Thursday, December 30, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Darcys Give a Ball : A Gentle Joke Jane Austen Style by Elizabeth Newark -- Austenesque Fiction
Charlotte Collins has been married to Mr. Collins of Pride and Prejudice for 25 years and born him five living children. The family lives at Longbourn and Charlotte does the best she can to cope with the life she chose. Most of her children take after their father, but the youngest boy and youngest girl are promising. Jonathan is a quiet, studious fellow who studies bugs and Eliza is a plain, but cheerful girl with a sense of humor. On his way home from Oxford, Henry Darcy, younger son of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, stops at Longbourn to see his mother's childhood home and meet the cousins he has never seen. Henry, ever the romantic, is instantly smitten with the charming Eliza who likes books, cats, bugs and of course, Henry. The Darcys are shocked by Henry's interest in a Collins and his younger sister Juliet's tendre from an unsuitable gentlemen. Whatever is one to do when one's children insist on forming unsuitable romantic alliances? Why, throw a ball and introduce them to new people, of course! The Darcy's ball serves as a stage for the offspring of Austen's most memorable characters to fall in and out of love and experience all the thrills and danger that young people enjoy so much. Spoiled Juliet Darcy especially needs a lesson in behavior from her cousin Eliza before it's too late and she ruins the Darcy name forever. This is a lighthearted, fluffy, amusing book which reads like fan fiction. I enjoyed it as a piece of fan fiction and recommend others do the same. Do not try to analyze the timeline or be shocked at the characterization of Elizabeth or you will not like this book. Look elsewhere for quality historical fiction and enjoy this "gentle joke."

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly -- Young Adult Fiction
Andi Alpers lives with her artist mother in contemporary Brooklyn, is a genius,  attends a prestigious prep school and is musically talented. Andi is also deeply troubled. Her little brother died two years ago and Andi blames herself. Andi's father walked out and her mother, unable to cope with her grief, has gone crazy. Andi feels the burdens of grief and guilt and drowns her troubles in drugs (legal and otherwise) and music. Music is her saving grace and the only thing she shows an interest in, but even that isn't enough to keep her from giving up. When her father discovers Andi's problems, he sends her mother to a hospital and whisks Andi off to Paris for winter break where he insists she work on her senior thesis. While her father, a geneticist, and their host, a famous historian, set out to solve the mystery of little Prince Louis-Charles, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette who is said to have died a horrible, lonely death locked inside a prison tower. Andi makes a deal with her father that she will finish her thesis outline on the influence of 18th century composer Amadé Malhbeau to current rock musicians by Sunday if her father will let her return home. When all seems hopeless and Andi is about to give up again, she makes friends with some Paris musicians. She is especially drawn to the rapper Virgil whose words, love of music and kindness go a long way to helping Andi. Andi also becomes absorbed in a secret diary she found locked in an antique guitar case which tells the incredible story of a remarkable young woman during the French Revolution who did all she could to survive and then gave up her own safety to try to rescue the little prince. Alexandrine's story parallels Andi's own and she Andi feels connected to the her and to the boy, who was the same age as her brother when he died. The 18th century comes alive for Andi in unexpected ways and she discovers important things about herself and being a survivor. This book is more about Andi and her issues than it is a historical novel. It does cover the French Revolution but not the way I expected. Reading Alex's diary alongside Andi is a poorly executed plot device. It's a little slow and though I was dying to find out what happened to Alex, I thought the story would have worked better if Alex's narrative alternated with Andi's as part of the overall story. The last 1/3 of the book is a little strange but I don't really have problems with the plot. My biggest problem is that the story gets rather political and draws parallels between the past and present. I would have left an intelligent reader to draw their own parallels and take away what they wanted from the book. The writing is mostly good but the lengthy sections of lyrics are off-putting and slow down the narrative.  This is definitely a book for older teens/young adults and those who may be able to relate to Andi.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

image © Heinemann 1950
The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer -- Georgian Romance

One of Heyer's early Georgians, this book takes place after the Battle of Bunker Hill. The story opens with the proud Winwood family rejoicing over the Earl of Rule's proposal to Elizabeth. Rule is wealthy and the Winwoods have lost their money to gambling debts owing to the "Fatal Tendency" of the Lords Winwood (late father and son). However, Elizabeth is unhappy because she wishes to marry a mere soldier. Charlotte, the middle sister, refuses to take her sister's place and sacrifice herself to marriage. Youngest sister, Horatia, known as Horry, is willing to do whatever it takes to see her sister happy and that includes marrying Lord Rule even if she has to propose to him herself. Young, stammering Horry manages to capture the attention of the Earl and finding her charming, he agrees to her terms of marriage: 1) Rule will help Elizabeth's soldier and 2) Neither Horry nor Rule will interfere with each other once married. Horry didn't count on falling in love with the Earl and hating his mistress. The spirited Horry decides to befriend the dangerous Lord Lethbridge, after her friends and family tell her not to, because she hopes to make the normally placid Lord Rule jealous. Horry, being afflicted with the Fatal Tendency, very much wants to gamble with Lethbridge but when he names his terms, Horry finds the stakes are higher than she was prepared to deal with. Lord Rule's meddling cousin and heir also tries to make trouble between the married couple and Rule is constantly obliged to pull Horry's ne'er do-well brother out of debt. Will Rule get tired of the drama and divorce Horry or will he rouse himself to rescue her and value her as he should? This is not one of Heyer's better novels, in my opinion. Having already read April Lady and Friday's Child, the plot felt tired and the dialogue less charming and witty and more silly. The Georgian fashions are described in meticulous detail but are difficult to follow for someone who isn't familiar with all the French fashions. The plot picks up about 3/4 of the way through the book and I found the last chapter amusing. Until then, I found the book slow and uninteresting and the dialogue terrible. Lord Rule is kind of intriguing because he's quiet and isn't active in many of his scenes. Horry seemed liked she'd be charming but I found her stammering made her dialogue difficult to read and I just didn't like her behavior from the time she was married until the very end. I'm not fond of stories about marriages of convenience to begin with though or teenage heroines. If you prefer the screwball comedy of The Grand Sophy or Frederica or the grown-up romance of Venetia, then skip this one. If you loved Friday's Child, April Lady or Cotillion then you will probably enjoy this as well.

 © Heinemann, Australia 1951
The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer -- Regency Romance

Gervase, the Seventh Earl of St. Erth returns to his ancestral home after successfully surviving the wars much to the dismay of his ambitious step-mother and spoiled half-brother Martin. His cousin and agent, Theo, is pleased to see Ger as is Druscilla Morville, a neighbor and sometimes companion to Ger's step-mother. Ger is quiet and doesn't fight back, therefore his step-mother thinks she can continue to rule the household with an iron fist and send the Earl running for one of his other properties. She hasn't counted on the fact that Gervase didn't survive the war by being weak. He fights back with quiet dignity and a witty manner that wins Druscilla's heart as she attempts to rescue him from someone who may wish to kill him. Gervase, however, doesn't see any cause for alarm and he's quite taken with his beautiful neighbor, Marianne Bolderwood. Both Martin and Ger's friend, Lord Ulverston are both charmed by the pretty coquette and handle their infatuations quite differently. As Gervase and Martin clash over property, authority and ladies, Ger begins to think Martin may be trying to kill him after all and there may be more to the plain Miss Morville than her lack of good looks. This novel has everything to please Heyer's fans: excitement, mystery and romance. Though Gervase is quiet, he's no less dashing and charming than the Corinthians or Bucks. He's very bright and his witty sense of humor is sophisticated, funny and charming. My favorite character is Druscilla.  I adore her parents and wish I could know them and I like her for being practical and sensible. The rest of the characters are fairly stereotypical and the plot is classic Heyer. It's too bad everyone else copied her because the plot does feel a bit cliched but Heyer was such a great writer that she could plan red herrings and make things seem different from what they are. This is a great traditional Regency novel from the master of the genre!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What I've Read This Week

 What I've Read This Week . . .

