Saturday, December 31, 2011

Jane Austen Mystery Series

Jane Austen Mystery series by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Ghosts of Netley
This 7th installment finds Jane still living in Southhampton living with her mother, sister and friend while waiting for Mrs. Austen to decide whether to move to one of Edward's holdings in Kent or Hampshire. Jane's curiosity is awakened by the arrival of someone at Netley Abbey. Rumor has it that the Abbey is haunted by ghosts of the monks who used to live there. Jane doesn't quite believe it but it's fun to imagine just the same. She is surprised by a visit from The Gentleman Rogue himself. Lord Harold wants Jane to spy on the beautiful but dangerous widow Sophia Challoner who resides at the Abbey. Lord Harold believes that Mrs. Challoner, whom he had known intimately in Portugal, is a French spy. An unlucky accident brings Jane right into Mrs. Challoner's home and her confidence. The widow has nothing good to say about Lord Harold and Jane begins to question whose opinion is correct. The arrival of a stranger from Baltimore arouses Jane's suspicion but she becomes confused again when Maria Fitzherbert, a cast off royal mistress, joins the house party. While Jane socializes with Mrs. Challoner and friends, she dreams of living the life of a tonnish lady by Lord Harold's side. Another mysterious stranger arrives at the Abbey and Mrs. Challoner's maid accuses her employer of witchcraft. With the help of His Lordship's valet, Jane attempts a more in-depth investigation involving hysterical maids, secret tunnels and a stranger called Mon Singeur. Just as Jane thinks she has it all worked out, something goes horribly wrong and one dear to her becomes the victim. This is not the best mystery of the series. It's not too difficult to figure out who Mon Singeur is and what the connection between Mrs. Challoner's houseguests is. I also suspected the villain and I think that Lord Harold was stupid and should have figured it out. This story is darker and more sad than some of the others. Jane spends almost the whole book mooning over Lord Harold and I find it quite out of character for her. 

Jane and His Lordship's Legacy
Do not read this review unless you have read Jane and the Ghosts of Netley.

Jane and her family have finally removed to a cottage in Hampshire on the Knight estate owned by her brother Edward. Jane feels she should be rejoicing in the move back to the country but her heart is heavy. She mourns the loss of Lord Harold and wonders what he really thought of her. Upon arrival, a London solicitor shows up at Chawton Cottage for Jane. He brings with him a bequest from Lord Harold. Lord Harold has left Jane a Bengal chest full of his personal papers for her to use in writing a memoir of him. Half of London would give anything for that chest of papers and the other half is busy gossiping about Jane's relationship to Lord Harold, much to the dismay of Jane's Mama. It also seems that the locals are unhappy with the Austens arrival in the country. They feel that one of their own, a Mr. John-Knight Hinton is the true heir. While the locals gossip about the too high in the instep ladies arriving at Chawton Cottage and despair over the removal of the bailiff's widow who previously inhabited the cottage, Jane is busy trying to hide the chest of papers. While moving the chest to the cellar with help from a neighbor, Jane discovers a man's body. Calm and collected, Jane knows just what to do and she isn't about to miss the inquest and her chance to give testimony. The her beloved Lord Harold's papers are stolen and Jane wonders if the two events are connected. It seems the locals may have an interest in Lord Harold's papers as well for a young Mr. Thrace has come to Hampshire. The London gossips say the young man is an illegitimate son of a peer and about to be made the heir. There are two possible gentlemen who could be the Mr. Thrace's father and both were connected to Lord Harold. The daughter of Lord Harold's old friend the Earl of Holbrook has also come to Hampshire to contest Mr. Thrace's possible right to inherit her family home. Rounding out the cast of characters are Major Spence who is the Steward of the Holbrook estate, two young ladies and a bunch of villagers and workers in Chawton. Jane must use her wits to discover who stole Lord Harold's chest and also see that the murderer is found and brought to justice. Part of this mystery should have been fairly easy for Jane to figure out. Once the clues were laid out and the red herrings cleared away, I figured out the mystery of the heir. Then I figured out the WHO and some of the why. It took Jane much longer and I would think that someone as intelligent as she could have used the information she was given to put the clues together and solve the mystery. I did not like the author playing fast and loose with real historical events and people. She explains why she did it in the Afterward but I don't like it when she does that. I do like that Jane went around accompanied by her brothers, though she makes a stupid mistake at the end. I also don't like that she had lost her heart to Lord Harold. I think the author is taking too many liberties with Jane Austen's life. I shall have to see how the next book is before I decide if I am going to continue reading the series. 

