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.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Betraying Season

Betraying Season by Marissa Doyle

This book gets a special post so NineteenTeen followers and Marissa's fans can find it easily.
I finally got to read Betraying Season, after a very long wait since reading Bewitching Season. After Persy and Pen Leland save Princess Victoria, Pen feels guilty for not being able to help much in the rescue because she spent too much time on the delights of the Season and not enough time studying magic. Pen resolves study harder and heads off to Ireland to stay with her former governess Ally and Ally's new husband and professor father. Ireland proves to be cold and unfriendly at first. Because Ally is in an "interesting" condition and feeling unwell, Pen attends lessons with Dr. Carrighar, Ally's father-in-law, and the young gentlemen he teaches. The gentlemen resent Pen's presence and feel she is inferior because she's a woman. When the beautiful Lady Keating takes Pen under her wing, Pen is delighted to have a friend and a mother figure to help her navigate Irish Society. Lady Keating has an extremely handsome eligible son Niall who also takes a special interest in Pen. Lady Keating also seems to take an unusual interest in Niall and Pen. Pen enjoys visiting with the Keatings, especially Niall, but she wonders whether his flirtation is serious and how serious she wants him to be. As Lady Keating takes more of an interest in Pen and reveals her own magical secret, Pen is excited to learn more about the ancient Celtic magic that runs in Lady Keating's family and discovers Ireland suits her more than she ever dreamed. However, Lady Keating has a dark secret and requires more from Pen than she is willing to give. Magic is more present is this novel in new and different ways. Celtic mythology enters into the story and the characters accept magic in ways that are hard for me to accept, but that doesn't affect the writing or the story in any way. This is a suspenseful page turner. I couldn't put it down, I was so worried about Pen and how she would handle the situations she was placed in and the climax of the story had me breathless waiting to find out how it could possibly end happily. The images of Ireland and Irish magic are so well-described that anyone who is unfamiliar with them can easily form a mental picture of Pen's new life. Best of all, I think there's possibility for another sequel starring a new generation!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Viscount Vagabond by Loretta Chase -- Regency Romance
Catherine Pelliston, daughter of Baron Pelliston, wakes up from a drugged sleep to find herself prisoner in a bawdy house where she has been threatened with a brute named Cholly if she makes a fuss. Terrified, Catherine turns to the drunk, half-naked man in her room to beg for help. Surprisingly, the gentleman agrees to help! Poor Catherine fears she's gone from the pan to the fire when her rescuer takes her to his home. She preaches to him on the improprieties of the situation and manages to avoid her fate when her rescuer ends up passing out drunk. Hoping to avoid her rescuer, Catherine tries to sneak out the next morning, but is forced to make a formal introduction to her rescuer, Max Demowery. Fearing she will be sent back home to marry the drunken lout her father chose for her, Catherine lies about her name, but is forced to confess all to Max when she is left alone and friendless in London once again. Max, formally known as Lord Rand, decides to take Catherine to his sister, Louisa, Lady Andover, who had experience escaping an unwanted marriage. Louisa kindly allows Catherine to stay overnight until her adored husband can help her decide what to do. Lord Andover discovers Catherine is a distant cousin of his and Louisa becomes determined to bring out Catherine, but before she can learn her fate, Catherine sneaks out and again finds herself all alone in London. This time rescue comes in the form of a young street urchin, Jemmy, who helps Catherine get a job as a seamstress with his foster mother. In return, Catherine teaches Jemmy his letters and finally finds peace and happiness in her work. However, an angry, enchanted Max is determined to find Catherine and bring her back to his family. Catherine reluctantly goes along with Max, with Jemmy promising to keep an eye on her by ingratiating himself with Max's staff. Catherine enters society and becomes a reigning belle while Max takes up his position in Society as the heir of the Earl of St. Denis after a six-month binge of dissipation following the death of his older brother. Unfortunately for Catherine, she first met Max at his very worst and persists in believing he is a lost cause and takes every opportunity to moralize at him. Max finds Catherine's preaching endearing and when her ex-fiance shows up in London and is on the verge of discovering Catherine's secret, Max protects Catherine once again. Soon he falls madly in love, but fearing Max is a drunken bully like her Papa, Catherine rebuffs his attentions. Knowing when to quit, Max is soon enchanted by the beautiful Lady Diana Glencove and pushes his shy, bookish friend Jack Langdon into courting Catherine. When Catherine finds herself in danger again, the gentleman in her life dash to the rescue but only one can be the hero.Despite the unusual opening of this novel, I rather enjoyed it. The characters have a lot of depth and backstory which helps explain their actions and carries the romance along. Though Catherine looks fragile, she's capable of taking care of herself and she never loses her head or wrings her hands. I admired her pluck. I also liked Max once I learned his story and why he has been behaving the way he has. The romance is believable and sweet and the author doesn't get carried away describing feelings and emotions and lets the reader get swept along in the romance. I liked this book much better than the companion.