Regency Christmas Wishes by Barbara Metzger, Emma Jensen, Sandra Heath, Edith Layton and Carla Kelly -- Regency Romance 

This volume of Regency Christmas-themed novellas includes "The Lucky Coin" by Barbara Metzger, "Following Yonder Star" by Emma Jensen, "The Merry Magpie" by Sandra Heath, "Best Wishes" by Edith Layton and" Let Nothing You Dismay" by Carla Kelly.

In "The Lucky Coin," Sir Adam Standish is down-on-his-luck through no fault of his own. He needs a loan or a miracle to help him save his beloved estate. After confiding his woes to a stranger on the stage, the stranger gives Adam a lucky coin. At first there's nothing very lucky about the coin, but then Adam meets his Christmas Angel, a beautiful young woman who inspires him to protect her from a villain. Then Adam finds that his lucky coin may help him save the estate after all but will it win him his true love? Barbara Metzger is one of my favorite authors in the genre and this story is no exception. It's light, fluffy and improbable but a good read. I especially enjoyed this story and consider it my favorite of the collection.

"Following Yonder Star" is slightly more serious. Eight years ago, Gareth Blackwell, the younger son of an Irish Earl, went off to sea and hasn't returned to Ireland since. Eight years ago, Alice was left with a broken heart when Gareth went away. Now she cares for his family home and looks after her spoiled younger sister, now the Countess of Kilcullen. Gareth returns, reluctantly, after his brother's death, to await the birth of his brother's child. Should the child prove to be a girl, then Gareth is the new Earl, a role which he does not relish. Gareth finds Alice older and less feisty than she was but still beautiful and loving. In helping Alice with her duties, he comes to care for her even more. Alice discovers that Gareth has grown into a solid, caring man and she is determined to show him the value of their home. I liked this story because it feels like a rewrite of Persuasion and a well-done one at that. Gareth and Alice are nicely rounded characters who seem mostly realistic. Alice is a bit saintly, like Anne Eliot, but not in an obnoxious way. The secondary characters are a bit stereotypical but provide the comic relief. If you like more substance in your romance stories and love Persuasion, this is the best pick for you.

"The Merry Magpie" is an even more serious story featuring an estranged married couple.  Sir Charles Neville married his childhood sweetheart while his friends were still busy sowing their wild oats. A slight feeling of jealously led to weakness which led to his taking a mistress. He thought he could hide his misdeed from his beloved wife, but her aunt's pet magpie uncovered the secret and Charles was banished from his wife's family home. Now, six years later, Charles has returned from India more mature and wiser and ready to make amends. He wonders whether he'll be welcome at Marchgrove Park and if his beloved Juliet will take him back. Juliet's scheming aunt and her tipsy magpie interfere sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. This is one of the weaker stories in the collection. I fail to understand Charles's excuse for cheating on his wife. I commend Juliet's actions because usually in Regency stories, the wife is supposed to accept her that her husband has strayed. However, Juliet's reaction is very modern and I'm not sure it's entirely accurate. I felt sorry for her and wished more of the story had been from her point of view. The magpie character is silly and doesn't add much to the plot other than the initial disaster. I neither loved nor hated this story. It just isn't my favorite.

"Best Wishes" is a similar story about a married couple experiencing their first discord. Pamela, Lady Rexford refuses to attend a Christmas house party at the home of her husband's former mistress.  Jonathan wants to introduce Pamela to more people from Society and what better way than to attend a house party, however, Pamela is jealous of her husband's past relationship and has heard a lot of gossip about the hostess and her guests. Pamela wishes to return home to her family for the holidays and resents that Jonathan accepted an invitation without considering her wishes or consulting her. Jonathan doesn't want to visit Pamela's family where he will be an outsider. Finally, the couple decides to compromise and spend half the week with the Fanshawes and half with Pamela's family. When the time comes, neither is as happy as they believe they should be and continuously quarrel and make up. The story is very repetitive and slow moving. I had a hard time getting through this one and consider it my least favorite.

"Let Nothing You Dismay," the final story in the collection, is very unique. Lord Trevor Chase is a London barrister who insists on staying in London for the holiday to take a deposition. His solicitor is loathe to leave Lord Trevor alone but has family to visit. Lord Trevor makes a desperate wish on a star for someone to save him and thus begins the story. The heroine, Miss Cecilia Ambrose was born to unknown parents in Egypt and raised by a family of missionary philanthropists. In England she feels out-of-place and mostly sticks to Miss Dupree's Select Academy for Young Ladies in Bath where she is a teacher. This Christmas, Cecilia has been asked to escort one of her pupils, Lady Lucinda Chase, back to her home. Cecilia wishes to have a chat with Lucy's mother about Lucy's depressed behavior since learning of her older sister's engagement. After that, Cecilia thinks she will return to Bath. However, a family emergency requires Cecilia to stay and help Lord Trevor to care for his nieces and nephews. Cecilia is in awe of Lord Trevor, the famous barrister who takes on sordid cases that make exciting news stories. Cecilia isn't shy about telling Lord Trevor what she thinks of him, and he finds her a refreshing and intriguing companion. A house fire forces the family to move to the Dower House, where it is hoped the children will stop squabbling and mend their ways. Something draws Cecilia and Lord Trevor to confide each others' deepest secrets to each other. Lord Trevor reveals how he came to be the black sheep of his family by representing underprivileged children and the mistake he made in his past that haunts him to this day. As Christmas moves closer, Lord Trevor withdraws from the family and the children elect Cecilia to help draw him out and keep him from his demons. This story is darker and more serious than any of the others but no less romantic. Carla Kelly always creates interesting heroines and Cecilia is no exception. The romance is believable and sweet but there is first the hurdle of past demons to battle and that plot is what really makes the story. The writing is excellent and thought the message is a bit corny, it's not as heavy handed as some other holiday stories in the genre. This is an absolute must-read for fans of more serious, mature romances. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

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.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Ten Things I Love About You by Julia Quinn -- Regency Historical

