Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read Lately . . .

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
This is a companion to Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. In this book, 19th century lady Jane Mansfield awakens in Courtney Stone's body - in 21st century Los Angeles! Naturally, modern L.A. is quite a shock and Jane wonders whether she's in hell, until she discovers her favorite author, Jane Austen, wrote six novels in her lifetime, then Jane wonders whether she's in heaven! Poor Jane has to deal with Courtney's opinionated friends, loser ex-fiance, and terrible job. Soon Jane/Courtney learns her way around the 21st century and discovers human nature is the same as ever, but learns that women have choices in the 21st century. Flashes from Courtney's past appear in Jane's head, confusing matters even more. Jane/Courtney seeks the help of a mysterious fortune teller who gives her some answers but creates more questions. Luckily, there's always the handsome Wes to lend a hand whenever needed. I don't want to give more away because though the plot is predictable, I couldn't put the book down because I needed to find out what happened! I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy this book. The author does a fabulous job of describing everything we take for granted through the eyes of someone who has never seen them before. Jane's language is a little stilted and contrived to show how she's a fish out of water and some of her realizations weren't necessary to explain. The reader could have easily made the same conclusions themselves. Wes is a dream hero - he's almost too good to be true and his one minor bad point is so minor, it's easy to forgive. He totally won my heart, especially at the end! I liked the way Jane learned to navigate the 21st century and think for herself and do what she's always dreamed of. The time travel nuances are still a little confusing but it doesn't really bother me too much because enough it explained and hinted at. A great read for fans of chick lit written by popular authors such as Sophie Kinsella and fans of sweet romances. I do think it is necessary to have read Confessions first though. One Amazon reviewer recommended reading them both at once, which I think is an excellent idea.

Frozen in Time: The Enduring Legacy of the 1961 U.S. Figure Skating Team by Nikki Nicholas -- Sports nonfiction

This book tells the story of the members of the U.S. Figure Skating World Team, friends and family who died in a plane crash en route to the Worlds in 1961. Nichols relates the struggles of the top athletes to get to the top spots that would earn them the right to be at the World Championships in Prague. A skater never skates alone and this book is also about the coaches who helped the skaters on their paths to glory and their family members who supported them. Nichols imagines what the skaters were thinking and feeling at crucial moments in their lives. She also interrupts the narrative to discuss other competitors, past, current and future. Nicholas attempts to explain how the legacy of the 1961 team affected all the skaters to come after them, from Peggy Fleming's glorious gold medal in 1968 to skaters in 2001 receiving scholarships from money left in memory of the 1961 team. This book is written from extensive research by a dedicated skater and skating fan and it shows. The stories of the 1961 team members are compelling but the writing isn't stellar. Nicholas interrupts her story to discuss skaters from the past (pre-1961) and present day (post-1961), which was a little jarring in the middle of the story of the 1961 U.S. Team. The imagined scenarios are also a little odd. I also feel that Nicholas rushed the legacy part though her book is subtitled The Enduring Legacy of the 1961 U.S. Figure Skating Team. I enjoyed learning about the lesser known people involved in the crash and learning more about what happened during the flight. The 1961 U.S. World Team is a subject that is infrequently discussed but should be known to all those who are interested in the sport. I would give this book 3 1/2 stars.

The Fortune Hunters by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance
Miss Jessica Franklin has been minding her family's estate since her father's death and her brother left to fight in America. Now Sir Nathan has returned and Jessica has bad news for her brother - their beloved estate that has been leased by their family for centuries is up for a new lease and the amount is much more than they can afford. Nathan considers giving up their home but Jessica has a better idea - they will both go to Bath and seek out rich spouses. Mr. Matthew Walsingham, nephew and former heir to Lord Stone has just been disinherited due to youthful folly. Matthew also heads to Bath to seek out a rich wife to support him while he begins a career as an architect and/or convince his uncle to see that Matthew has reformed. Nathan, Jessica and Matthew quickly become friends and part of a close group of friends, but each of them has a secret they haven't revealed to the others. As the young people become closer, they must confront their own prejudices and learn the meaning of true love. The plot is pretty light and predictable and the writing is decent but not fabulous. The architectural details are wonderful and clearly well researched. The good characters are likable and Jessica and Matthew are perfect for each other. I liked this book well enough, but not enough to reread or keep.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Period Dramas

