Saturday, August 28, 2010

What I've Read This Weekend

What I've Read This Weekend . . .

Celia's Grand Passion by Lynn Kerstan -- Regency Romance
Lady Celia Greer, recently widowed is determined to cut a dash in London for the first time in her life. Her plans include taking a lover, and not just any lover, but the
handsome widower, James Valliant, Early of Kendal, who has been the object of her fantasies for many years. Lord Kendal's first meeting with Celia is awkward and embarrassing and she asks him to forget it ever happened. He believes that will be an easy task, however, forgetting Celia is not easy. Celia's moment of Grand Passion is thwarted by a misunderstanding and masculine pride and James runs back to the Continent and Celia back to the country to settle her late husband's estate. In the country, Celia makes the acquaintance of Christopher "Kit" Valliant and a charming little boy, Charley, Lord Paxton. Celia soon falls in love with the emotionally starved boy and the boy with her until James returns to find Celia has interfered with his strict regimen he has planned for his son. Celia discovers Valliant family secrets and tries to set things right, regardless of her interest in Lord Kendal. James can't help being drawn to the charming, outspoken young woman, yet their past and his pride could prevent Celia from experiencing the passion she's long dreamed of. This story has all the trappings of a Lifetime movie. It is incredibly cliched, and if I had known that the hero was a widower, I could have predicted the plot without even reading the book. Celia is a great character and I admire her for her actions and recognizing her desires, however, I hate James and don't understand why Celia loves him. Attraction/desire is not the same as love. I prefer stories where there's courtship and romance. The story has more depth than most novels with the same plot and it may bring the sentimental types to tears. I would recommend this book if you prefer the spice and melodrama of Regency Historicals.

Lucy in Disguise by Lynn Kerstan -- Regency Romance
Companion to Celia's Grand Passion
Lucy is desperate to help her friend Diana escape her foolish guardian who wishes to marry Diana off to a man she can not stand. The pair hide out in a cottage on the Dorset coast trying to evade Diana's wood-be captors. Lucy capitalizes on a local legend to try to scare away the locals. She happens upon a smuggling adventure gone wrong and rescues a horse from drowning and his owner from injury and certain death. Kit is a charming, flirtatious man and Lucy does her best to convince him that she's a boy and Diana is a mute widow. Kit sees through their disguises offers to help rescue Diana with some help from his brother, the Earl of Kendal. Kit invites Lucy into his brother's home, under the pretext of a betrothal. In fact, Kit considers the masquerade to be the truth, but how to convince Lucy is the difficult part, for she wants nothing to do with him other than his help rescuing Diana. This
is more companion than sequel to Celia's Grand Passion and a far different story. This one has adventure, intrigue and villains and one handsome, charming rake. Christopher is so utterly charming and amusing that I dare one not to fall in love with him. Lucy is a determined, resourceful woman and I admire her for trying to help a girl she barely knows. My biggest problem with this book is that the story ends with lots of loose ends. It doesn't resolve the mystery of the thugs who shot Kit or where Sir Basil Crawley's money came from. The so-called villains only briefly appear, act buffoonish and then exit too quickly and easily. I loved the romance plot and adore Kit and Lucy together. Their witty banter makes me laugh and chapter 13 is my favorite. It is great to know what happened to James and Celia too. This book is a blend of sweet Regency, Traditional Regency and romantic comedy. I recommend it for fans of the comedic variety of Regencies.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Leigh Ann's Civil War by Ann Rinaldi -- YA Historical Fiction
Leigh Ann Connors is 11 years old when her home state of Georgia secedes from the Union. Leigh Ann doesn't understand what's happening. She is content with her life as a spoiled mill owner's daughter. Her older brothers have brought her up while her father slowly goes mad from business worries and her mother, a Yankee, "carries on" with other men. The only African-Americans she knows are the few house servants who spoil her and the distant field hands who are all treated with courtesy and friendship. When her brothers, Teddy and Louis, head off to fight for the Confederacy, family secrets are revealed and Leigh Ann begins to grow up. As Sherman's troops march to the sea, the Conners family fear for their mill and Leigh Ann tries to thwart the Yankees and win back her estranged brother's affection. Her mother, with the power of a Yankee officer, stands in the way and has all the women and children connected with the mill arrested, including Leigh Ann, her sister and sister-in-law. During the journey from Roswell to Marietta, Leigh Ann summons her courage and bury the spoiled child she was before the war in order to save her family. This story combines history with a bit of American-Indian and African-American beliefs to successful create a page-turning novel. However, none of the characters are developed well enough to make them likable. They are all pretty much stock characters used in Rinaldi's other recent novels. This book doesn't have the same depth or detail that make Rinaldi's early novels so wonderful and memorable, but it's worth a read for fans (ages 12-14) of the Civil War period.