Annabel Winslow is visiting her grandparents in London in order to find a wealthy husband to save her family from poverty. Her grandfather wants to marry her off to his friend the fat, grotesque, elderly Earl of Newbury. Annabel's grandmother is philosophical and points out the Earl is likely to die, leaving Annabel a wealthy widow. The Earl desires Annabel for her full chest and large hips he is certain signify her ability to provide him with the heir he so desires. His current heir, Sebastian Grey is a notorious rake and not on speaking terms with his uncle. Sebastian Grey, home from the wars, spends his nights reliving the horror of war and his days eating his beloved cousins Edward and Harry out of house and home. He also has a secret: he writes Gothic romance novels to pass the time and make a bit of money. No one suspects him of being the popular female author and Sebastian would like to keep it that way. A chance encounter between Annabel and Sebastian awakens Annabel to her dreadful fate. She's charmed by the roguish but poetic Sebastian and he finds himself opening up a bit to her and provides her with the passionate kiss she desires before being forced into a loveless marriage. They part without learning each other's names, however, until Harry's wife Olivia takes Annabel and her cousin Louisa under her wing. As Sebastian and Annabel encounter each other, they become the talk of the town as Sebastian's charming ways catch the notice of the ton. Lord Newbury seems to give up on Annabel, causing her to have mixed feelings. When Sebastian pretends to court Annabel to repair her reputation, the Earl decides not to let her go without a fight. Annabel becomes caught up in a love triangle and torn between fulfilling the passion that burns in her heart or doing her duty to help her family. The story plays out slowly and drags on forever, coming to a ridiculous conclusion. I felt sorry for Annabel and wanted her to find happiness but not quite in the way it happens. The passion in this story is way overblown but the steamy parts can be skipped because they don't move the plot forward. The plot is wrapped up too neatly with no good reason for the villain to withdraw. None of the characters learned anything or grew as a result of the plot. The language is modern and makes the book all that less appealing. Olivia is a great character and I almost want to read her story but I didn't like the way the book was written so I probably won't. Skip this book if you like well-written, fun, witty books.

The Family Greene by Ann Rinaldi -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction
The family Greene referred to in the title is that of General Nathanael Greene, second-in-command to George Washington during the American Revolution. (see my post about my visit to his home). The first half of the book is told from the point-of-view of a young woman named Catherine Littlefield. Caty, as she was called, is a spoiled, wealthy girl growing up up on Block Island, an island off the coast of Rhode Island. Her mother died when she was young so when it comes time for her to learn to be a young lady, she is sent to live with her Aunt Catherine Greene to learn all the things she knows to become accomplished. Aunt Catherine, who was once rumored to have had an affair with Benjamin Franklin, teaches Caty the art of flirtation. She informs Caty that flirtation is the only form of power women have over men and there's a way to do it right that will get a lady what she wants. Caty catches the eye of an older, kind relative of her uncle's, named Nathanael Greene. Caty and Nathanael become friends as he helps guide her on her journey to adulthood. They marry once Caty is of age and soon he has defied his faith and joined General Washington in the conflict against the British. After the war, Cornelia Greene, daughter of Caty and Nathanael, takes over the narrative. She loves her father and their life on a South Carolina plantation, but her world changes when her spiteful older sister informs Cornelia that Cornelia was conceived at Valley Forge where their mother had carried on a flirtation with General Anthony Wayne, therefore Nathanael Greene is not Cornelia's father. Cornelia is shattered by the news and confronts General Wayne. Her tells her that respect for her mother is more important than the truth and refuses to tell her. The secret worries Cornelia for the rest of her teen years, as does her mother's behavior, which grows increasingly cruel to her children and more flirtatious with her gentlemen friends. General Wayne takes Cornelia in hand and treats her like a daughter to show her how to grow up to be an intelligent and respectful adult. The plot concludes at the end of Wayne's life when Cornelia finally receives the answer to her question. The story is about an internal struggle with no external struggle to mirror it and therefore, the book lacks the depth and excitement of Rinaldi's early works. There's no action to move the plot along and many of the events are summarized and the rest is dialogue. I didn't feel anything for the characters, despite the ties to my home state. If anything, I couldn't stand Caty and found Cornelia a bit bratty. I wouldn't recommend this book to Rinaldi's adult fans.

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Regency Christmas Courtship by Barbara Metzger, Edith Layton, Andrea Pickens, Nancy Butler and Gayle Buck -- Regency Romance Christmas novellas

This Christmas collection contains five Regency-set Christmas stories. The strongest stories are the first three "Wooing the Wolf", "The Dogstar" and "Lost and Found." In the first, Margaret Todd, a lady's companion, takes in her two orphaned nieces for the holidays. Not having anywhere else to go, they move in next door to Wolfram House as the owner is not in residence. The servants of Wolfram House enjoy the Christmas spirit with the two little girls much more than John, Viscount Wolfram is enjoying his holidays. Having grown bored with his latest mistress, Wolf tries to end the relationship, but the lady reacts violently and Wolf's face and pride are wounded. Arriving home with his tail between his legs, Wolf discovers the holiday cheer happening in his home and roars. Capable Margaret handles the situation well and John can't help but be charmed by her beauty and sensible nature so he allows her and her wards to stay on. Young Katherine and Alexandra love their new home and wish to stay there with their beloved aunt forever, so borrowing a pamphlet on courtship from Wolf's desk, they set to work trying to woo the Viscount for their aunt. In doing so, the girls create chaos and wreak havoc on Wolf's orderly life. By Christmas, he's at his wit's end and all hope of a marriage seems lost, but the girls have one last scheme in mind and Wolf finds himself charmed beyond his wildest imaginings.

In Dogstar, a lonely little boy travels to London for the holidays and picks up a stray dog along the way. Upon arriving in London, he's met with two adults who wish him to spend the holidays: his mother's old school friend Miss Laura Lockwood and his late father's friend Viscount Falconer. The imperious Viscount doesn't want Alex's dog and clashes with Laura about where Alex should spend his holidays. Laura's kindness wins out and Alex heads home with her to her lodgings. Alex doesn't care that Laura is very poor, he's happy to have a place to belong and his dog by his side. Sebastian, Viscount Falconer unbends a bit and agrees to spend time with Alex and Miss Lockwood sightseeing. The dog Pompey tags along and it becomes apparent that this is no ordinary dog when he charms everyone he meets, including the beats at the menagerie. Sebastian enjoys the time spent with Laura and Alex and is reluctant to let them go, however, he gets the wrong impression about Laura's background and offers her an indecent proposal, which she promptly refuses. It seems like Alex is about to return to his lonely life but Pompey does his best to provide Alex with the merriest Christmas ever. Both stories feature strong, independent heroines who are realistic and easy to relate to. The heroes are both rather snobby and rude but have kind hearts underneath. The children are cute without being obnoxious and both stories are heartwarming.

In "Lost and Found," Lord Nicholas Moreton's father demands his presence in London for Christmas where Nicholas will pay court to an influential foreign count's niece. Seething with resentment, Nicholas heads to Town in the midst of a snowstorm. He's forced to spend the night at an obscure country inn and rest his lame horse. Lady Anna Federova is also staying at the inn on her way to London to answer a summons from her uncle who wishes her to marry the Englishman he's chosen for her. The high-spirited Anna doesn't wish to marry a man she doesn't know or love though she has little choice in the matter. When she encounters Nicholas, she sees another arrogant man like her uncle and tries to knock the young man down off his high horse.
When his horse does not recover in time, Nicholas is forced to accept a ride from Anna. As the snow picks up, the journey becomes more dangerous and Nicholas and Anna have to work together to save themselves. During their journey, Anna gets to see the real Nicholas and realizes he is a kind, sensitive young man and Nicholas learns how to lighten up through Anna's teasing. However, the two are promised to others and dread their return to London. They must hope for a Christmas miracle to save them from their fates. Ignoring the obvious plot, the story is really good. I liked that the characters get to know one another well and that Nicholas is not a typical indolent alpha male hero. The story gets rather corny towards the end which took away some of my enjoyment.