Period Dramas Part V: Masterpiece Classic
2010 Season

Return to Cranford

The ladies of Cranford are back in this two-part sequel. Miss Matty is happy living in her home with her brother Peter, her maid Martha, Martha's husband Jem and Martha and Jem's baby Tilly. Tragedy strikes Miss Matty's family again, however, and she is forced to confront changes that threaten all she holds dear.

There are new characters as well, the widow of the former Rector, Mrs. Bell and her son Edward and daughter Peggy. The nouveaux-riche Mr. Buxton, his son William and his ward Erminia also return to Cranford.

The railroad is making it's way towards Cranford, blocked by Lady Ludlow's refusal to sell her land and the old ladies' refusal to allow this monstrosity to creep into their traditional life.

Matty interferes to help a pair of star-crossed lovers and help her friends accept the changes that progress inevitably brings. She pays a price for her beliefs however, and Cranford will never be the same.

This story is told with the same charming humor and dramatic moments as the original. My favorite character Mrs. Pole, gets some small plot lines which made me laugh out loud in some parts. Imelda Staunton is a great comic actress. I also liked the return of Bessy, the cow and the newcomer Mrs. Jamieson's sister-in-law, Lady Glenmire who was funny and a nice addition to Cranford.

I didn't like the tragic events that occurred but having read the book this time and seen the first Cranford, I was expecting them so I actually liked Cranford 2 better than the first one. The shorter length kept the attention of those in my family who do not normally watch period dramas. I hope there will be another adaptation of Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford or other works in the future.

Period Dramas

Period Dramas Part V: Masterpiece Classic
2010 Season
Part II


This new production of Emma stars Romola Garai as the heroine Jane Austen declared "no one but myself would much like," Michael Gambon (Harry Potter, Cranford) as Mr. Woodhouse, and Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightly. I enjoyed the first part of Emma which seemed to follow the book's plot, if not the dialogue of Austen's novel. The story begins with flashbacks to Emma's early years, which I felt were confusing and slow and should have been worked into the dialogue and plot bur once the story got going, I was hooked.

The triangle between Emma, Harriet and Mr. Elton is nicely done, though I don't think Mr. Elton is quite as pompous as he is in the novel and is more handsome than I imagined him. I giggled a bit with Emma and Harriet as they exchanged girlish gossip and hopes and dreams, just as modern teenagers do.

In Part II comes the wonderful country ball scene, in which snobbishness is on full display and true gentlemanly behavior wins out. I loved the dancing scenes, having experienced Regency dancing. When Emma dances with Mr. Knightley, their feelings for each other become obvious to the viewer as they dance in their own little world, oblivious to everyone around them. It's a beautiful and well-done scene.

Part III felt rather rushed. There are more misunderstandings and more scolding from Mr. Knightley.
This time though, Emma takes his words to heart and endeavors to correct her behavior herself before finally examining her own heart. Though I enjoyed seeing another Austen adaption, this one fell sort of short of my expectations. The dialogue is rather modern and the story seems rushed. The ending wasn't too over-the-top and was actually very sweet.

I really liked Romola Garai's Emma. Some of the reviews have criticized her exaggerated facial expressions, but I thought they were cute and made her seem young and giddy. This Emma is immature and silly but very charming. Emma comes across as naive and very much a sheltered young woman who has never known any hardships and spends her time dreaming up ways to make other people as happy as she believes herself to be. Emma's friend Harriet is sweetly innocent and likable. She's not as quick thinking as Emma but she's not especially dull-witted either. She's an average, normal girl and most people accept her and like her for who she is.