Nissa's Place by A. LaFaye -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction
This companion to Year of the Sawdust Man continues the story of Nissa Bergen, now nearly 13 and experiencing the trials of growing up without her Mama. Nissa's best friend has suddenly gone boy-crazy and Nissa's father and stepmother are arguing about her. When Nissa's Mama asks Nissa to join her in Chicago, Nissa decides she wants to go. In Chicago, Nissa's mother has reinvented herself: she's smart, creative, and capable of taking care of herself and Nissa. Nissa enjoys the attention, though Chicago is hard to get used to after living an entire life in small-town Louisiana. When Nissa's Papa and his wife come to visit, they have a surprise announcement and want Nissa to come home. Nissa's feelings are torn. She doesn't know how she will fit into her Papa's new life or whether she wants to go back home. She finally discovers a purpose and a project for her to help her on the path to becoming an independent woman like Mama. Nissa's project is controversial and she worries over how to be true to herself and when she finally comes to a solution, she discovers that some parts of growing up are not so bad. This is a wonderful sequel to a great novel. While it lacks some of the more vivid descriptions of the first, the metaphors are still lovely. I think many girls will be able to relate to Nissa's inner turmoil and her desire to remain the same while growing older. The plot drags on too long though and there are two separate plot lines and I think the author should have finished the book with Nissa's decision and then continued in the next book instead of summarizing the events in the last chapter. I recommend this to girls 12 and up.

The Strength of Saints by A. LaFaye -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction
Six months after we last saw her in Nissa's Place, Nissa Bergen is busy running the town libraries. The Depression is affecting her family and most residents of Harper, so when some Yankees come to town to build a cannery, the whole town is abuzz with excitement and dreaming of the possibilities. When the Yankees try to change things in the town, including hiring African-Americans to work alongside whites, it causes serious tension in town. Nissa begins to wonder if she has done the right thing creating separate but equal libraries and if she'll survive the venture. To complicate her life further, Nissa's best friend has discovered boys and Mama has suddenly reappeared in town to stay. Nissa must have the strength of saints to survive the year of change in Harper. With serious thought, determination and sheer pluck Nissa learns to be herself and become an independent young woman. This is a well-written coming-of-age story. This book lacks the beautiful metaphors and imagery of the first two, but Nissa's odd unchildlike voice is still present to contemplate the ups and downs of change. I enjoyed finding out what happens to Nissa and her family but didn't find this sequel to be as interesting and engaging as the first two books.

Maria Escapes by Gillian Avery and Scott Snow --- Middle Grades Historical Fiction
Until the age of 11, Maria lived with an elderly relative and a house full of servants. When her great-aunt's advisers insisted Maria go to school, Maria is sent off to boarding school where she is miserable. After being humiliated in front of the entire school, Maria decides to run away back home to Bath. She makes it as far as Oxford, where her uncle is the Warden of Canterbury College. When Maria tells him of her difficulties at school and how she's rather learn Latin and Greek, things most girls in 1875 don't learn, he agrees to let her stay on at the college and take lessons with Professor Smith's three boys. Thus begins Maria's adventures with the rowdy Smith boys and their eccentric substitute tutor, Mr. Copplestone, who is obsessed with bullfighting and doesn't care about things like rules! When Mr. Copplestone takes the children on an outing to the historic Jerusalem House, home of the Baron Fitzackerley, Maria becomes fascinated by an unidentified painting of a little boy. A game of truth-or-dare takes Maria and the older boys on a clandestine outing back to Jerusalem House where Maria uncovers an inscription in stone written by someone in 1654. Maria believes the inscription was written by Stephen Fitzackerley, the Baron's son and she is also convinced that he is the little boy in the unidentified painting. Maria is determined to do original research, solve the mystery and prove to her uncle that she belongs at Oxford. This book could be a good example of 19th century "girl power," but I feel that Maria is a little too timid and gives up too easily to be a truly interesting heroine. The Smith boys were much more appealing, though they were quite naughty. Mr. Copplestone is a wonderful eccentric character who brings the world of Victorian Oxford to life. This is a quick, light read for kids who might not like history but they'll learn something anyway without realizing it.