The last two stories are too short to be completely believable or interesting. In "Christmas With Dora Davenport," the impoverished Elnora Nesbitt has been writing firebrand, radical articles to support herself, her mother and her aunt. However, Elnora's radical articles are not as popular as her domestic column she wrote previously. Elnora's wealthy suitor's mother is a great fan of Elnora's "Dora Davenport" articles and is dying to spend the holidays at Elnora's country home. The problem is that Elnora is not very domestic and their home has recently been vacated by a scoundrel of a tenant who left the home in shambles. Encouraged by her cousin August, Elnora and her family head back to the country to try to salvage their estate and win over Elnora's suitor. August promises to send help and come as soon as his visitor is well and able to travel. Help arrives in the guide of a Welsh sailor and friend of August's. Lieutenant Gowan Merthyr is kind, considerate, encouraging and makes Elnora's heart beat faster. He is, however, not a wealthy man. Elnora has a dilemma: whether to sacrifice her happiness in order to save her family or give in to her heart. That is, is the gentleman is willing... The results are predictable and because of the length of the story, not very believable. It would have been a better full-length novel with space to fully develop the characters and have them get to know one another better.

The final story in the collection, "Christmas Cheer," is about a young bride, Lady Hallcroft, who worries her husband doesn't love her and misses her large, loving family. When her husband asks her to plan a lavish holiday house party, she agrees, though is nervous because it's her first time acting as hostess and her husband will not even tell her who his guests are. Lady Hallcroft grows angry. She little suspects her husband has a pleasant surprise in store for her and seethes with resentment until she meets her husband's old tartar of an aunt and discovers what the Christmas season is really about. I hate stories about newlyweds and I hate misunderstanding plots. The surprise was so obvious that I couldn't stand that Lady Hallcroft did not figure it out. This story was the weakest in an another wise very good collection of holiday stories.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Georgette Heyer's Regency World

Georgette Heyer's Regency World
by Jennifer Kloester

This is a handy reference book for fans of Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen and the Regency era. Each chapter covers an aspect of Regency society: clothing, transportation, etiquette, health care and more. She uses examples from Heyer's novels and appendices provide a list of slang words, biographies of Regency people and a timeline. The book is illustrated with small line drawings done from 19th century illustrations. The book could have benefited from full-color or at least larger illustrations. Though I knew most of the information included in the book from reading the novels and reading blogs, I found it useful and learned a few new things. I especially liked the glossary, biographies and timeline.

Despite a few historical inaccuracies, Jennifer Kloester nicely compiles all the information from Heyer's novels into one book. I plan to keep this book on my night stand next time I read Heyer so I can look up what a tilbury looks like or the dates of events mentioned in the book, etc.

I recommend this book primarily to first-time Regency readers and not so much to the long-time reader.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Legend of the King: The Squire's Tales by Gerald Morris -- Children's/Young Adult Fantasy
This final installment of the Squire's Tales has Mordred and his mother, Morgause causing strife within Camelot. Many of the characters from previous novels appear in an attempt to save or destroy Camelot. The magical folk watch the struggle but try not to get involved. They have a tough decision to make as the age of the faery folk ends and the age of ignorance begins. The story sticks true to the common legend of King Arthur and is told from multiple points-of-view. I found the multiple POV distracting and had a hard time remembering who all the characters were. Luckily, there's a nice reference section in the back that provides brief biographies on the characters. This story is pretty grim and lacked Morris's trademark tongue-in-cheek humor. I don't think he should have tried to finish the sags but let the earlier stories stand on their own. There are shades of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter which were a bit over done but the writing is good and the story kept me turning the page in hopes of a different ending. If you've read the rest of the series and want to finish or if you're a big King Arthur fan (I'm not) then you'll probably love this book.

Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George -- Young Adult Fairy Tale
In this companion to Princess of the Midnight Ball, Princess Poppy has to leave her beloved Westphalin for an extended stay in Breton as part of a royal exchange to promote peace in Ionia. Poppy enjoys the social life and her new friends, but is adamant that she does NOT dance. She does, however, knit, play cards (shocking!) , ride horses (badly) and swear like a sailor. Prince Christian of Danelaw is also sent to Breton to find a suitable bride. Though he doesn't want to marry right now, he sees the trip as the adventure he's always longed for. He enjoys the refreshing company of Princess Poppy and tries to avoid the matchmaking schemes of the Bretoner King. Eleanora was once a spoiled, wealthy daughter of an aristocrat until her father's death left her penniless. Now calling herself Ellen, she's employed as a maid. Poor Ellen can't seem to do anything right and after losing several positions she comes to work at the home of Poppy's hosts. When a mysterious woman, The Corley, appears, calling herself Eleanora's godmother and promising to restore the girl to her rightful position, Eleanora readily accepts the help of her godmother. Soon she's the belle of the ball, enchanting Prince Christian and the only young men. Poppy is one of the only people who can see there's dark magic afoot. She has to set aside her pride and fear of dark magic to try to save Eleanora and Christian before it's too late. This is a dark retelling of Cinderella. (Disney take notes because this is how the story should be told.) There's danger, adventure and romance enough to please older children, teens and adults. The story is well-written and I enjoyed it much more than Princess of the Midnight Ball. Poppy is a realistic and appealing character who has flaws, is vulnerable at times and proactive in trying to save the day. Eleanora is a well-developed character who grows and changes and my opinion of her changes too. Christian is rather two-dimensional and I would have liked more of the story from his point of view. My only complaint is that the book is just a bit too short and the climax of the story is resolved a little too quickly. I especially like Poppy's decision at the end which is realistic for her age and sweet. I highly recommend this book, even for those who haven't read the first.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Lucy Maud Montgomery ("Maud without an e if you please") has been one of my favorite authors since I was a child and discovered the wonderful world of her novels and stories. I was recently able to obtain and read copies of her published journals. She kept a journal for most of her life, but destroyed her earliest journals and carefully edited her later journals for eventual publication. These journals tell the story of the wonderfully creative author of Anne of Green Gables, The Story Girl, Emily of New Moon, Pat of Silver Bush, and more.

Volume I (1889-1910) deals with Maud's teen years and early adulthood. She writes of her life with her strict, Puritanical grandparents; a year spent out west living with her father and his second family; hopes and dreams of adolescence; desire for higher education; college years; romance and dream of becoming a writer. She also covers the writing process as she begins to craft her best-known work. The volume ends with her secret engagement to the Rev. Ewan Macdonald and the publication of Anne of Green Gables.

This volume is wonderful! These were Maud's happiest years and the reader can easily sympathize with her hopes and dreams and delight in learning more about the land that inspired Anne.