I also really liked Mr. Knigtley, who is quite good looking in this version. Really good looking! Who knew?

I always pictured him as old and dull, so I'm not sure Jonny Lee Miller is the right choice to play Mr. Knightley, but he sure is nice to look at.

Jane Fairfax was too meek and mild. She didn't look like the accomplished young woman she was supposed to be.
Frank Churchill is handsome and flirtatious but a total cad. I couldn't see him attracted to this Jane.

Mr. Woodhouse isn't in this version very much so his nervousness and fretfulness doesn't really come through very strongly.

The Eltons were not vulgar enough and Mrs. E. not nearly obnoxious as she is in the book.
Miss Bates is talkative but not as garrulous as she should be. I like Miss Bates from the earlier version of Emma starring Kate Beckinsale.

The highlight of this production is the scenery and costumes.
The scenery in this production will take your breath away! From country estates, beautiful vistas and colorful drawing rooms, this production has it all. The costumes are also to-die-for! The characters look like they stepped right out of the fashion plates of the day. If you love historic costuming of this period, then you need to see this production!

Gail Eastwood

Gail Eastwood
Regency Romance Writer

I had the pleasure of meeting Gail at the Regency dance event on Dec. 13th so now I will review her books on my blog!

A Perilous Journey
Julian Rafferty deRaymond, Earl of Brinton is captivated by the striking pair of blue-green eyes of a youth at a country inn. He's certain that though the youth is dressed as a boy, he is a really a she. Brinton is curious about the youth and "his"/her traveling companion and bets his friend the pair are headed to Scotland to elope, though why the thought of that makes him upset, he can't say. Soon Brinton finds himself entangled in the affairs of a pair of adventurous 19-year-old orphaned twins Gillian and Gilbey Kentwell. Gillian is fleeing her wicked uncle who insists on marrying her off to an elderly neighbor and Gilbey is along to make sure his sister makes it safely to their aunt's in Scotland. Brinton gets more than he bargained for when his curiosity pushes him to help the twins. Soon they are being chased by Bow Street Runners, sleeping in the woods, fighting off danger and falling in love. There's a little twist at the end that makes the plot not a total cliche. The characters are likable, and though Gilly is young, I admire her spirit and determination. Brinton is an admirable hero with no obvious flaws. He's even selfless, demanding nothing from the Kentwells, not even from Gillian, though he loves her very much. I don't believe in love at first sight, he seemed to really get to know Gilly over the week they spend together. I'm a little more dubious about her feelings for him. I'm not fond of the teenage girl with absent father falls in love with authoritarian man plot but this one seemed believable. There is a little bit of sensuality, enough to please romance lovers but not too much to turn off those of us who want to enjoy the story and the history.

The Persistent Earl
Lady Phoebe Brodfield has been hiding in her kindly sister and brother-in-law's London townhouse since the sudden and tragic death of her husband eighteen months ago. Phoebe was hurt dreadfully by the gossip surrounding her husband's death and is content to play nursemaid and governess to her sister's children. Major John Allen Jameson, Earl of Devenham was wounded at Waterloo after barely recovering from a previous injury. His London lodgings are no place for a sick man so his old friend, Phoebe's brother-in-law Sir Edward Allington, offers room in his home for the Earl and Phoebe as nurse. Lord Devenham has a notorious reputation as a rake and at first his charming, flirtatious manner unnerves Phoebe and she tries to deny her physical attraction to the man, but as she nurses him back to health, she discovers that he has a kind nature that lies hidden underneath his rakish manner. A wicked villain threatens Phoebe and the Earl sees it as his duty to protect her from harm. The two gradually break down each defenses and get to know the truth behind the public image. Phoebe, still hurting from her husband's untimely death, needs the Earl to help her heal and he needs her to learn to love. This story is rather darker and a lot more melancholy than A Perilous Journey, but it's very well-written. The dialogue is natural and the story unfolds slowly. The romance was romantic without being overpowering or corny and the relationship between the two principles was incredibly believable. I figured out the villain and the big secret right away so the reveal came as no surprise but Eastwood's character development is very effective in moving the plot along so I was willing to forgive the obvious villain. I really enjoyed this novel as a departure from my usual comedic fare. I recommend it to Regency lovers and especially fans of Patricia Veryan.