Jane and the Barque of Frailty
Jane is staying in London with Henry and Eliza to oversee the publication of her first novel. Jane has a chance to experience life among the Great including the scandals and gossip that the ton feed on. The latest scandal involves a Russian princess and some love letters published in the newspaper assumed to be written to Lord Castlereagh, a prominent Tory MP. When Princess Tscholikova is found dead on Lord C's doorstep, it fuels the rumors of an intimate affair. Lord C swears he never knew the princess and was innocent of any wrongdoing. The coroner rules self-murder and the case is closed. However, Jane can not let the matter rest, for she and Eliza have been accused of murdering the princess, all thanks to a favor for one of Eliza's fellow French emigrees. Jane is determined to put her sleuthing skills to work to solve the murder. She sorely misses Lord Harold but his personal papers suggest that the late princess may have been a political pawn in a larger game between Lord C and his political opponents. Jane also wonders what role the beautiful high flyer Julia Radcliffe has to play, if any. There's no denying that all the men of London are at her feet. Could she be a French spy? There are plenty of twists and turns in this story to keep Jane and her readers guessing. Some mysteries remain unsolved even at the end. The mystery is quite intriguing though I found the political situation confusing. As for a story featuring Jane Austen, spinster, as a character, this one completely fails. It starts off well enough but heads into fantasy land and ending with something that no well-born lady, let alone Jane Austen would do, even to solve the mystery. Once again the author incorporates real life people and situations into her story which I dislike. This time she goes farther taking Jane into the glittering world of the ton and visiting with high flyers. The books always seem well-researched so it came as a surprise that the author would even consider having her Jane do something so improper. This is not the best book of the series but if you want to read it as a Regency-set mystery and ignore the fact that the sleuth is the REAL Jane Austen, it's quite a good book. It would be a better book with a made up heroine.

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Mr. Malcolm's List by Suzanne Allian -- Regency Romantic Comedy

The Honorable Mr. Jeremy Malcolm, the biggest catch of the Season (1818) has a reputation for being a Trifler, a Breaker of Hearts, a Destroyer of Young Women's Dreams. His latest victim is his friend Lord Cassidy's cousin Julia. Julia, a headstrong beauty feels rejected that Malcolm didn't fall at her feet and propose after one outing. Mr. Malcolm tells Cassie that he found Julia boring. Julia, like all other women of his acquaintance, does not meet all of the qualifications he requires in his bride. When Cassie tells Julia about Mr. Malcolm's list she is furious and feels humiliated. She decides the best course of action is revenge. Julia invites her old school friend Selina Dalton to come to London to enact the plan for revenge. Selina, a country clergyman's daughter, had been working as a companion to an elderly lady who became a close friend and confidant. Selina's employer has recently died, leaving Selina with a comfortable independence but not enough to live in London. Selina jumps at the chance for an adventure in the metropolis but when she learns of Julia's plan for revenge, she isn't so sure she wants to do it. Julia plans to present Selina as the perfect bride for Mr. Malcolm but then when he proposes, Selina will announce he does not meet all the qualifications on her own list. When Selina meets Malcolm incognito, she's immediately attracted to the handsome, witty man and when she learns he is the one who spurned Julia, her reservations about then plan increase. She believes that she will never meet all the qualifications on Mr. Malcolm's list so she need not worry about Julia's plan for revenge, but as he gets to know Selina better, he seems more and more intent on getting serious. When her former employer's nephew Henry Ossoroy arrives in town, Selina also finds him a genial companion though Julia is determined to keep Selina and Henry apart. Selina worries she's beginning to lose her heart and what to do if Malcolm proposes? This light romantic comedy is filled with the usual cliched characters and plot devices. I didn't like the relationship between Malcolm and Selina. I felt it could have been better developed aside from mere physical attraction. They are both intelligent and witty but most of their interactions are sparse on dialogue. Malcolm mostly comes across as a snob who doesn't really know what he wants. Selina is a bit too nice at first but she improves as her temper is tried. Another character experiences a change of heart which seems too abrupt. The dialogue is stilted and unrealistic and there's lots of telling as opposed to showing. The list plot has been done much better elsewhere. If you enjoy the light, fluffy books of Clare Darcy and other Georgette Heyer copycats you'll like this one. If you can get a copy for free or download the inexpensive e-book version, then this book is worth the money. It was not well-written enough for me to feel the paperback was worth the price.