Volume II (1910-1921) covers the early years of Maud's marriage and move to rural Ontario where her husband took charge of a small congregation. She writes about the petty gossips and lack of "kindred spirits" and the difficulties of being a famous author. She also discusses childbirth and raising her two beloved sons, the horrors of World War I, difficulties with her publisher and her husband's mental illness. This volume is less light and fun than the first and there are many difficult moments, however there are sweet and lovely candid moments where Maud writes about her love for her sons and the excitement of publication.

Volume III (1921-1929) is a lot darker than the previous two. Maud and her husband were the victims of an extortion plot, she was obliged to leave her original publisher for a better deal only to become involved in a lawsuit with her lying, greedy, scheming former publisher. It culminates in their move to another community. There are lighter aspects of her life which she writes of as well and the beauty of the island home she always held in her heart. I couldn't put it down yet I felt sorry for Maud for all her troubles.

Volume IV (1929-1935) covers the years of the Great Depression and Maud's struggle to support her family and friends through the tough times. She also writes about her sons' adolescent troubles, her husband's nerves, her fears, her hopes and dreams and the loss of some of them. She was also stalked by an infatuated young woman and saw a decline in sales . She remained an ever-popular author though, especially on Prince Edward Island, where tourists flocked to see her old home and people scrambled to meet her. She describes her homes in great detail, with beautiful descriptions of nature both in Ontario and on PEI, By this time, Maud was using her journal as an outlet to vent her troubles and consequently this volume is very dark and sad. It was difficult to read my favorite author experiencing so many difficulties and wishing things could have been different, yet sometimes it was hard to sympathize with her when she was so very class conscious, complaining about her maids and lack of suitable companions for her now-young-adult boys. I had to keep reading though it was difficult.

Volume V (1935-1942) covers the last years of Maud's life dealing with retirement, a move to Toronto, her husband's mental illness and her own struggle with depression. Her sons also caused much anguish with their life decisions and the world was on the brink of war once again. Yet she also described her life and times and provides a good historical record. The final pages show how Maud's depression and poor health got the better of her at last. Her final nervous breakdown caused the once lively and vibrant woman to become bedridden and unable to work. This is definitely the saddest volume. I'm not sorry I read her journals, I feel like I know and understand her better than ever, yet I felt anguish for the pain and suffering she experienced and wish that life could have been different. I think her fiction writing was a way for her to escape her difficulties and rewrite aspects of her own life she wished to change.

I highly recommend these journals which provide an excellent and in-depth look at one of the most beloved authors of all times.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Hello faithful followers, I apologize for the lack of frequent postings. Time for blogging is difficult during the school year. I hope to have some interesting historical information for you soon but for now, enjoy these book reviews.

The Wake of the Lorelei Lee: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, On Her Way to Botany Bay by L.A. Meyer -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Things are looking up for Jacky now that she's about to be pardoned by the British government. Jacky plans to her beloved Jamie in London and head up Faber Shipping Worldwide. Jacky has purchased a new ship, a brig, she names Lorelei Lee to take her on her next adventure. As always, Jacky is impetuous and arrives in London before she receives word from Jaimy that it's safe to do so. Upon her arrival, Jacky learns that a change in the Admiralty led old enemies to tell lies (and half-truths) about her and reveal that she kept some of the Spanish treasure for herself. This time, there's no escape for Jacky. She's thrown in the hulks (prison ships) and her future involves being sent to Botany Bay in the new colony of Australia as part of a program forcing female convicts to marry and mate with male convicts in order to populate to the new colony. Jacky, of course, does not quite submit willingly to her fate. When she discovers that the ship that will be taking her to Australia is none other than her own beloved Lorelei Lee, she uses her knowledge of the ship to her advantage. Jacky, along with the faithful Higgins and a kind captain manage to make the voyage pleasant. However, there are those who believe the lies told about Jacky and mean her harm. Meanwhile, Jaimy has landed himself in hot water and is also being transported to Australia. Jamie's voyage is less than ideal but he has learned a thing or two from Jacky and isn't willing to submit to despair. Jacky and Jaimy continue on their star-crossed paths and Jacky tries to find a way to thwart fate in this latest adventure. As usual, Jacky is wild and impetuous, but this time she seems to have grown up a bit and learned from past mistakes. I enjoyed her adventure though it felt a bit formulaic and predictable. I especially liked Jaimy's journey and the evolution of his character. Previously I couldn't stand him but I like him much better in this book. I've grown tired of Jacky and her adventures. The novelty has worn off and each adventure brings less excitement for me. I quit reading at the end of Part IV which has a happy ending and imagine my own future for Jacky. Even though I am through with Jacky, I think faithful readers will enjoy this latest adventure as much as the others in the series.

Storyteller by Patricia Reilly Giff -- Middle Grades Contemporary/Historical Fiction Elizabeth, a 21st century girl, is sent to live with her Aunt Libby she's never met when her father has to leave the country for business. Elizabeth is upset at being left with a stranger and having to change schools but she and her Aunt Libby begin to bond when Elizabeth notices an old drawing of an ancestor who looked just like her. Elizabeth begins to feel a kinship with the other Elizabeth (called Zee) and Elizabeth's quest to know Zee's story helps her bond with her mother's family and find her way in her new school. Zee lives in the 1770s in upstate New York with her parents and older brother who came to America from Europe searching for a place to belong. Zee feels unwanted and unloved because she's awkward, clumsy and forgetful. Luckily, her closest friend Ammi likes Zee just fine. Ammi's older brother Isaac seems to like Zee too. However, Zee and Ammi's families are on opposite sides of the growing conflict between those who are loyal to the king and those who wish to be free. Zee's father and brother march off to join the patriots and Zee and her mother are left to run the farm the best they can. When tragedy strikes, Zee must pull herself together and find a path to safety and to freedom. Elizabeth and Zee's stories alternate with each chapter and show how everyone isn't perfect but each person possesses unique abilities that enrich the lives of others. I personally felt Elizabeth's story was the weaker of the two. Told in first person present tense it reads awkwardly and some of Elizabeth's feelings get left out and events are rushed. Zee's story kept me turning the pages wanting to know what happened, though some parts were a little gruesome. I appreciated the realistic portrayal of the Revolutionary War and reading about a heroine who had many faults but was still likable and a strong female character. I do not think the writing is as strong as Giff's earlier historical fiction novels but it's still above average. This is a good book for middle school children and their parents. Adults will probably like Zee and Elizabeth's desire to know Zee's story.

Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson -- Young Adult Historical Fiction
This sequel to Chains is told from the point-of-view of Isabel's friend Curzon. After Isabel rescues him from prison, having served his time in the American army for his owner, Curzon considers himself a free man. Curzon and Isabel disagree about their future plans and Isabel runs off, leaving Cuzon alone. Curzon is strong-willed and manages to make his way in the world, befriending a young soldier and rejoining the American army in the fight against the British. The soldiers are quartered at Valley Forge during that disastrous winter experiencing bitter cold and starvation. Curzon makes the best of things, despite an enemy who is determined to hate him for the color of his skin. Though Curzon enjoys the time spent with his comrades, he hesitates to get too close and share his deepest secret. Curzon also worries about Isabel, with whom he's fallen in love. He is alternately mad at her for leaving him and worried for her safety. A chance meeting with someone from his past may ruin everything Curzon has worked for, especially when he discovers that Isabel's life is in danger. Curzon has to be brave and determined in order to survive. This book is historical fiction at it's best. Anderson's descriptions of life at Valley Forge are incredibly detailed and realistic and draw the reader in. Her descriptions of life in slavery are also true-to-life and she doesn't shy away from horrific details yet she manages to do so without being too graphic. The story is populated with supporting characters drawn from imagination and real life which make the story all that more realistic. My biggest complaint is that I would have liked the story more of it alternated with Isabel's viewpoint. I kept wondering what had happened to her and whether Curzon would ever learn her fate before the end of the book. This is an excellently written novel for readers ages 12 and up. I can't wait for the next volume in the series!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to Jane Austen

Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Jane Austen by Carol J. Adams, Kelly Gesch, and Douglas Buchanan

This little book is packed with facts on Jane Austen, her writings, her life and times and the various movie adaptations and homages. The book also contains some literary criticism, interviews with Austenesque authors, essays by Austen's characters. "Why I Married Her" by Mr. Bennet is particularly amusing and enlightening though it makes Mr. Bennet seem foolish. A crossword puzzle and lengthy quiz provide some lighthearted fun. Both games had many questions which had little to do with Jane Austen and some of the quiz questions are extremely difficult, even for a dedicated Janeite. Perhaps the answers can be found within the book, but I didn't take the time to look. I especially liked the chart documenting the number of times each book has been made into a movie or an homage to Austen. I've missed a few so I'll have to check into seeing them. What I didn't like about this book is how it is organized. It's all over the place with serious criticism followed by quirky essays about some random topic. The literary criticism topics were too critical in my opinion and didn't really belong in a book that seems to be aimed at the casual Austen fan. I wouldn't recommend buying it to add to your Austen library but some parts are worth looking at if you can find the book at a library.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Princess and the Snowbird by Mette Ivie Harrison -- Young Adult Fairy Tale/Fantasy
This is the third book in a trilogy that begins with The Princess and the Hound. This is the story of a Snowbird who is the last of his kind, of Liva, the daughter of the hound and the bear and Jens, a human boy born without magic. Choosing to remain in animal form, Liva's parents have given her most of their magic, retaining enough to survive and enough for the bear to help those who are being persecuted for having the aur-magic. Liva has more aur-magic than anyone. She can feel it all around her and inside of her. It's who she is and part of her destiny. She's one with the animals and the forest and thinks little about humans until a chance encounter with a human boy causes a connection she hadn't thought possible. Jens lives in a village where tehr-magic is prized and aur-magic is hated. Humans claim to have conquered animals and the forest and by their superiority will prevail over the wild, untamed world. Most men of the village use their magic to torture and kill animals, but Jens, born without any kind of magic at all, can't understand why this behavior is so appealing. When he first sees Liva in animal form, he senses her kindness and warmth and feels connected to her. When Liva and Jens next encounter each other they are a little older and Liva is searching for her missing father while Jens is struggling to become a man. The connection between the boy with no magic and the girl with so much remains strong. Each has a unique gift which will help them save the world they both love. The young adults must fight the evil that threatens to destroy the magic in the land and determine their own identities as adults. This is a wonderfully written coming-of-age story set in the world begun in the Princess and the Hound. The first half of the book slowly sets the story that forms the connection between Liva and Jens. It's a little slow without much plot but readers of The Princess and the Bear will like reading about what happened to them. The second half of the book deals with the plot to rid the world of magic. It's very fast-paced but just right for the story. I especially liked the ending because it wasn't rushed and it was very appropriate for the target age group and for the story. The romance is stronger in this book than the previous too and so sweet it will make you say "aww!" I love the way the characters grow up and come into their own and how they deal with the gifts they've been given or not given. If you choose to take away a message in the story, it's very timely and relevant, but subtle and not heavy handed in any way. The title is a bit misleading because it doesn't match the plot in the way that the previous two books did. I really liked this book and love the trilogy as a whole and would definitely recommend them to young adults and adults both.

The Queen's Daughter by Susan Coventry -- YA Historical Fiction
In 12th century Normandy (now part of France), Joan is the youngest daughter of King Henry II of England and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. At nearly 7 years old, Joan loves her parents and adores her older brothers but hates the rivalry between them. When a handsome young knight rescues Joan and her doll from bullies, she develops a crush on the young Lord Raymond. Lord Raymond's father, the Duke of Toulouse is an enemy who seeks to further drive apart the already estranged Eleanor and Henry. Joan then becomes caught in the middle of a war between family members and feels torn in her loyalties. By the age of ten, she has become a pawn in her parents' struggle over land and power which results in her marriage to King William of Sicily. Life in Sicily is vastly different from the Norman customs Joan is used to. Her status of queen is jeopardized by a jealous rival and her ability to bear an heir for Sicily. William is an indifferent husband and in Joan's eyes, a weak ruler. Joan grows up in the midst of tumultuous world politics and again becomes a political pawn. This time she is determined to save her home in her own way. Joan also comes to realize that her parents made mistakes and those mistakes have colored her view of personal relationships and she can not be truly fulfilled until she realizes her own feelings. This fictionalized biography covers Joan's life from the age of six until her mid-20s and summarizes the political situation of Joan's home and adopted country as well as describing the Crusades. Much of the action is summarized and told directly to the reader rather than having the reader be a part of the action, which bored me. I skipped over most of the war parts because I wanted to know more about Joan and what she was thinking and feeling. Joan is a sympathetic character and struggles to live her own life, free of the men who control her. She seems more believable as a young adult than as a child. Her childhood dialogue sounds too much like an adult. As she grows older, she is more sympathetic and I wanted her to be happy but wasn't satisfied with the choice she was given. Not one of the other characters were likable. They are all ambitious, greedy and the men all enjoy making war and carousing, which I suppose is what men did back then but I didn't like it. This book is not for young children or the faint of heart. The descriptions aren't too graphic and the emphasis is mostly on Joan's thoughts, feelings and actions. I don't know much about this time period so I can't evaluate the accuracy of the story. It seems believable enough. It reminds me a lot of Carolyn Meyer's Young Royals series. I didn't really care for this story. I found it boring in many points and had a hard time finishing it. I would recommend it only to the most ardent history buffs of the period ages 13 and up.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Everlasting by Angie Frazier -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy
In 1855 San Francisco seventeen-year-old Camille Rowen is engaged to the prominent and wealthy Randall Jackson. He is kind and attentive, but she doesn't feel anything for him. Worst of all, he doesn't share her love of the sea or understand why she wants to go on "one last" voyage with her sea captain father on a two month voyage across the Pacific Ocean. Camille wants to sail with her father forever but he insists she grow up and marry and Randall is a good catch, especially since he is keeping the family business afloat with his investments. Captain Rowen tries to protect Camille from disagreeable things, such as the unsuitable rough men on board the ship, but Camille finds herself drawn to Oscar, the First Mate. They have a blossoming friendship, yet there may be more beneath the surface they haven't dared to explore. Then Camille discovers that her father has been keeping secrets from her. First he wants to sail on for two more months to Australia where he claims he has to pick something up for someone. Then Camille discovers that the mother she believed to be dead has been living in Australia these last sixteen years, is dying and wants to see Camille. Camille's mother holds a mysterious map to somewhere or something unknown to Camille and her father will not tell her the truth. Then strange things begin to happen and her father is lost at sea when their ship is wrecked. Camille and Oscar are two of the three survivors, left with nothing but each other. Camille is determined to find her mother and this mysterious map. She learns that the map leads to a magical stone which can bring back the dead. Accompanied by Oscar and a charming, crooked companion, Camille embarks on a danger-filled quest to avoid her enemies and find the stone to bring back the one she loves most of all. The first 2/3 of the book are historical fiction, filled with great period details about life on board a sailing ship and in early Australia. The last 2/3 are a magical fantasy that takes the reader on a frantic adventure. The ending leaves room for a sequel. I could have done without the fantasy. I like Camille and her struggle to figure out what she wants out of life and her determination to live her life on her own terms. I also give kudos to the author for making Randall kind and sympathetic, though possibly more sinister than he appears to be. Oscar is a wonderful and flawed hero. I like the chemistry between Camille and Oscar and the way the romance plays out. The secondary characters are pretty stereotypical but there are twists and turns in the plot that make the store above average. The plot is well-written and fast paced. It's a quick read that I would recommend mostly to girls 12+. I liked this book but didn't love it. I would have preferred a straight historical novel instead.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hattie Big Sky