The Fleeing Heiress by Gayle Buck -- Regency Romantic Comedy
Companion to The Chester Charade (not read) Lord David Cardiff stops at an inn on his way back to London from a house party. His intention is to wrap up his business in London before rejoining his regiment in Spain. However, plans go awry when he rescues a young lady from an abduction. Miss Thea Strafford has been taken against her will by her sister's fiance, who is after her fortune. She wants nothing to do with him and is grateful for David's rescue, grateful enough that she does not wish to subject him to her eccentric family and urges him on his way. Being a chivalrous gentleman, David stays with Thea to ensure her safety. Unfortunately, when Thea's hot-headed, crazy father and brothers arrive, they behave badly and cause Thea much embarrassment by demanding that David and Thea marry to save her reputation. The young people refuse to be coerced into marriage but Thea's brothers have other ideas and take matters into their own hands. A wild and crazy adventure follows, causing Thea further embarrassment and ruining her reputation beyond repair. There seems to be only one solution to her difficulties, one which she does not want to consider, even as she gets to know and like the kind and considerate gentleman. This is a sweet Regency, with emphasis on the adventure and only a small amount of romance. I really liked it but I thought the middle dragged on a bit too long so the ending was awkward and rushed. I would have written it differently, but I was pleased that the characters came up with the same solutions that I would have recommended. The relationship develops realistically enough for a novel and David is an exemplary hero; a gentleman to the very core. Thea is stubborn and opinionated without being too modern or sassy. She's a likable girl and I wanted everything to work out for her. The secondary characters are very funny and made me giggle a few times. Though I really liked this book and would recommend it, it doesn't match up to Georgette Heyer or even some other authors who excel at screwball comedy. For those keeping track, there are a few sweet kisses but no overwhelming passion or descriptions of feelings of attraction. This is a nice, old-fashioned romance.

The Miser's Sister by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance
Lady Ruth Penderric struggles to keep her crazy, miser brother from starving the family to death as well as to keep her spoiled younger sister ignorant of the true situation. She believes that marriage to the local curate will provide a better life. One foggy day, Ruth is hit on the head and abducted by wicked villains who mean to kill her if her brother doesn't pay ransom. Oliver Pardoe is the son of a wealthy London banker and an aspiring engineer. He travels to Cornwall to learn more about the latest invention to catch his interest, hot air balloons. His father and Ruth's maternal uncle are friends and Oliver has been charged with calling on the Penderrics to learn whether the young ladies are safe and well. Before he can accomplish anything, Oliver is set upon by ruffians, abducted for ransom and placed in the same hideout as Ruth. Ruth is overcome with fear and exhaustion, but Oliver is clever and levelheaded and sees a way out of their difficulties. Still fearing for Ruth's safety, Oliver begs her to write him if she feels she can not live with her brother any longer. When the situation at Penderric Castle goes from terrible to horrid, Ruth grabs her sister Letty and turns to Oliver and his friends for help. Oliver whisks Ruth and Letty off to London where his mother and sister are eager to meet them and share the delights of London while Ruth's uncle and aunt are in Paris. They are quickly enveloped in the family fold and Ruth finds a friend and confidante in Rose Pardoe. When Uncle and Aunt Hadrick return to London, their selfish aunt dismisses Ruth as an old maid but is eager to bring out the beautiful, young Letty. Lady Hardick also decrees that the Pardoes, as "cits" can not be proper friends for the Penderrics. Ruth learns to hold her own against her aunt, but fears her aunt's snobbishness will drive away the man she loves. Oliver falls in love with Ruth but being a typical hardheaded male, he misinterprets a situation and the path to true love does not run smooth. This story is a lot darker than Dunn's later books. The villains are really nasty and Ruth's brother is not merely a miser, he's mentally ill and downright frightening. The dark plot turned me off at first, as did the misunderstanding. I really liked Ruth's development throughout the novel. She didn't seem like my kind of heroine at first but she grew and changed as the story progressed, which is Dunn's strength. Dunn also excels at writing quirky secondary characters and Auntie is no exception. I liked her the best of all the characters! Oliver isn't a very dashing hero but he's intelligent and interesting and kind. The story has lows and highs throughout the plot before rushing to a predictable conclusion. Fans of the more traditional Regency genre will like this one but those who prefer comedies of manners will not.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What I've Read This Week Part II