Maria's Italian Spring by Gillian Avery and Scott Snow --- Middle Grades Historical Fiction
A companion to Maria's Escape Maria has spent nearly two years at Oxford enjoying lessons with her uncle and becoming proficient in Greek. Maria's uncle dies suddenly and she's left all alone again. With the Smith boys off at school, she has no one to talk to. The kind Dr. Jessop introduces Maria to his shy, nervous daughter who takes a liking to Maria and shows Maria around Oxford Ladies' College, Maria's new school. When Uncle Hadden's cousin comes to take inventory of Uncle Hadden's library, he allows Maria to choose one book to keep for herself. Maria chooses a copy of the Odyssey in Greek and impresses Mr. Burghclare who decides to take Maria back to Italy with him to study the classics and learn from the great works of art. The journey to Italy is long and difficult and their lodgings in Venice are less than ideal, but Maria enjoys the scenery. Her companion, Mrs. Clomper, despises Italy and heads back to England without Maria. Soon though, the weather turns damp and cold and Mr. Burghclare drags Maria all around Venice without thought for her personal comfort, until she becomes very ill. Maria then moves to Mr. Burghclare's villa outside of Florence to recover in the sunshine. Mr. Burghclare is busy with his books and largely ignores Maria, which is fine by her. She's determined to be an invalid forever so she doesn't have to look at any more pictures. Maria wants to be reclusive and alone and feels no one cares about her. Maria soon learns that many people care about her, including the bold, nosy English girl and her sisters who live in another wing of the villa! Cordelia inspires Maria to be more brave and Maria must face her fears and make a decision about her future. Maria is an incredibly boring character. She whines a lot to herself but doesn't give new situations much of a chance or express her feelings to anyone. I preferred reading about Cordelia and wished the book was about her instead. Unless readers are dying to know what happens to Maria, skip this book.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Product Image Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? (Final Confessions of Georgia Nicholson) by Louise Rennison -- YA Contemporary Fiction

Georgia is on the rack of love once again. Massimo and Dave the Laugh are fighting over her and Georgia isn't sure what to do. She tries to impress Massimo with her "maturiosity" which causes problems when the Ace Gang get up to their old tricks. Meanwhile, her parents are acting even more mad than usual and the school is putting on an all girl production of Romeo and Juliet (or Rom and Jul as Georgia calls it) with Jas as Juliet. When the Stiff Dylans get some great news, Georgia must decide where her heart lies, whether she's ready to face a future with Massimo or just have fun with her mates. This is a funny but slightly bittersweet end to Georgia's confessions. I admit that I grew tired of her immaturity after awhile but in this final confession, she finally gains some "wisdomosity" and "maturiosity" which bring the story to a close.