Hattie Big Sky
by Kirby Larson

I was lucky enough to win an autographed copy of Kirby Larson's Newbury Honor book Hattie Big Sky from Damsels in Regress. I read this book once before and really liked it but didn't remember much about it other than I really liked it. So, without further ado, here is my review:

Sixteen-year-old Hattie Brooks has been an orphan nearly her whole life. She thinks of herself as "Hattie Here-and-There" because she hasn't had a proper home since she can remember. Currently, in the winter of 1917, living with a distant cousin and his wife in Arlington, Iowa, Hattie enjoys learning and dreams of a home of her own. When her Aunt Ivy decides Hattie's future is to be a servant in a boarding house, Uncle Holt steps in and hands Hattie a letter she received that very day from Montana. Hattie's Uncle Chester has died and left her his homestead claim. Hattie jumps at the chance to leave the drudgery of Iowa and have a place to belong. Homesteading in Montana, Hattie discovers, is not as easy as it sounds. For starters, she has only ten months to prove up on her claim in order to officially own it. Then she learns that the claim is in the middle of nowhere, the land is poor, there's hardly any shelter and her uncle barely even started on the requirements for homesteading. Hattie is determined though, to prove up on her claim. With the help of the kind Mueller family, she soon becomes used to farming and living on the Montana frontier. Her nearest neighbor, the handsome Traft Martin wants to make Hattie an offer on her land, but she stubbornly refuses to give in, especially once she learns that Traft is the head of a so-called Council of Defense so determined to keep loyal citizens safe from enemy "aliens" and "unpatriotic" people that they turn into cruel bullies in the name of safety. Hattie is conflicted, feeling that Americans on the homefront must make sacrifices like the brave soldiers, but understanding that her neighbor Karl Mueller, though born in Germany, is a true friend and wonderful neighbor. Hattie writes out her feelings on homesteading and about the war to her good friend Charlie, a soldier fighting somewhere in France. Charlie responds with his experiences and feelings about the war which provide Hattie with more food for thought. As the months go by and her deadline looms closer, Hattie must summon all the determination and courage she has to survive in Montana. She learns the value of true friendship, experiences love and loss and learns to be true to herself.

This is a wonderful novel about a young woman's determination to do something that not many women did at that time. It's a coming-of-age story that resembles the later Little House books, but set against the backdrop of WWI. The incredible detailed descriptions of Montana combine with the first person narrative make me feel like I am Hattie, working hard and trying to make a home for myself. I can feel everything Hattie is feeling and experience her joys and sorrows tight along with her. The characters are all very realistic and appealing, even the "villain" has more depth than a typical stock villain who comes along to shake things up. Even the Mueller children capture my heart with their innocence and loyalty. Hattie is an incredibly strong and determined young woman who has my utmost admiration, especially as she is based on a real person. I'm not sure if I would have had Hattie's courage in her shoes. This is a wonderful story perfect for fans who grew up with Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. It's a great story of the true pioneer spirit of courage and determination against all odds combined with the coming-of-age of a young woman. I highly recommend this book to readers ages 12 and up (or mature 10 and up). I can't wait to send it to my honorary nieces for Christmas and see what they think of it!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Georgette Heyer


I was lucky enough to win this Sourcebooks reprint of Frederica from Austen Prose. It's one of my favorite Heyer novels and one of her funniest. The Marquess of Alverstoke is used to being encroached upon for his wealth, his title and his good looks. His family is no exception and he makes it a point to ignore them as much as possible. Bored with society and life in general, Alverstoke just can't be bothered to deal with anything that doesn't amuse him. For all else he employs a secretary, the efficient Charles Trevor. Mr. Trevor is no match for Lord Alverstoke's widowed sister and widowed cousin-in-law who both want him to hold a ball in honor of their daughters' come-outs. Alverstoke refuses until Mr. Trevor tells him of a beautiful angel who came calling with her sister, claiming to be cousins of the Marquess. Curious, Alverstoke arranges a meeting with the Merrivilles. Frederica, the eldest at four and twenty, manages to keep the family from falling to pieces though their ne'er do well father left them with very little. Frederica is self-assured, clever and confident most of the time, but she needs help launching her beautiful younger sister Charis into society. Frederica desires Charis to make a comfortable match in London. Though they are barely related, the Marquess is drawn to Frederica's quick mind and to Charis's beauty and agrees to help the Merriville sisters.
From then on, the cynical Marquess's life is turned upside down by the Merrivilles. He's roped into helping Frederica manage her unruly youngest brother Felix, a wild urchin with the mind of an engineer. Reluctantly, the Marquess falls prey to the young boy's charms. Middle brother Jessamy, also benefits from Cousin Alverstoke's generosity and the Marquess finds himself enjoying the company of school boys for the first time.