What I've Read This Week . . . Part II

The Frog Earl by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance
Simon Hurst, Earl of Derwent, returns home from life in the navy prepared to take over duties as his father's heir from his late brother. His very proper father feels that Simon needs some town bronze and enlists the aid of Simon's cousin Gerald, Viscount Litton to show Simon the ways of the ton. Simon finds it difficult to adjust to life on land, until he falls in love. Just as he's about to pop the question, he accidentally overhears the lady speaking cruelly of him and calling him a frog. Dejected, Simon runs away to his Aunt Georgina, Lady Thompson's, estate to learn estate managing from her excellent bailiff. Simon decides to go icognito in hopes of finding a lady who will love him for himself. Simon comes across Mimi, the daughter of an Indian princess and English colonel, finishing for her lost bracelet. She promises him three rewards if he can rescue her bracelet: an invitation to dinner, a dance and a kiss! Simon rescues the bracelet but the independent Mimi has no intentions of providing him with a reward! Mimi is used to gentlemen fawning all over her because she is an heiress and she wants none of them. She'd rather pass her suitors on back to her friend Harriet, the lovely vicar's daughter, who had been the object of attention before Mimi arrived in England. The generous, well-meaning Mimi sets out of a project to scare her suitors away. Surprisingly, Simon Hurst can not be moved by Mimi's incorrigible behavior and accepts her for who she is, causing Mimi to rethink her decision not to marry. This Regency Romance is a bit different from the rest, being a retelling of The Frog Prince. Mimi's outrageous behavior made me giggle but other than that, I found the story slow and monotonous. The fairy tale makes the story rather contrived and too confined. If the story focused on just Mimi and Simon and cut out the subplot about Harriet, it would make a fine short fairy tale, but as is, it's a bit too long to be a fairy tale and a bit too short for a romance. The ending is rushed and rather boring and unromantic. I also think Mimi is very young and impulsive and needs to grow up a bit before she marries. Usually Dunn's heroines are older and more independent. This is not one of her better books.

Belong to Me: A Novel by Marisa De los Santos -- Fiction
Sequel to Love Walked In

Longing to get away from the city, Cornelia and Teo, now happily married, move to a Philadelphia suburb where everything is boring and picture perfect and children go to prep schools starting in Kindergarten. Their new neighbor Piper seems to take Cornelia into aversion for some reason and Cornelia grows lonely without a friend. She meets Lake, a single mom who works at a local restaurant and shares Cornelia's sense of humor, but every time Cornelia tries to get close to Lake, she shuts down. Dev, Lake's 13-year-old son is adjusting to life in the Philadelphia suburbs as well and also his new school for the gifted. Piper throws herself into caring for her best friend Elizabeth, who is dying of cancer, and making sure that Elizabeth's family is well taken care of. Piper is also dealing with the breakup of her marriage and the loss of the perfect lifestyle she has worked hard to accomplish. Cornelia, Piper and Dev tell their stories in alternating points of view and their lives become intertwined through loss, love and the revelation of secrets. Though Clare Hobbes does not have her own voice this time, she does appear in the story in a significant way and continues to be a part of Cornelia and Teo's lives. This book is far inferior to the first. I picked it up to find out what happened to Clare and she isn't even mentioned for the first 100 pages or so and doesn't appear until around page 140. Even Cornelia's story takes a back seat to Piper and Dev's. Piper is the main character of this book and the story is really about her transformation and letting go of old ideas and allowing herself to be free and happy. Her story by itself would have made an interesting novel but it doesn't gel with the other two narratives. Dev's story learning that smart and "odd" can equal "cool" and accepted is also interesting and inspirational for teenagers if removed from the rest of the narrative. Dev also begins searching for the father he never knew and trying to discover his mom's secrets. That plot is cliched and I figured it out almost right at the beginning of the story. Cornelia's plot includes a subplot about her little brother Toby that never really gets off the ground or finishes conclusively. Her story is also full of cliches and angst and she goes on being herself. I just couldn't like her as much in this story. She was boring and her story didn't grip me. I couldn't relate to her anymore. I hated Piper at first but once her story got going, I couldn't put the book down because I wanted to see what happened to her. She is a fine example of good characterization. There are too many characters in this story to keep track of and too many cliched plots. It also lacks the cute movie references of the first book. There are some, but they're sort of thrown in there without ties to the plot. I think the author would have done better if she had limited herself to writing about Piper and not made this a sequel at all. I don't recommend reading this one if you liked Love Walked In.