The Captain's Dilemma
The beautiful Merissa Pritchard isn't content to do things as proper young ladies should. While out wandering the country one September afternoon, she comes across two men hidden in an old, ruined mill. The men are French and have escaped from a nearby prison. Merissa fears for her safety but is allowed to return safely home. Merissa can't help thinking and worrying about the poor Frenchmen and hoping for their safety. While attempting to steal food, Captain Alexandre Valmont is shot in the shoulder. Merissa discovers the helpless and feverish Captain and endeavors to assist him. In return, the Captain declares he will give Merissa an insight into the nature of men. As Merissa gets to know the Captain, they discover shared interests and a shared passion. Their friendship is in peril of being discovered and Merissa's family on the verge of being sent to prison. Additionally, because the Captain is French, marriage between them would be forbidden, even if the Captain were not an escaped prisoner. Merissa's stuffy, proprietary boyfriend Harlan Gatesby also poses a threat to the Captain. Merissa tries to deny her passion but wonders what would happen if the Captain were to return her feelings. This story about star-crossed lovers is the most solemn of Eastwood's novels. It also focuses almost entirely on the passionate feelings of Marissa and the Captain. I couldn't see an easy solution to the dilemma and felt the relationship was doomed. When a solution arises, it seems kind of implausible and poses too many questions. I liked this novel the least of Eastwood's books. I found it slow and too sad for my tastes.

The Magnificent Marquess
When the dashing Reinhart Maycott, Marquess of Milbourne comes to dinner with his old schoolmate's family, the last thing Miss Mariah Parbury wants to do is attract attention and bring down the wrath of her mother and husband-hunting older sister. Unlike her family, Mariah is interested in the Marquess because of his wealth of knowledge gained by spending most of his life in India. Mariah is anxious to learn more about India and the Marquess. Soon, egged on by her friend Harriet Pritchard (little sister in The Captain's Dilemma), Mariah is flouting conventions to risk discovering more aboout the Magnificent Marquess and his past. Ren can't help but be charmed by the pretty, lively and intelligent Mariah but he has a dark secret that prevents him from following his heart. This book is more of a traditional Regency with a lot more romance. This is still a "clean" Regency but contains passages about physical attraction and feelings. I guessed the villain early on but I wasn't positive and I was dying to know so I couldn't put this down. Some critics say the villain didn't have a motive and I would amend that comment to say the villain didn't have much of a plausible motive, but who knows what drives the criminally insane? I liked the principal characters and how they were both intelligent and intellectual and drawn to each other's minds. The details and description of India were incredible and it's obvious that it well-researched. My biggest beef is with the cat. Is she a cheetah or a leopard? They aren't the same! .This isn't Eastwood's best novel but it's not terrible. I would recommend it to those who crave details and like intellectual characters.

The Rake's Mistake
After a three year banishment in the West Indies for scandalizing his family, Archer Everett Drake, Lord Ramsdale, returns to England to take up the mantle of responsibility. While out with a friend, he is captivated by a lady's laugh and when he learns the laugh belongs to the scandalous widow Lady Wetherall. Archer decides she will make the perfect mistress and sets out on a campaign to woo her, starting with taking her wayward stepson under his wing. Daphne, Lady Wetherall, has long been the subject of gossip among the ton since the days she posed as an artist's model for her father. Daphne is secure in the knowledge that she is innocent and is hurt by the rumors and tries to lives a quiet life in her late husband's home. She loves to paint and hopes to be accepted by the Royal Academy, but something is missing from her painting and she isn't sure what. Enter Archer, who takes Daphne sailing and helps her discover passion. When a new scandal and a dangerous enemy threatens Daphne, Archer discovers that Daphne means more to him than he realized - in short - she'd make the perfect wife! Archer is an avid sailor and the book is full of details about the construction of boats and sailing methods of the time. There are also excellent details on painting. Though there is definitely chemistry between the the two principles and many descriptions of how the characters feel, but I feel the period details overwhelm the plot and the romance sort of gets shoved aside. The plot wraps up quickly and perhaps the author should have spent more time developing the relationship between the characters and less on descriptions of sailing.