© The Bodley Head 1965
Charis and Frederica make a splash in London and catch the eye of Lord Alverstoke's young relatives and his bachelor friends and the entire family fall into a series of scrapes involving ardent young suitors, earnest dogs and new- fangled machines. The Merrivilles must rely on Alverstoke to help them out. The more time the cynical Marquess spends with the Merrivilles, the more he's drawn to them, especially the quick-witted Frederica. It bothers Frederica that she must ask for help, but she can't stop thinking about Alverstoke.
This is one of Heyer's witty comedies that makes me love her so much. The dialogue is sharp and fresh, free of the dramatic language that characterizes the romance genre. Frederica and Alverstoke are perfect foils and balance each other out nicely. I can't help falling in love with Alverstoke a little myself. I also find myself charmed by young Felix and his amazing adventures. Each chapter provides a giggle or several and the plot keeps one in suspense until the very end. The last scene has always bothered me because it ends in the middle of a dialogue, something that Heyer did often. She knew when to leave the reader with enough to tantalize them and not go overboard leaving the reader bored. There's nothing cliched about this novel (at least not until the copycats came along) and it's one of my very favorites! I expect my copy to be worn out quickly!
I'm not crazy about the new Sourcebooks cover. It doesn't convey anything about the story and the smiling gentleman doesn't resemble Alverstoke in the least. I prefer the original cover because it depicts a scene from the story and shows a bit of the Regency era outside the drawing room.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis (Dear America) by Kirby Larson-- Middle Grades Historical Fiction
Hooray! Scholastic has relaunched their Dear America series. This is the first new book in the relaunched series. Piper Davis is a typical thirteen year old girl living in Seattle, Washington in 1941. She loves clothes, makeup, candy bars and BOYS! She hates being a PK (preacher's kid) because her dad is so strict but she has her older sister and brother as allies. Her brother enlists in the peace time navy in the fall of 1941 and Piper misses him a lot. When the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor on December 7, Piper's world changes in an instant. She is constantly reading the newspaper for any news of her brother's ship, worrying about his safety. She also has to deal with the wounded men who were sent home from Hawaii. Piper's Japanese neighbors experience discrimination and attacks once America declares war on Japan. Piper feels that discrimination is wrong, but she isn't willing to take a stand yet. Her father, on the other hand, as minister of the Seattle Japanese Baptist Church, will fight for the rights of his friends and neighbors. When Piper's Japanese neighbors are rounded up and sent to incarceration camps, the time comes for her to take a stand, at least until her father ruins her life with a monumental decision. Resentful and sullen, Piper feels sorry for herself until she sees that her friends have it much worse. This new book holds up to the standards of the previous books in the series. It's well-written and Piper's voice sounds like a typical teenager. Piper can be bratty and immature at times, like all teenagers, but her experiences help her grow up and learn to think about others. The story is also about endurance and hope and how Japanese-Americans dealt with the terrible events of WWII. The story hooked me in and I really cared a lot about the characters because they were so well described, I felt like I was reading about real people. The story is entertaining and educational, sad and funny all at the same time. This book is a bit more mature than some of the others. Piper is a bit older and the descriptions of life in an incarceration camp are not downplayed at all. I highly recommend this book to readers 11 and up.

Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood by Jame Richards -- Young Adult Historical Fiction This novel in verse tells the stories of the inhabitants of the communities around Johnstown Pennsylvania in 1888 and 1889. Celestia, the daughter of a wealthy Pittsburgh businessman has come to the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club with her parents and older sister for summer vacation. Relaxing by the lake (reservoir) reading, Celestia meets Peter, the son of a coal miner from Johnstown. Celestia and Peter quickly become friends and then involved in a secret romance. Maura, a young wife and mother waits for her husband to sound the train whistle before arriving home. It's their secret signal; a way of saying "I love you" even when they're apart. Kate, a young woman who has become bitter and old since the death of her fiance excels at counting and ordering things. She's sent to nursing school to make use of her skills. When Celestia's family uncovers her secret they move to stop her, but a family emergency changes her life in an unexpected way. Celestia must decide whether she's willing to defy her family for the sake of love. The characters' lives become intertwined when the earthen dam in Lake Conemaugh breaks and the water comes soaring down the mountain into the villages below. In the wake of tragedy, each character must discover their inner strength in order to do what is right. This is an excellent debut novel. At first the blank verses seemed a little unusual for a novel, but they do come together and create a plot. The plot resembles Titanic or Dirty Dancing for the first half of the novel but the characters move beyond the cliche as the story moves along. Each set of poems comes together to create a mini plot that all come together in the final pages of the book. I couldn't put it down until it was done. The characters are well fleshed out and the reader gets a good sense of personality and thought process through the poems. I admire the way the characters all dealt with the flood, especially Kate. The ending of the novel is rather fairy tale-esque but it's sweet and enjoyable. The novel makes me want to learn more about this historic flood and the author lists several sources available for that purpose. I would definitely encourage readers 12 and up to read this book.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Miss Haycroft's Suitors by Emily Hendrickson -- Regency Romance
Miss Anne Haycroft's uncle wishes to marry her off to a man she can't stand and Anne can't think of any way out of it. Justin, Lord Rochford happens to discover Anne's dilemma and offers his help. He brings Anne to his very respectable Aunt Mary's home, where they try to figure out how to thwart Anne's uncle and keep her safe until her 21st birthday in a few weeks. They invent tales of prior bethrothals and Justin enlists the aid of his younger cousin and friends to act as Anne's suitors. Anne's uncle and her would-be fiance do not give up easily and as Anne relies more and more on Justin for her safety, she discovers that she relies on him for happiness as well. If only Justin felt the same. Aunt Mary is not immune to the attentions of eligible gentleman either. This is a fairy typical traditional Regency plot. The characters are, however, unconventional. Anne handles her situation in an appropriate manner for her class and time period and Justin is all that is respectable and proper. I admire the way Anne deals with her wicked uncle and horrible suitor. I also like the way the characters gradually realize their feelings for one another and act on their feelings in a sweet and subtle manner without lengthy passages about desire. I do not feel that the romance rings true towards the end though. Both characters doubt where they have no reason to and it makes the ending of the story drag on to long unnecessarily. The characters don't have any opportunity to really grow and develop because they're both so respectable. This is an average sweet Regency and I like it but it's not a keeper.

Miss Timothy Perseveres by Emily Hendrickson -- Regency Romance
Miss Persys Timothy was orphaned at a young age and went to live with her aunt and uncle as a companion for her cousin Katherine. Now Katherine is happily married and Persys is left without a home. She's lost with no idea of what to do next, as well as being infatuated with her cousin's husband, and utterly miserable. The Duke of Eddington sees Persys at his cousin's wedding and is drawn to her exotic name and beautiful face. He offers her a position as companion to his mother who is recuperating from an injury. Glad to have an opportunity to be useful, Persys happily takes the job. She ans the Duchess get along very well, despite the Duchess's demanding nature. The Duke seems aloof and distant at first, but as Persys gets to know him, she sees that he's a devoted son and a good friend even to those who don't deserve his friendship. Harry, the Duke of Eddington wants Persys for his wife and what he wants, he always gets. He just has to figure out how to woo the lady and for that, he has to keep her on his estate long enough to convince her that she's the wife for him. Harry and his mother manipulate Persys into doing what they think is best for her, but the naive Persys may ruin their plans. This book is well-written. At first Harry seems like a spoiled, demanding Lord and he and his mother are both managing types, but in spite of that, I really liked the romance and the characters. The manipulation techniques employed in this book are subtle and more suggestive than demanding/commanding and Harry improves upon acquaintance. There isn't a whole lot of profound character development and Persys is a mash-up of the Austen heroines she likes to read about. Persys is two party Fanny Price, one part Marianne Dashwood, with a sprinkle of Elizabeth Bennet. This is a sweet regency for fans of that sort of story. There are a few kissing scenes but nothing steamy and the romance is well-developed and plays out sweetly.