A Lord for Miss Larkin - Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance
Alison Larkin lives a shabby genteel life with her aunts and their dogs in an unfashionable part of London. Alison reads romance novels and dreams of having a lord fall at her feet, though she knows that's unlikely given her station. When her Aunt Zenobia returns from India a wealthy widow, she is determined to improve her family's living situation as well as given Alison a Season! Aunt Zenobia hires Lady Emma Grant to help Alison through her Season. Emma enlists the help of her family and friends, particularly Mr. Philip Trevelyan. Philip will do whatever Emma asks because he wishes to marry her, but he can not like associating with such a vulgar, impertinent girl. Aunt Zenobia asks her man of business, Mr. Ralph Osborne, to keep an an eye on Alison, with hopes that the two will make a match at the end of the Season. Emma kindly encourages Alison to be more friendly to Mr. Osborne, whom she highly regards, but Alison resents the intrusion. She much prefers the attentions of her dashing young suitors and Lord Fane, who seems very interested in her. Yet, it's only when she is with Philip that Alison feels like she can be herself. Philip is all that is kind and considerate, especially to her aunts and Alison isn't sure what to make of him. This is a pretty weak novel from Dunn. Alison is young and immature and has no business marrying anyone. Philip is a pale imitation of Mr. Darcy, but without any reasoning behind his behavior. The aunts and their dogs make the book worthwhile. They are not quite as zany as some of the other secondary characters in other Dunn novels, but they are sweet and funny at the same time. Dunn excels at character development and though Alison, Philip and Emma change, the characterization is a little weak and lacking in depth. The other characters are mostly unmemorable and flat. Even the villain can't be counted on to do the thing properly. This is the weakest of Dunn's novels that I have read so far.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What I've Read This Week: Part I

What I've Read This Week : Part I . . .

Sizzling Sixteen (a Stephanie Plum novel) by Janet Evanovich
Stephanie's cousin and employer, Vinnie has gone missing and without him Stephanie is out of a job. Armed with her lucky bottle inherited from an uncle, her gun (sans bullets), and sidekicks Connie and Lula, Stephanie sets out to rescue Vinnie and save the company. Before the danger is over, they encounter alligators, dangerous mob-men and Hobbits (yes Hobbits). As with the last few Plum novels, this one lacks an interesting plot and serves as a vehicle to make the characters behave even more crazy than in previous books. The funniest bits in the story involve alligators and stink bombs; most of the jokes would appeal to middle-school boys. The ending is rather anti-climatic as Stephanie sits around waiting to be rescued. I think the story had come to the inevitable conclusion and it's time for Stephanie to retire.