The Devil's Delilah by Loretta Chase -- Regency Romance
This is a companion to Viscount Vagabond, which I did not read. Delilah Desmond is the daughter of the devil, or more precisely, a man the ton call Devil Desmond for his wild and wicked ways. Devil Desmond has written his memoirs which the publisher eagerly anticipates to keep him from ruin. Delilah accompanies her father to meet with the publisher at a country inn. She is determined to stop the publication of the memoirs before it has a chance to ruin her reputation and keep her from finding a husband. However, Delilah's reputation is already on the way to being ruined when the bookish Jack Langdon arrives at the inn and discovers Delilah holding a pistol to a man's head. In the ensuing tussle, Jack realizes he has improper feelings towards Delilah and that she's just assaulted his best friend's father. When Jack discovers that the Earl of Streetham mistook Delilah for a lightskirt, and the lady was defending herself, Jack is mortified and decides to take himself off to his uncle's to nurse his broken heart, as had been his intentions all along, but when the Earl discovers that Devil Desmond has written a memoir, he invites the Desmonds and Jack to his home. The Earl then sets his rakeish son to seduce Delilah into giving up the manuscript. Delilah decides she's going to allow herself to be caught by Lord Berne and make him marry her. Fearing for Delilah's reputation at the hands of his friend, Jack seeks to protect Delilah, which causes her to lose her temper at poor Jack. Jack retreats to the library where he accidentally happens upon Devil Desmond's manuscript hidden between the pages of a tome on Greek horticulture! Upon discovering Jack has the manuscript, Delilah sets herself to flirting with and annoying Jack to keep him from blurting out any secrets he may have learned. Delilah's father then realizes that Jack is the key to keeping the manuscript safe. Jack departs for his uncle's with the manuscript in tow and Delilah and her father head to her great-aunt's so Delilah can learn to be a proper lady before her first Season. Soon Jack is entangled in the Desmonds' affairs and lusting after Delilah, as is his best friend Tony, Lord Berne. The manuscript becomes lost and the entire cast of characters head to London to find it, or keep it from being found. There, Delilah is shunned by the ton for her parents' unconventionality, but soon finds an ally in Catherine Pelliston, Lady Rand, the wife of Jack's best friend. Jack, too, is willing to look up from his books long enough to realize he loves Delilah and needs to help her but Lord Berne's desires may trump Jack's good intentions. This is long, crazy complicated story filled with unsavory characters involved in trying to protect themselves. It's not a traditional Regency though it does have sort of a mystery plot. The author devotes a lot of time to Jack's baser instincts and Delilah's feelings, which isn't necessary. I have read plenty of excellent novels where the author manages to convey sexual tension without mentioning deeper feelings or emotions at all. It is unfortunate that the author chose to ruin her novel by dumbing down the plot that way. I really liked Jack when he was lost in his books but when he started thinking about Delilah as a woman, I didn't like him as much. Some of his actions seemed rather out of character for such a mild-mannered man. Delilah was an interesting character. She is strong-willed, hot-tempered and able to take care of herself, all qualities I admired. I did not like her when she felt remorseful and cried. That also seemed out of character. Overall, the plot was interesting, especially the twist at the end, but it would have been a lot better if the author could have written the book without describing the lesser feelings of men. Read this if you like romance novels but not if you prefer quality historic details over romance.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What I Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Dear Great American Writers School by Sherry Bunin -- YA Historical Fiction
In 1944, fourteen-year-old Bobby Lee Pomeroy longs to break free of the small Kentucky town she lives in and dreams of being a famous writer. She observes people in the town and writes down her thoughts in a notebook. She is particularly fascinated by Sylvia, the only Jewish girl in town and Thelma, an older girl whose mother is an invalid. When Bobby Lee comes across an ad for The Great American Writers School, a correspondence course for would-be writers, she thinks it's a dream come true and immediately sends a writing sample filled with the observations from her notebook. She's thrilled when the return letter says she has talent and is not daunted by the requests for money for the future lessons. Soon Bobby Lee begins writing regular letters to the wife? daughter? (she's not sure) of the editor at the Great American Writers School. During the year of writing, Bobby Lee learns some important things about writing, friendship and herself. Though Bobby Lee seems naive and immature for her age, she has led a sheltered life in a more innocent time so I found her voice realistic and honest for a girl her age. Bobby Lee's letters are funny and sweet as she reflects on life in a small Kentucky town. I enjoyed reading Bobby Lee's letters and seeing the world through her eyes. This is a good read for young teens and aspiring writers!

The Year of the Sawdust Man by A. LaFaye -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction
Growing up in a small Louisiana town in the 1930s, 11-year-old Nissa Bergen is impervious to the gossip that her mother is strange and a witch because Nissa adores Mama and Mama is Nissa's best friend. Sure Mama is different from the other starchy Bible-thumping ladies who frown on drinking nettle tea, bright colors, dancing in the rain and befriending "Colored" people, but that's what makes Mama special in Nissa's eyes. One Friday after school Nissa comes home to discover that her Mama has left for good. Nissa can't understand why her mother has left and worries that the gossip that Mama ran off with another man is true. Nissa tries to figure out why her Mama got dressed up on Sundays and came home smelling like sawdust and if Mama is with the Sawdust Man and is he taking good care of Mama? Nissa reflects on her close relationship with her mother and worries about her mother's love for her, her parents' love for each other and her father's growing interest in a local spinster. Nissa acts and reacts like a typical hurt and confused child, though she's often told she has the cares of an adult and is old before her time. Her father tries, with patience, to understand Nissa's feelings and help her come to terms with her new life. This is a beautifully written and well-crafted story. The images are so brilliant I can see them easily in my mind and I am convinced they must be based on real incidents because they are so detailed. Nissa is very believable and I could feel her pain and her struggle to figure out what happened and why. I didn't find Nissa whiny or bratty at all. Her father has the patience of a saint and I find him hard to believe and like Nissa, I have mixed feelings about Miss Ross. She seems nice and caring but unable to connect with Nissa. This is a wonderful book for ages 10 and up.