The Lady From Spain
A mysterious young lady in Spanish dress calling herself Doña Sofia Christina Ynez Alomar checks into a small country inn, watched avidly by Lieutenant Major Jeremy Hazelton, Lord Danebridge, in Wiltshire on government business. Is the woman calling herself Doña Sofia Christina Ynez Alomar a spy? Jeremy is determined to find out. Doña Alomar is really an Englishwoman, Falcarrah "Falcon" Sophia Colburne, returning to England after growing up following her father's regiment on the Continent. Her father was disinherited for marrying an Irishwoman and made the army his career until he and Falcon's mother were brutally murdered and Falcon left for dead. She has endured many hardships up until now and is determined to seek revenge on those who killed her family. Falcon doesn't expect that her greatest challenge will be to resist Lord Danebridge, who so charmingly offers his assistance as Falcon's plans go awry. Falcon discovers she has much to learn about pity, revenge, jealously and of course love. The plot of the novel moves along realistically and is full of wonderful historical details about life in the army. Though Falcon's life was rough and the details are unpleasant, I felt a lot of sympathy for her and hoped that she would find her place in the end. Jeremy is charming but we don't really learn much about him except for a few personal details. Much dialogue seems to happen outside of the plot and the ending is a little pointless. The villain and motive were so incredible obvious that I was surprised no one realized it.

An Unlikely Hero
Lord Gilbey Kentwell, twin brother of Gillian in A Perilous Journey, has just completed three years at Cambridge and is academically brilliant but has difficultly in social situations. His close friend, Nicholas St. Aldwyn, the Marquess of Edmonton has helped Gilbey considerably, which is why Gilbey has such difficulty saying no to an invitation to a house party at Lord Edmonton's family's country home in honor of Nicholas's two sisters, twins Vivian and Venetia. Since their come out, the twins have earned a reputation for refusing all suitors and putting the men through all sorts of tests. Gilbey is certain he doesn't want to face them, especially since his rank and fortune are too meager to be of interest to the twins' father, but Gilbey feels he owes Nicholas and heads off to the house party, hoping to be inconspicuous. Things don't go according to plan however, and Gilbey is struck by the twins' great beauty and Venetia's teasing smile. Venetia has her own plans for her and her sister, which don't include marriage without love. She is doubtful that she and her sister will find suitable husbands in the party guests. What the gentlemen don't know, however, is that Venetia has reasons for her actions. Vivian has a secret and a blackmailer wants to expose the secret or force Venetia into marriage. To add to their problems, someone is writing the twins bad poetry! Gilbey finds Venetia both interesting and exasperating but sees through her mask. He longs to help her but she's not sure she wants help, though she finds herself attracted to the young Viscount. Venetia soon realizes that Gilbey will make a perfect husband - for her sister and endeavors to arrange matters to her satisfaction. However, Vivian has some strong opinions of her own, as does Gilbey, which complicate the matter of a happily-ever-after for all of them. This is a more lighthearted comedy of manners with a hint of traditional Regency plot. I could relate to Gilbey and felt sorry for him many times as he tries to figure out what he wants. My favorite character is the strong-willed Venetia. She's a strong female character and doesn't suffer from the usual trite romance novel conventions. This is a nice, light read and I would definitely recommend it.

Overall, I enjoyed Eastwood's books. They are well-researched and well-written. She is especially strong at setting a scene with period details and her stories are not too overpowered by romance. Her weakness is her villains and plausible motives and realistic scenarios but otherwise very good. It's a shame her books are now out of print.