Miss Jacobson's Journey by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance
In 1802 London, Miriam Jacobson's parents have decided it's high time she is married. Against her wishes, they call in the matchmaker, according to Jewish tradition, who chooses Isaac Cohen, the scholarly son of a moneylender, to be Miriam's husband. Miriam takes one look at the scrawny, weak-eyed young man and flees. For the next nine years she travels around Europe with her uncle, a doctor, helping him treat patients and organize his notes. Now her uncle is dead and it's time to return to England. With Napolean's troops all over Europe, getting home is difficult. Miriam is referred to Jakob Rothschild, a banker whose family firm transports money back and forth from England. He asks Miriam to undertake a difficult journey smuggling gold to Welington's troops in Spain in exchange for his help getting her home. Miriam agrees, ready for one last adventure. Her traveling companions include the handsome gentile Lord Felix Roworth and the equally handsome and somewhat familiar Isaac Cohen. The gentlemen hate each other at first and Isaac seems to dislike Miriam for no reason she can recall. Since they must travel as relatives, Miriam decides to undertake the difficult task of befriending the gentlemen and getting them to like each other. Their safe passage is threatened by overzealous French police and the fear of imprisonment. It's only Miriam's resourcefulness that gets them through the most difficult times. It's only natural that both the gentlemen should fall in love with Miriam, and her with them, but which one should she choose? This fun adventure is a bit different from the typical Regency novel. It combines adventure with a dash of romance and throws in some history and religion as well. The Jewish characters are unusual in that they inhabit a world outside of that which Regency novels are usually set and therefore, this book takes the story out of the ballrooms and drawing rooms of London. I enjoyed the adventure though there could have been a bit more romance. Miriam is a typical Dunn heroine: smart, resourceful, beautiful and strong-willed. The gentlemen are a bit different and they develop nicely. I really like that the characters get to know one another and grow up along the way, a nice change from the usual courtship of just a few weeks! The downside to this book is that there are certain aspects of Jewish history and culture that the reader may not understand if they are unfamiliar with Judaism. The second fault of the novel is that it lacks the quirky secondary characters that Dunn writes so well. The final, and in my opinion, biggest, fault is that there's too much time spent on the journey and not enough of the romance. The story does keep the reader guessing which one Miriam really loves though it's easy to guess who she'll end up with given certain circumstances but I think her romance with that gentleman could have been a bit more romantic. This is a good, fun read and perfect for summer vacation!

Love Walked in: A Novel by Marisa de los Santos -- Fiction
Cornelia Brown's life changes forever when a handsome stranger walks through the door of the coffee shop where she works. Sounds corny right? Not in the least! Cornelia notices the man's resemblance to Cary Grant right away and puts to use all the fantastic flirting skills she's learned from years of obsessing over old movies. Martin seems to be into her too and their relationship affects Cornelia in ways she never expected. Clare is a going-on-eleven year-old girl who lives with her single mom in an affluent area outside of Philadelphia. Her father doesn't have much interest in her, but her mother's love more than makes up for her father's lack of love. When Clare's mother begins to act strangely, Clare is scared. She reaches out to her father and he dismisses her concerns. Clare is a resourceful and mature child so she copes the best she can. When Clare and Cornelia's lives intersect, they form an instant bond. With help from her brother-in-law Teo and her loud, but loving, family, Cornelia helps Clare cope with the changes life has thrown at her. This is an incredibly moving story about different types of love and the way love can help heal the most broken heart. The prose is beautifully written by first-time author, Marisa del los Santos and there are many amusing references to old movies and classic children's books, both of which I love. The plot kept me turning pages way too late into the night and there were twists I never saw coming. The story does not end the way I expected it to or really wanted it to but the ending is right for the characters. It's perfect the way it is and leaves room for a sequel but also closes the story if there's not a sequel. Some of the events are too contrived but I was too caught up in the story of heartbreak and love to be really annoyed. The character development is mostly good, but there are awkward insightful moments that come when a story is told in first person. Clare's story is the stronger of the two. My heart goes out to her and I admire her maturity. Cornelia comes across as a little ditzy and annoying at first but I can relate to her issues about growing up and dealing with real life. I also love many of the same movies she does and can easily understand her obsession with them! Though this is different from my usual type of novel, I loved it. This is a great book for older teens and adults who want a heartwarming story that will make you cry and smile.

What I Read Last Week

What I Read Last Week . . .