h Shay by A. LaFay -- YA Historical Fiction
For her entire 16 years Katherine Lunden has been dreaming of far-away places and leaving the Wisconsin farmland and railroad town behind. In 1869 however, girls are expected to stay home and help their families until they marry a local boy and start a family. Katherine is determined to avoid that fate and seizes an opportunity when she's sent to help family in Michigan and they never arrive at the train station. Discovering a battered old suitcase filled with wrapped gifts bearing the name "Edith Shay" and an address in Richmond, Virginia, Katherine is determined to return the suitcase to its' owner. First though, she must navigate the rough city of Chicago where a girl on her own has little opportunity for survival. Katherine's stubborn pride gets her through the tough times until she finds unexpected guardian angels wherever she goes. Katherine learns to appreciate her family and all her parents have provided for her but doesn't let go of her dreams and her wandering spirit. Katherine is an entirely likable and sympathetic character. I can definitely relate to wanting to travel and see what lies beyond one's small home town and I admired Katherine's spirit and determination. I couldn't put this book down, wanting to see what happened to Katherine next and find out if she finds Edith Shay. This is an interesting look at a time when women were beginning to move beyond the boundaries of their home. I think even modern teens can relate to Katherine and enjoy this novel.

A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction
In August of 1958, a Methodist minister and his family move next door to the formidable Mrs. Dowdel, the larger-than-life colorful Grandma from A Long Way From Chicago and a Year Down Yonder. The season's adventures are told through the eyes of 12-year-old Bob. The family is poor and their church building is in need of extensive repairs. Bob's 14-year-old Elvis-obsessed sister Phyllis is moody and grumpy all the time and his little sister Ruth Ann is only just six, and lives in her own little world. Bob worries about fitting in in his new school and secretly believes the Dowdel place is haunted and strives to stay far away from Mrs. Dowdel. Circumstances (involving bullies, fishing line and a privy) bring Bob to Mrs. Dowdel's attention and soon Bob finds his family interacting with Mrs. Dowdel frequently. Ruth Ann is fascinated by Mrs. Dowdel and imitates her every move, and together they boil up enough trouble to keep the whole town talking for months. Meanwhile, Dad's missing a congregation, Phyllis has found her own personal Elvis and is seldom home yet Mrs. Dowdel seems to know exactly what is going on and how to turn each negative situation into a positive one. Bob stays quietly in the background, observing while strange things happen next door and simple gifts appear in their lives. This is another great yarn from a master storyteller. Peck has a knack of creating larger-than-life characters and throwing them into equally outrageous situations. Mrs. Dowdel is as eccentric as ever and the minister's family is also charmingly quirky. Peck's style reminds me a lot of the movie A Christmas Story. This book is a bit more poignant than the previous two but still contains a lot of the humor Peck is known for. I quite enjoyed this adventure about Mrs. Dowdel and I hope she lives forever so there are more of them!

Calico Bush by Rachel Field with original wood engravings by Allen Lewish -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction/Classic
First published in 1931, this book tells the story of Marguerite "Maggie" Ledoux, a 12-year-old French orphan who is bound-out to a Massachusetts family as they head up the coast to settle in Maine. The journey is difficult and though Marguerite is treated kindly, the Sargent family do not understand or like Marguerite's French ways and Marguerite feels like an outsider. when the family reaches the Maine coast, they learn of the hostilities between the Indians and the local settlers. Neighbors encourage the Sargent's to settle elsewhere but Joel is determined to settle on the acreage he bought. During the first year of settlement, Maggie and the Sargents must learn to tame the wilderness and be strong and brave during difficult times. The far of Indian attack is always on their minds and it's up to Maggie to save the family she has grown to care for. Finally, Maggie must decide whether she is French or American or both and make a monumental decision about her future. This is a Newbury Honor book, though it may be difficult for modern readers to understand the historical usage of derogatory terminology used to describe the Indians and their traditional ways. Modern readers may also find the story slow and lacking in a cohesive plot. I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of the scenery and the struggles the family went through. I had a problem with the historical accuracy of the fashions, some of which belong to the 19th century instead of early 18th century. The same holds true for patchwork quilts, which were more common after the Industrial Revolution at the end of the 18th century. The story was interesting though very sad in some parts. I don't have any memories of reading this book as a child but I am certain I must have, therefore, it wasn't very memorable and I don't think it will be all that memorable this time around either. This book would be best enjoyed by older children and their parents.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Charming Impostor by April Kihlstrom -- Traditional Regency
Helena Stanwood is bored in Bath where she is forced to stay with her father's cousin Roberta while in mourning for her parents who died nearly a year ago. Nella convinces her friend Theodosia Elston to impersonate Nella's brother Bartram in order for the young girls to go out for a drive. Unfortunately, the joke is on them when the real Bartram shows up in Bath insisting on taking Nella back to Stanwood Oaks to keep her out of trouble. He agrees to take Theodosia along, as long as she meets with his approval. Once again, Nella asks her friend to be someone she's not - a prim and proper young miss - in order to fool Bartram. The plan works and they are on their way to the country when Cousin Roberta drops the news that her uncle, Nella and Bartram's grandfather, left a hidden treasure for his male heir to find and inherit. The young ladies quickly turn the house inside and out searching for clues. Their behavior offends the prissy Clarissa Cranely as well as Lord Thomas Holwell, the intended fiances of Bartram and Dosia. A crisis shows Bartram that Theodosia is not the flighty young miss he fears she is but neither is she the prim and proper young lady he first men - she's an impostor and a charming one at that! This is a quick, light read which combines the traditional Regency plot with comedy of manners. The characters are pretty well-developed and have good chemistry. Though I figured out the villain quickly, there are a number of red herrings that made me doubt my hunch. This is a good read for fans of both comedy of manners and traditional mystery plots.