Letters to a Lady by Joan Smith -- Regency Romance

When Diana Beechum's neighbor, Lord Harrup, sends a letter from London asking their old nurse to send a foodman to pick up a packet of important documents from a Mrs. Whitby, Diana decides to do it herself. Diana and her chaperon/former nurse Miss Peabody, will be heading to London to help her brother Ronald get settled into his new apartment. Diana is shocked to discover Mrs. Whitby is a member of the muslin company and the important "documents" are actually love letters written from Lord Harrup to his former mistress. On the road to London, the letters are stolen by someone who knew to look for them. Upon arrival in London, Diana installs herself and Peabody in Lord Harrup's house despite the high in the instep reputation of her neighbor. She vows to get the letters back and hopes that Harrup will reward Ronald with a secretarial position. Lord Harrup is perfectly happy to pay any blood money to thwart the publication of the letters which would hinder both his political career and his engagement to the very young and proper Lady Selena. Diana is not afraid to speak her mind to Lord Harrup and tell him exactly what she thinks of his consorting with lightskirts, willingness to comply with blackmail and her thoughts on "old" men of 35 marrying innocent young teenage girls. Diana never dreamed that her search for Lord Harrup's documents would send her on an unexpected journey fraught with danger both to her person and to her heart. The plot drags on too long though the book is short but the search for the letters serves as a backdrop to bring the characters together. I liked Diana a lot and admired her willingness to speak her mind. However, I felt Diana was a bit too naive at times and some of her exploits would have resulted in hanging! Lord Harrup is not a very well-rounded character. He's a semi-Mr. Darcy copy with more of a temper. His interactions with Diana are very real though and I liked their relationship. I think more of the story needs to be from his point of view so the reader can tell what he is feeling and how he evolves. I especially loved Ronald, who, like me, is bookish and absent minded. He is a nice character and the jacket description of "bumbling" does not apply to him. He is a good foil for Diana. This is a nice, light predictable romance. It has charming moments that don't quite reach screwball comedy status but are funny just the same. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to those who like light, fun romantic comedies.

Friday, December 23, 2011

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently . . .

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure -- Nonfiction/Memoir
Growing up Wendy McClure wanted to be Laura Ingalls. She had imaginary fantasies about visiting Laura in the nineteenth century and having Laura show her around (and vice versa). Rediscovering the books as an adult launched Wendy into a frenzy of Laura Ingalls Wilder obsession. She not only reread the books, she read every biography and website she could find and even attempted recipes in the Little House Cookbook featured in the series. Supported by her boyfriend Chris (and now husband), Wendy went on a literal journey into Little House territory visiting sites that were significant to the Ingalls and Wilder clans. Wendy's observations on pioneer life are sometimes funny, especially when encountering a bizarre end-of-the-world cult at a working farm, and sometimes sad. She finally realizes what she's been searching for all along and finds her way home. At first I instantly identified with Wendy. I had no idea others had Laura fantasies too! I was obsessed with the TV show before I could read and once I read the books, my obsession became even more intense. I wore sunbonnets and prairie dresses and pranced around pretending to be Laura. I loved reading Wendy's descriptions of her childhood fantasy because I kept thinking "ME TOO!" and "No way! You too?" and agreeing with everything she said. A few chapters in, her attitude turns more cynical and I found myself disagreeing with her point-of-view. Our backgrounds are different so I think that we have very different approaches to our Laura fantasies, plus when I was 8 years old, an educator named Pleasant Rowland came up with a line of dolls, clothes, accessories and books that represented girls during different periods of American History. At 9 I fell in love with Kirsten, a "pioneer girl of strength and spirit" who allows me to fulfill my Laura fantasies without any of the unpleasantness such as wolves, locusts, drought, disease, starvation and fire. I'm glad Wendy took the journey to all the sites. I loved reading her descriptions which are sometimes written in awed tones and others in a more irreverent way. I can empathize with her disappointment that she couldn't find Laura in most of the home sites. I highly recommend she move to New England and or get a job working at Old Sturbridge Village where she can enact her pioneer fantasy. This book is a must read for those like Wendy who grew up wanting to be Laura and who have fantasized about churning butter, making sourdough bread and sleeping in a sod house! I'm not usually a huge fan of non-fiction or memoirs but I give this one an A!
The Other Countess by Eve Edwards (The Lacey Chronicles # 1) -- Young Adult Historical Fiction 