Polly and the Prince by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance
Companion to Lady in the Briars

Miss Polly Howard is a spinster artist, helping her family get by with her money from her artwork. Her mind ever on her art, Polly nearly meets with mishap and is rescued by the handsome Kolya. Believing he is a poor Russian laborer, Polly invites him to pose for her in exchange for food. At first her mother is skeptical of the unknown man, but Kolya soon endears himself to the family as he helps them prepare for their move from Tonbridge Welles to the country, where Polly's brother Ned makes his living as estate manager for Lord John Danville. Kolya and John are old friends from long ago and Kolya tags along with the Howards to ask his old friend for help building a new life in England. The Howards are surprised to discover that Kolya is on intimate terms with a gentleman but the news doesn't stop Polly from falling in love with the charming Russian. When Kolya is called to Brighton by the new King, Polly misses her friend, but is delighted when she learns that he has secured a position for her to paint portraits of Lady Sylvia Ellingham's young daughters. Lady Sylvia is kind and her daughters delightful and they are happy to welcome Kolya and Polly's brothers into the family fold. Soon Polly's talent catches the eye of the ton and even the King himself. Polly continues to receive support not only from her family but from Kolya as well. However, secrets may destroy the trust Polly has placed in the Russian and she inadvertently becomes involved in political turmoil which could cost her her life, not to mention her true love.

Lord Iverbrook's Heir by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance
High Carrick, Viscount Iverbrook returns to England from an extended stay in Jamaica after leanring of the deaths of his brother and sister-in-law from a fever. They left behind a five-year-old son named Peter, who is currently under the guardianship of his maternal aunt Selena Whitton. Hugh is furious at the idea of his heir living with a "passel of females" and decides to reclaim his heir. Hugh intends to install his nephew at Iver, where his mother is continually having spasms and his kind step-father is too busy raising pigs to notice much else. Hugh thinks he might sue Selena Whitton for custody and his devious lawyer puts the plan in motion before Hugh even meets his nephew. Selena has no patience and no time to deal with the high and mighty Lord Iverbrook, for she has a farm to run. When Hugh arrives at the Whittons he and Selena instantly clash over expectations for young Peter, but Hugh is soothed by Lady Whitton's refreshing lemonade with cooling borage flowers and Peter's charming conversation. It's clear to Hugh that Selena is in charge of the household and he must learn to get along with her if he wants access to his heir. Hugh sets about trying to relieve Selena of some of her most hated duties and finds himself enjoying the work as well as becoming good friends with Selena. Little Peter provides plenty of opportunity for bonding as his youthful spirits often land him in trouble and worry his older relatives. Hugh and Selena's romance is complicated by the beautiful Amabel Parcott, Lord Iverbrook's former mistress who is after his title. Furthermore, Aubrey Whitton, dandy and heir to Selena's late father arrives from the West Indies broke and hoping to make Selena his wife so he can inherit her property as well as her fortune and sponge off her. Also, Selena's romantic little sister Delia searches for a romance of her own. This is another of Dunn's typical light-hearted romances which can easily be read in one or two sittings. The character development is good, though not great. I admired Selena and fell a little bit in love with Hugh, once he lost his overbearing manner. I also liked Lady Whitton, the herbalist and it's obvious that her remedies are well-researched by the author. The secondary characters are as usual, amusing, but the comedic moments aren't quite as funny as some of her other books. The villains mostly work for their own gain from within the family party. The plot is a little too weak and contrived at times. A subplot about slavery makes this story stand out from the rest, in this otherwise mostly forgettable novel. 

The Little Ottleys by Ada Leverson -- Fiction
This is a trilogy written in the Edwardian era. The stories revolve around Edith and Bruce Ottley, a youngish married couple and their society of friends. Edith is charming, calm and patient, the opposite of her husband. Bruce is selfish, boring and continually fancies himself ill. In Love's Shadow, the primary character is an independent young beauty named Hyacinth and the story revolves around the ins and outs of her love life as commented on by the Ottleys and their friends. In Tenterhooks, the second novel, revolves around marital troubles and flirtations with infidelity. Love at Second Sight concludes the drama began in Tenterhooks and brings the story of the Ottleys to a surprising conclusion. I didn't like these novels as much as I thought I would. I love Jane Austen's witty commentary on her society and other comedy of manners novels. I expected Leverson's books to be similar, but they are not. Her humor is more subtle and dry than Austen's and I really didn't find the characters or their situations funny at all. Rather, I found them all to be a rather pathetic lot and I didn't understand their actions and found them all whiny and selfish. It took me a long time to get through these books and I likely won't try to read them again.