Francesca's Rake by Lynn Kerstan -- Regency Romance
Galen Pender, Viscount Clayborn is happy with his rakehell existence until his domineering father threatens to cut him off unless he marries and produces an heir. His father even has a bride in mind, a woman who comes with a nice parcel of land. Clay's instinct is to rebel against his father and marry an unsuitable woman. At the posting inn on the way to London, he encounters a beautiful goddess who appears to be some sort of chaperon to a young minx and Clay becomes instantly smitten, however the lady wants nothing to do with Clay! The lady in question, Francesca Childe, is a 31-year-old bluestocking, illegitimate daughter of an Italian commoner! She and her mother were rescued from the streets of Naples by the Duke of Sotherton who married Francesca's mother and raised Francesca as his own. Francesca would like nothing more than to stay by her invalid father's side and read to him, but he sends her to London to chaperon her younger cousins during their first Season. Francesca knows that Clay's father has her in mind as a suitable bride for the Viscount and she intends to firmly snub the young man whenever she sees him, but Clay won't be ignored. This Regency is all about feelings. Clay lusts after Francesca and she tries to avoid her feelings about him. It would fall under Subtle Sensuality on All About Romance's Sensuality Rating Guide. The plot didn't interest me too much. It seemed repetitive and the characters never really take the time to think about anyone other than themselves and their own desires, however conflicting they may be. Francesca seems like she'd be an admirable character, I enjoy bluestockings, but I really couldn't like her very much. I think she would have been more interesting had she stayed at home! Read this if you like romance novels but not for period details and good plot.

Forest Born by Shannon Hale : Books of Bayern 4 -- YA Fantasy
Rinna's whole life has been spent in her beloved forest surrounded by her large, lively, loving family. She tries to blend in and be whatever is expected of her but deep down inside she knows something is different and potentially wrong with her. When she was a child, the trees offered comfort and allowed her to feel them deep inside. Now she is a teenager, and the trees no longer offer her the serenity she desires. In an effort to find her true home and rid herself of her problem, Rinna joins her brother Razzo and his girl Dasha in the city where she becomes waiting woman to the queen. Rinna feels a special bond with the little prince Tusken and takes on nurse maid duties, determined to protect the boy from another waiting woman whom Rinna does not trust. The King and Bayern's Own are called to the border of a neighboring country and are attacked by fire speakers. One man is killed and the King is injured. Determined to protect her country and her family, the Queen sets off with Enna and Dasha to journey to Kel. Rinna feels a special attraction to the other girls and sneaks off to join them. During their long journey, Rinna will learn things she never knew about herself and come to terms with her "otherness" and help rescue her friends and Bayern from an old enemy who wants them dead. This is a great sequel to the other Books of Bayern. Rinna is full of teen angst and when she leaves home for the first time, her feelings are similar to those of a real life modern teenager. She's the most realistic of Hale's heroines because of her emotions. The plot is suspenseful and the ending is different, leaving me wanting one more book about Rinna! I liked this book best after Goose Girl.