Lady Eleanor Rodriguez, Countess of San Jaime has a worthless title in the eyes of the English court of Queen Elizabeth I. Ellie's Spanish mother died leaving Ellie alone with her alchemist father. Ellie's father has little care for material matters; his desire to find a way to make gold is an obsession. He bankrupted his patron, the Earl of Dorset, and when the Earl died, his son, Will, forcibly removed the alchemist and his "brat" from the estate. Several years later, Will heads to court to seek a rich bride. He believes he has found one in Lady Jane Perceval. Lady Jane is bored by society. She knows she has to find a husband and thought she had found one in Sir Walter Raleigh. However, Sir Walter took her maidenhood and left her with empty promises. The young Earl of Dorset is handsome enough and he's much kinder than her brother Henry who is busy dallying with her maid Nell, but Jane isn't attracted to Will. His younger brother James is more charming but alas, is a younger son. At Court, Will encounters a beautiful, bewitching, dark haired maiden who embroiders badly but can read Latin. He's instantly enthralled, but then moved to anger when he discovers her true identity as the daughter of the alchemist who ruined his father. All Ellie wants to do is settle down somewhere comfortable and help her father with more legitimate scholarly pursuits. She's drawn to the handsome Earl but knows he's not for her. Each of the characters hopes to better their lives one way or another and that interest motivates them to search for happiness. Happiness will be denied or thwarted for some before they get a chance to learn if true love will triumph. This novel is similar to Phillipa Gregory's stories but written for younger readers. Girls ages 13-16 will love the sweet romance. I am an adult and I disliked the romance. The plot was boring and slow moving. It took me a long time to finish this book reading a chapter or two at a time in the bookstore. It just didn't grab me and make me want to rush right through. 
It was sweet and charming but completely unrealistic. As an historian, I appreciated the gritty every day details of Elizabethan England, including some mild sex scenes and innuendo. The characters were likable enough but do not really sound or act realistic for the time. This book is more of a fairy tale romance than a true historical fiction novel. I recommend it to teen girls who aren't obsessed with history but love a good romance. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What I've Read This Week Part II

What I've Read This Week Part II

Mastiff : The Legend of Beka Cooper Book 3 by Tamora Pierce -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy

It's been two years since the events of Bloodhound and Beka Cooper has just buried her fiance. While everyone around her weeps, she feels guilty because she was about to break off the engagement. When Lord Gershom calls Beka on a Hunt, she is happy to get out working again, doing what she loves the most. She and her partner, Tunstall, are accompanied by Achoo, the faithful scent hound and Pounce, the Constellation cat. They are joined by Farmer Grange, a young mage who acts the country bumpkin, but Beka suspects has hidden depths no one can see. Lady Sabine Macayhill, the Lady Knight and Tunstall's lover also comes along on the Hunt. The King and Queen of Tortall are in residence at the Summer Palace which has been attacked and their only son kidnapped. The Dogs suspect an inside job: a conspiracy of mages and nobles who are angry at the King for his recent interest in politics. Beka vows to the Queen that she will get little Prince Gareth back to his mother alive. Soon they're on a lengthy journey to find the prince with Achoo leading the way with her nose. Not much happens for 500 pages. The story is more of a quest novel than an adventure story until then. Around the 500 page mark the plot becomes filled with intrigue and danger. It's hard to keep up with all the nobles and mages who suspect that the Dogs knows what they're up to. The noblewomen despise Beka for her unladylike work. They follow the cult of the Gentle Mother and expect ladies to be gentle, soft and far removed from any violence. Beka is disgusted by the noble ladies and is eager to get back on the Hunt. With some help from her Birdies, dust spinners and of course, Achoo, she picks the trail back up and discovers that the young prince is in the hands of ruthless mages who treat the prince a slave. With every beating he receives, a magical bond threatens the welfare of the King and Queen threatening to plunge the country into a civil war. Beka is determined not to let that happen but she suspects there is a traitor in their midst and hates to think one of her friends could betray her. She knows her duty and will stop and nothing until the prince is returned home. There are some big surprises towards the end that provide the action sequences and human side of the plot. This story is very violent. There are many gruesome deaths along the way which bother even Beka at times. I had to skip a few descriptive passages. The animal companions provide the humor that lightens the story somewhat but it still remains a dark and difficult tale. Though there is not a lot of action, I couldn't put the book down. I liked the new character, Farmer. He's a very different sort of mage than the academic mages and his teacher was the first to identify wild magic. I liked seeing Beka develop from a young woman to a mature woman who knows what she wants and goes after it, despite pressure to be otherwise. She realizes that she is who she is and she needs to be respected for that. I didn't quite like the surprises at the end. One was out of character and an awful shock and the other surprise involved a romance I didn't see coming. The epilogue is not Tammy's best writing. It's not as dreadful as the Harry Potter epilogue but it's awkward. It links Beka's story to George Copper at the moment where he first meets "Alan." I enjoyed the book and I am sad to see the series come to an end.