Monday, August 9, 2010

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Angel by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance
Lady Evangelina "Angel" Brand has just turned down her 18th proposal of marriage. She had hoped to marry someone who loved her for herself and not for her fortune or her beautiful face. About to turn 19, Angel decides to make one last attempt to secure a husband whom she can love. When invited to visit her aunt, vicar uncle and spinster cousin in the Lakes District for the summer, Angel decides to go in disguise, as plain Miss Evelyn "Lyn" Brent/Brand. Angel takes an active interest in local society, planning to find husbands for her cousin Catherine (a shocking bluestocking and "old maid" at 24!) as well as for Lady Elizabeth Markham. Lady Elizabeth is shy and timid and misses her older brother who ran away from home to join the army. Lord Dominic had a terrible falling out with their father, Lord Griesdale, leaving Elizabeth alone to deal with her bullying, mean tempered father. The young ladies make the acquaintance of Lady Elizabeth's cousin, Sir Gregory, who sees through Angel's disguise and quotes Shakespeare with Catherine. Several other eligible (and ineligible) suitors present themselves while Angel meddles and schemes to sort out everyone else's lives. There's also a mystery to be solved as someone is trying to kill one of the gentlemen. Finally, she must look to her own happiness and decide what she's going to do to promote her own marriage plans. This is a light, sweet romantic comedy as is typical from Dunn. Angel is a very flawed heroine but I couldn't help but like her because she meant well and her adventures were very funny. She has some modern ideas but she's not a 20th century heroine. The story is realistic for the time period, as far as over-the-top romantic comedies go and the plot kept me turning the pages to see what Angel would do next. The other characters were not so well-developed, except for Elizabeth, on whom Angel is a positive influence. Catherine is a little boring and I would like to know more about her, being a bluestocking spinster myself. I loved the romantic pairings and each lady ended up with the gentlemen who was right for her. Some might find the treatment of the character Herbert, the "half-wit" distasteful and it is so, but the attitudes of the characters reflect the attitudes of the day. The romances develop with gentle, mild teasing and meeting of like minds; there's no grand passions in this book and that's fine with me. This isn't the best Regency romantic comedy I've read but I enjoyed it very much and would recommend it to fans of Georgette Heyer and those who like clean Regencies.

Black Sheep's Daughter by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance
Prequel to Lady in the Briars

Sir Andrew Graylin arrives in the jungle of Costa Rica on a diplomatic mission to Lord Edward (Don Eduardo) Danville's coffee plantation and is met by gunshots - from a lady no less! The lady, Teresa Danville, is the daughter of Lord Edward, a crack shot and has just saved Andrew's life! He's unsure of what to think of the beautiful, hoydenish daughter of an exiled Englishman and his Spanish wife. Andrew has ample opportunity to get to know Teresa on the journey back to England, where she and her youngest bother will go to meet the family they never knew. Marco wishes to be a scholar and Teresa longs to learn how to become a lady. During the journey, she's taken under the wing of Lady Parr and her daughter Muriel. Muriel is everything an English girl should be, and everything Teresa is not. Teresa can't help but be a little bit jealous, especially since Muriel is betrothed to Andrew! Along the way, the ship has a run-in with a slaver and Teresa's courage rises to the occasion, inuring the wrath of the slave ship captain and earning the admiration of the slaves she has helped rescue. England proves to be a greater challenge than even Teresa is prepared for. In London strict rules, a mischievous cousin, a villain and even her talking parrot nearly cause her downfall. Through it all, her heart remains attached to a certain Englishman with a love of adventure and travel. However, he belongs to another and is unaware of her feelings. Finally, a dangerous adventure will reveal hidden truths and change Teresa's life for better or for worse. This is a very different Regency set novel. The first two chapters take place in Costa Rica and contain incredibly detailed descriptions of the flora and fauna. I could imagine myself right in the middle of the jungle thanks to the fabulous description. The next few chapters take place at sea and contain action, adventure and tutelage in the behavior of the haut ton. Even the English-set part of the novel contains more liveliness and adventure than a typical novel of the ton. Teresa is an energetic and engaging heroine. She's a free spirit but learns to compromise and outwardly follow the dictates of society without sacrificing who she is, an accomplishment I greatly admire. Andrew has his moments of stuffiness but underneath he's a good guy. John Danville is a typical young rakehell and certainly must be friends with many of the other young gentlemen in Regency novels, just as his brother is equally stereotypical in the opposite manner. My most favorite character, however, is Gayo, the talking parrot who swears in multiple languages. I found myself giggling through all his scenes. I enjoyed this adventure a lot and found that though it's a bit different from the typical Regency set novel, in this case, different is better.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What I Read Last Week