ownright Dencey by Caroline Dale Snedeker
-- Middle Grades Historical Fiction/Classic
This 1928 Newbury Honor Winner book is about a young Quaker girl on Nantucket in the 1820s. Dionis (Dencey) Coffyn is proud to be the descendant of one of the original founding Quakers of Nantucket and the daughter of a whaling ship captain. She tries to mind her mother while her father is away and follow the Quaker ways. When some of the local boys tease her about her darker skin tone, the teasing causes proud Dencey to react by throwing stones back at the boys. One stone hits an orphan boy, Sam Jetsam, and cuts him on the shoulder. Horrified, Dencey runs away but her conscience and her Quaker upbringing can not let her leave the incident alone. She sneaks off to the Commons to meet Jetsam and ask him to forgive her. He refuses her apology and her greatest treasure until she promises him her book, Pilgrim's Progress and reading lessons. Soon Dencey is sneaking off as often as possible to help Jetsam learn to read. The two try to outwit "Injun Jill," Jetsam's guardian who is jealous of Dencey and Jetsam's friendship and Jetsam's new skill. When the friendship is discovered, Dencey's will is tested and she must decide whether to obey her mother or her own feelings. One stormy evening, Jetsam's loyalty is tested and brings him to the notice of Dencey's family in a positive way. As the years pass, friendship grows into young love and the two friends must chart their own paths in life, either separate or together. This was a difficult book to read for a number of reasons. First, before the plot moves forward, it goes back in time, covering Dencey's family history and her earliest childhood memories, then it goes back to the main story. It also seeks to accurately (?) portray Quaker life of the early 19th century in all it's simplicity including plain speech. The book also contains a number of racial and ethnic slurs which are not considered appropriate by today's standards. This book should not be read through a modern lens but appreciated for it's historical value.

Plain Girl by Virginia Sorensen -- Middle Grades classic
Esther is a young Amish girl growing up in Pennsylvania in the mid-20th century. She has always trusted her parents to teach her the ways of their people, but when the school board demands Esther be sent to school, she worries about being with non-Amish children and what that means for her beliefs. Her older brother Dan went to school and then he went Away (from the Amish). A pretty girl in a pink dress at school wants to befriend Esther and Esther wants to be friends with the girl but doesn't know if she should. Is wanting to be friends with someone outside the Amish culture the first step Away? Esther ponders the problem and begins to question the rigid beliefs of her family in this classic story. This book nicely explains the strict Amish beliefs and raises many good questions. The story moved a little slowly in the beginning but picked up after a few chapters. I would recommend this to girls interested in Amish culture in addition to Lois Lenski's Amish Girl.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

he Dragon Princess by E.D. Baker -- Middle Grades Fantasy
This installment of The Tales of the Frog Princess continues the story of Emma and Eadric fifteen years after we last saw them. This time, the unconventional heroine is their daughter, Millie. At 15, is a typical teen, she loves hanging out with her friends and believing her parents don't understand her. She is desperate to find a husband but keeps scaring off her suitors due to the unfortunate tendency to turn into a dragon whenever she loses her temper! When Millie does the unthinkable and shows her true self to her magic-hating paternal grandparents, Millie is advised by the witch Mundine to seek out the Blue Witch for advice on how to control herself. While her parents are preoccupied fighting sea monsters, Millie sets off on a journey to the icy mountains of the far north accompanied by her wannabe knight cousin Francis and her best friend Zoe, the vampire as well as a two-headed troll. Their adventure takes them to the top of a frozen mountain where they are attacked by an army of snowmen. Millie needs to use her strength and skills to help save herself and her friends and learn how to harness her inner dragon. This is a light, fun adventure but not as charming as some of the earlier books in the series. The ending was somewhat unfulfilling but I know there's another volume on the way soon. I most enjoyed learning what happened to the characters from the previous books in the series and seeing how their children are following in their footsteps while trying to maintain their own identities.

Hidden Voices: The Orphan Musicians of Venice by Pat Lowery Collins -- YA Historical Fiction
In early 18th century Venice, the three narrators belong to the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage which trains girls with extraordinary musical talent. Growing up in the Ospedale della Pietà often feels like a prison for pretty Rosalba, who dreams of love. Anetta is happiest caring for the babies in the nursery. Lucia longs for the love of her mother, a courtesan. The three girls look after each other and stand up for one another in the rigid orphanage/school environment. Anetta especially worries about Lucia and feels an overwhelming need to have Lucia by her side to protect her. Rosalba is rebellious and schemes to leave the confinement of the Pietà and find her mythical dream lover which eventually leads to trouble. Anetta struggles with her feelings for Lucia when Lucia is struck by a terrible illness and sent away to recover. Through it all the friends strive to achieve the very best in their musical professions, helped by the kindly, but absent-minded Father Vivaldi. This is a coming-of-age teen novel set against the backdrop of Venice. The vivid descriptions of the city are wonderful as well as the details of the music school and life at the Ospedale della Pietà. While the historical details are wonderful, I found the story somewhat difficult to read. It was hard to keep track of the different narrators because they all sounded the same to me. They were naive and whiny and self-entitled, typical teenagers, I suppose, but I expected more about their music and schooling and thought Vivaldi would be a greater presence in the novel. Instead, the plot seems unrealistic and overly full of difficult issues which are more common in novels set during the present day. The drama overpowered the story of the three girls coming-of-age in this music school in 18th-century Venice. This book could easily end up being challenged in some schools for the mature content. The book should come with a CD so the reader can listen to the magnificent Vivaldi compositions mentioned in the novel.

