wrothtons to inspect "their" property with little notice bringing their dim-witted dandy son Percival, who is convinced Dru has a tendre for him. Dru manages to get rid of her cousins but her aunt won't give up the subject of marriage and insists on holding a ball to reintroduce Dru into Society after their period of mourning. Dru is determined to be miserable at the ball and enlists the support of her eccentric 30 year-old cousin Matty. Before Matty can arrive to save her, Dru manages to run afoul of their new neighbor, Mr. Crandon Pettigrew, the most hateful, odious man alive who not only insulted her and her horse, but had the audacity to laugh at her! Pettigrew's friend, Sebastian, Duke of Ratchford, is a true gentlemen with much more pleasing manners and manages to rescue awkward situations with finesse and humor. When Matty arrives, she unexpectedly makes the acquaintance of the gentlemen and quite understands her cousin's feelings. Meanwhile, the odious Percy thinks he's in love with Matte and won't leave her alone! And so begins a merry chase to true love. This is a true comedy of manners with a giggle on almost every page. Dru and Matte are unconventional and fun heroines. I rather liked Pettigrew better than Sebastian because Sebastian was just too kind and calm for me. The characters are all pretty much stock characters but the quick-witted dialogue and amusing plot more than make up for it. I loved this book and it's not to be missed for Jane Austen fans.

The Viscount's Vixen by Joan Overfield -- Regency Romance
Phillipa Lambert's motto is "better the shroud than the veil" and despises the "fashionable fribbles" of Society who never think of anything more than their waistcoats or drinking, gambling and wenching. Phillipa's lofty intellectual pursuits include studying politics and writing incendiary political tracts. The last thing she wants is a husband telling her what to do! Her best friend, the beautiful heiress Arabelle Portham shares Pip's interest in politics and has also seen fit to avoid being shackled with a husband, which is why Pip is shocked when Belle coolly announces her intention of finding a husband. Belle figures that she will choose a husband who is not very interested in politics so she can influence his opinion and become a great political hostess. She has set her sights on Alexander St. Ives, the new Viscount St. Ives, a handsome, charming rake. Pip is outraged even further when the Viscount begins to pay attention to her instead of Belle! Alex doesn't approve of Pip's hoydenish ways and sees fit to tell her so, frequently, which angers Pip. She can't understand why the Viscount is paying her so much attention until she learns that he has made a bet that he can charm her into attending the Prince Regent's Ball. Pip is determined that Alex will lose the bet but she doesn't count on him to be so honorable or so charming and her stubborn pride nearly costs her the one thing she never thought she wanted. I identified strongly with Pip and her feelings about the gentlemen of the ton and longing for something more than her existence on the fringes of society. I would have liked to have known more about Pip and her political interests and activities. Alex is an appealing hero most of the time but there isn't much back story so I felt like I didn't really know him very well. Some of the writing is cliched and repetitive (i.e "wolfish smile") and isn't very remarkable. This is a slightly above average Regency romance that I would recommend to those who like romances about strong, independent women.

A Lady of Letters by Andrea Pickens -- Regency Romance
Lady Augusta Hadley is too tall, too bony and too awkward to be of interest to the gentlemen of the ton. That's fine by her because she's not interested in marrying a mindless young dandy, she has more important things on her mind, like the issue of child labor. She writes radical inflammatory pamphlets under the name "Firebrand" as a way of airing her views since she is denied the opportunity to speak publicly because of her sex. She literally bumps into Alexander, the Earl of Sheffield, spilling lemonade all over his waistcoat, which causes him to violently swear at her. Though she is normally tongue tied in person, Gus responds with a sally of her own and walks away hoping to never see or hear from Sheffield again. Unfortunately, she keeps bumping into him and running afoul of his quick temper and hasty words, responding in turn with biting remarks of her own. When Alex discovers Gus is the sister of his late friend Edwin Hadley, he feels the need to apologize and tries to befriend Gus who wants nothing to do with the rakish Earl. The Earl feels wounded that Gus chooses to listen to gossip about him instead of talking to him, for he has cast of his wicked ways and decided to take up his seat in Parliament, speaking on the issue of child labor, influenced by the writings of his new hero, Firebrand! In order to learn more, Alex enters into a private correspondence with the unknown writer, signing his name "Tinder." Gus and Alex, as Firebrand and Tinder, develop a close friendship on paper, with Gus developing feelings for her kind gentlemen correspondent. When Gus decides to investigate the disappearance of some of the tenant children from her family's country home, she enlists Tinder's help, but trying to spare him from danger. Gus throws herself into a dangerous investigation, again running into the Earl of Sheffield, who wants to help her, unaware that she is his unknown literary friend. The two must overcome their differences in order to achieve their goal and find future happiness. The plot is similar to Crossed Quills by Carola Dunn, but not as excellent as that novel. Alex and Gus both have nasty tempers and are continually swearing at each other, which grows tiresome after awhile. I also find it hard to believe that the two took so long to figure out that they were pen-pals and the scene in which they do so is poorly contrived. There is also very little backstory for the characters and I'm left wondering how Gus's brother died. I would have preferred more character development than descriptions of what happens to Alex's anatomy when he clashes with Gus! The book is not a bad read, I really liked and admired Gus for having the guts to stand up for what she believed in, but the story was so improbable that I couldn't like it as much as I would have liked.