What I Read Last Week . . .

Dearest Cousin Jane by Jill Pitkeahley -- A Jane Austen novel
This book is a fictionalized biography of Jane Austen's lively cousin Eliza. Eliza was born in India Jane Austen's aunt Philadelphia and her husband Mr. Tysoe Saul Hancock. Eliza was the goddaughter of the Governor General of India and in the story, his illegitimate daughter. Eliza and her mother, Philadelphia, moved back to England when Eliza was a child. The girl was educated in France but enjoyed spending holidays with her Austen cousins. She loved entertaining in the lavish French style and cared deeply for her little boy who was ill. Eliza's story is often mentioned in Austen biographies and this book tries to flesh her out more and share with the reader how the interesting and outspoken woman influenced Jane Austen to defy social conventions and become a published author. I liked Eliza and it's easy to see why Jane was fascinated by her older cousin, but I did not like the way the story was told. Letters (real and fictional), journal entries and conversations between the Austens, Eliza, and their cousin Philly Walter make the story disjointed. It's difficult to switch points of view each chapter and each section is dated at the top rather than revealing the time through the narrative. I think the story could have been told in a more lively manner, to match Eliza's personality. This book is all right and if you want to read everything about Jane Austen, then pick this one up. It's more for the casual Austen fan than true Janeites.

Two Corinthians by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance

Claire Sutton has spent her entire 28 years being belittled by her mother and protecting her sister Lizzie from the same fate. Claire prefers cultivating roses in her greenhouse to society, but she is determined to find a husband for Lizzie so they can escape their awful family. When Claire falls and sprains her ankle, a handsome stranger rescues her and she thinks he will make the perfect husband for Lizzie. Lord George Winterborne is finally ready to seek a wife now that his brother's happiness has been restored. He enjoys Lizzie's open manner and cheerful flirtation but she isn't the wife for him. Claire may be just the wife he's looking for, however, he has competition from Lord Bertram Pomeroy. Bertram is nursing a broken heart now that Amaryllis has been lost to him and has promised his ill father that he would marry soon. Bertram seeks a quiet, comfortable woman to be his wife. When introduced to the Sutton sisters, Claire finds him reserved and too concerned with appearances, but the outspoken, high-spirited Lizzie is able to bring out Bertram's true personality. Bertram and Lizzie are continually clashing and the sooner she finds a husband to take her in hand the better, in Bertram's opinion. Claire also has another suitor, Bertram's dandy cousin Harrison, who is seeking a rich wife. When the Sutton sisters head to London for Lizzie's come-out, the gentlemen do all that is necessary to help them feel welcome. As the King's coronation date approaches, signaling the end of the Season, neither sister has found a husband, so Lizzie decides to take matters into her own hands. The plot is well-paced and ends in a madcap comedic adventure almost worthy of Georgette Heyer. The characters all develop nicely and are mostly likable. I half fell in love with George myself. Bertram still comes across as stuffy and self-centered but he is a great foil for Lizzie and I love their witty exchanges. Though Claire is rather meek, it's easy to feel sorry for her and cheer for her when she finds happiness. She manages to stand up for herself when it counts, too. There is one character labeled an "idiot" but mainly the characters are kind to him. This isn't in my top ten Regencies, but it's a fun and fast tale that's perfect for fans of sweet Regencies.