Man of Her Own Choosing by Nina Pykare -- Regency Romance
Linnet Hungerford and her beautiful, beloved sister Fanny have been left orphaned with very little money under the infrequent care of a guardian who reminds them to live "abstemiously." Linnet is happy in the country raising horses but believes Fanny should be taken to London for a Season to find a wealthy husband. When Linnet, disguised as a stable boy, rescues the handsome Lord Henry from a carriage accident, she quickly realizes that he could be the one for Fanny and brings him home to meet the Hungerford sisters. Stephen discovers Linnet was the stable boy and expresses his disapproval of Linnet's behavior and Linnet soon realizes that the high-handed Stephen is not the right man for Fanny. Stephen manages to make the sisters feel at ease and promises to persuade their guardian to bring them to London. He quickly makes good on his promise and the sisters come to London and find that their guardian, Stephen's uncle has passed away and Stephen has inherited the guardianship of the Hungerford sisters! He insists that Linnet make her come out along with Fanny and when Linnet disagrees, he threatens to withdraw his sponsorship of Fanny. Forced into accepting a Season, Linnet still finds all the men dead bores except for Stephen's best friend whom Linnet thinks will make an excellent husband. Stephen seems to disagree with Linnet's assessment because the two are continually coming to cuffs and Stephen seems determined that each of the sisters will marry a man of her own choosing. The happy ending arrives fairly smoothly without much romance or drama. Linnet spends much of the book putting herself down and crying, which make me want to strangle her when I would otherwise like her and empathize with her feelings about the Season. Stephen has a hot temper and can be controlling and manipulative and I fail to see how that makes for a good relationship. I was also bothered by the serious breaches in correct behavior in the first chapter, some which were not deliberate. This is a fairly tame Regency without much plot or original characterization. Skip this one if you're looking for another Georgette Heyer.

he Sealed Knot by Elizabeth Law -- Traditional Regency
The heroine of this novel, Sparrow Harvey, is a young woman who knows her own mind and has been brought up to ignore conventions. When Sparrow first encounters the hero, Simon Adair, he is accosting a young urchin to whom Sparrow has just dropped a wrapped parcel. Needless to say, it sets Simon and Sparrow off on a path of banter and bickering over each others' behavior. When Sparrow's father breaks his leg trying to ride an untamed stallion, Sparrow learns that this incident is only the latest in a series of bad luck and she is determined to find employment to help pay their creditors. Sparrow first thinks she'll earn her living as a temporary governess, but has difficulty finding a position that would meet her terms. Then Sparrow comes across a young woman in distress; Marie Sinclair has lost her lover - literally! Adam Stuart left Marie to visit his great-uncle in Scotland and hasn't been heard from since. Marie hires Sparrow to go undercover to Scotland and find Adam. Sparrow lies to her family and to Simon about her real reasons for going to Scotland and heads off to the wild moors and is taken in as a companion for Lady Agnes Stuart. Sparrow uncovers some terrible family history and tries to figure out who Marie's Adam is and how the handsome, flirtatious young tutor Charles Roe fits in. Soon she discovers a plot that extends beyond a mere romance and threatens the monarchy. Sparrow must decide what to do about it and figure out if she can trust Simon, who has unexpectedly turned up in Scotland on the arm of a beautiful woman. The intrigue plot is a bit complicated for an American who doesn't know much about Scottish history. A sharp reader could probably figure out the mystery but that doesn't take away from the amazing descriptions and witty banter. I loved the dialogues between Simon and Sparrow but as in most traditional Regencies, the romance is rather light. The back jacket indicates that this was to be the first in a series featuring Sparrow and Simon which could explain the lack of conclusion in their relationship. Unfortunately, I can not find evidence that the author wrote more books about Sparrow and Simon which is a pity because I enjoyed their witty back and forth banter. This is a great read for those who love the traditional plots and for those who like witty dialogue.