What I've Read This Week

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

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Christmas Wishes by Barbara Metzger -- Regency Romantic Comedy

Miss Juneclaire Beaumont has lost her father to the Terror and her mother to despair and now lives as a poor relation with her greedy, penny-pinching aunt, uncle and wayward cousins. She's lonely and friendless except for Pansy. When Juneclaire's aunt threatens Pansy, Juneclaire will do whatever it takes to save her small, lame friend, including running off to London and going into service. The journey is more difficult than she realizes, until she runs into the Merritt Jordan, Earl of St. Cloud. The Earl, alias Satan St. Cloud is an angry young man. He was returning home to a set of grasping relatives when he was set upon by highwaymen and robbed of nearly all his possessions. When he comes upon Juneclaire, he decides to get into the Christmas spirit and offer help to the damsel in distress. Juneclaire is unsure of his motives at first, but unaware of his dangerous reputation, she quickly surmises he is an honorable gentleman. The Earl is captivated by the charming, innocent young woman with a big heart. When a crisis imperils Juneclaire's reputation, St. Cloud gladly offers for her hand but the lady runs off leaving Pansy in his care. St. Cloud is determined to find and marry Justine for only she can bring him the happiness he craves, but first he has to deal with his greedy relatives, strong-minded grandmother, weak-willed mother and... the family ghost. This is another amusing romp by one of the best in the business. There are several different story lines that make up the plot of this novel. Each one could have been it's own book and the first few chapters would have made a sweet novella. Though there is a lot going on, the plot moves along quickly despite being nearly 300 pages long. As usual, the story is populated by quirky characters who really make the story. My favorites are Pansy and Aunt Florrie. I preferred the secondary characters to the primary ones. St. Cloud is not my ideal hero. He has anger management issues and his exploits in London are legendary. Juneclaire is charmingly naive and childlike. She should not be marrying anyone, let alone someone like St. Cloud. I really identified with her love of animals and desire to protect them. Despite the fact that I didn't care so much for the characters, I really enjoyed the story and there were some twists that kept me reading long past when I had promised myself I'd stop. There is slightly more than kissing towards the end but nothing is really described and the characters are interrupted before they go too far. I highly recommend this book for fans of Metzger's other Regencies and those who like the comedy of manners Regencies.

A Christmas Kiss by Elizabeth Mansfield -- Regency Romance

When Miss Evalyn Pennington, a penniless governess, is accosted by her employer's besotted son Geoffrey, Evalyn is turned off without a character. Her only choice is to go to a distant relative in London and hope to find a position. Geoffrey's friends are aghast at his treatment of Miss Pennington and hit upon the perfect solution. Jamie Everard will ask his father, the Earl of Gyllford and his Aunt Clarissa to invite Miss Pennington home for the holidays. Once Aunt Clarissa meets Evalyn, she will be able to recommend  a new place for the governess. Jamie, with his best friend Reggie, convince Evalyn to go along with their plan even hiring her an abigail to make everything proper. Other guests are invited to Gyllford Manor for Christmas as well, including the Covingstons, a family with a pretty teenage daughter and a pair of lively twins and Gervaise, Lady Clarissa Steele's longtime friend and beau. Also invited is Miss Sally Trevelyan, a scheming woman determined to catch the widowed Earl. Sally has a difficult job ahead for the widower refuses to be caught. He is still grieving over the death of his wife many years ago. When Evalyn arrives she is made to feel welcome and a part of the festivities, for all she tries to stay in the nursery with the twins. Phllip, the Earl, wonders what his son's intentions are towards Miss Pennington and believes the pair to be engaged. If that is so, then why does Jamie spend all his time with the lovely young Marianne? As Philip tries his hardest to be a good host, he finds himself inexplicably drawn to Evalyn and she to him. Then he suddenly withdraws and turns his attentions towards Sally. Hurt, Evalyn tries to run away and when Phllip realizes the truth, it may be too late. This story is much longer than the typical Signet Regency. It would have made a far better short story. As it stands, it's too long and slow. The characters are all so stereotypical, with the exception of Philip, it's almost painful. Evalyn is too perfect and good so I did not like her much. Phillip is an original character but he's also too good and kind to be realistic.  Though predictability is a hallmark of the genre, this one is incredibly predictable and full of cliches. My favorite part of the story was the description of the Christmas celebration. What could have been a heartwarming short story is here a rather slow, predictable, fluffy novel. It's not bad just not really my style.

Winter Wonderland by Elizabeth Mansfield-- Regency Romance

Included in the same volume as A Christmas Kiss.
At age 19, Barnaby Traherne attended his first ever ball. A shy, gawky youth, used to being petted and protected by his much older brothers and sister-in-law, he is awkward in social situations. When his eye catches the reigning beauty, Miranda Pardew, Barnaby is determined to be introduced despite his sister-in-law's worries. Miranda, a hardened flirt, makes mincemeat out of young Barnaby without even learning his name. Needless to say, Barnaby will never ever forget his first ball. Eleven years later, Miranda is an impoverished widow who is being displaced from her home by her late husband's greedy relatives. After less than a day, Miranda realizes she is not welcome in her own home and applies for a position as a governess in the home of a Mrs. Terrance Traherne. Barnaby, heading to his brother Terrance's home for Christmas, is no longer the shy youth he once was. In fact, some ladies find him downright formidable. Certainly the impertinent gentleman who dares insult the young lady traveling on the stage with them finds Barnaby formidable. The highway men who rob the stage also find Barnaby a worthy opponent though he is no match for their pistols. Circumstances force Barnaby and Miranda together. He instantly recognizes her but she has no notion of his identity. Barnaby refuses to acknowledge the fact that they are acquainted, confusing Miranda who senses that Barnaby acts as if she had once done him an injury. Once safely arrives at Terrance's house, Miranda takes charge of Barnaby's three nephews, the youngest who is shy and timid like his uncle was before him. Miranda and Barnaby clash over child rearing as he continues to hold a grudge. His sisters-in-law have matchmaking on their minds with different brides in mind. His eldest sister-in-law believes Barnaby needs a shy, modest bride like Miss Olivia Ponsonby. Poor Livy can hardly say two words to this strange gentleman. Delia, Mrs. Terrance, learns of Miranda's past treachery and discovers a growing attraction between her brother and her governess. First Barnaby has to learn to be a man and then he must forgive Miranda. Can he find it in his heart to do so during this joyous season? This story is better written than the previous one. The characters are vastly different from the common Regency novel types. I really liked the focus on the younger son and his journey to manhood, except that it made him VERY unlikable. He's angry and acts like a complete jerk towards Miranda and I could not like his behavior. Miranda is a well-developed character and I really liked her and wished she had a better hero. I also liked the lively, loving Traherne family. It's a refreshing change from the usual distant Regency family. The children were charming except for lisping Jamie who I thought was rather bratty. The epilogue is mostly unnecessary and what happens there to tie in earlier events should have been part of the action of the main plot. This is a slightly above average novel that is a good, quick read.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

An Honorable Gentleman by Regina Scott -- Inspirational Regency Romance

Regina Scott's newest book features Sir Trevor Fitzwilliam, the mysterious best friend of Chase Dearborn in The Irresistible Earl. Sir Trevor has recently been made a Baronet and is heading to the estate purchased for him by his benefactor. Sir Trevor hopes that the estate will provide enough income for him to live as an honorable gentleman should instead of scraping by solving puzzles of embezzlement, theft and adultery for the ton. Sir Trevor longs to be a part of that glittering world that he's only ever been on the margins of since his illegitimate birth makes him ineligible to properly take his place in society. Sir Trevor's hopes are quickly dashed as the manor house is crumbling and the land is not fit for crops or animals. A mysterious nighttime intruder only adds to Sir Trevor's problems. Gwen Allbridge has been helping her father oversee Blackcliff Hall almost all her life and in the last year, since her mother's death, she has been doing so almost entirely alone as her father drowns his sorrows in gin. Gwen and her faith Mastiff Dolly are checking on things one night when a mysterious intruder awakens Sir Trevor and he literally crashes into Gwen. Gwen is thrilled a master has come to Blackcliff Hall at last. She believes he is the one who can rescue the dying village and bring back happier times. Sir Trevor is skeptical but Gwen is determined to show him the beauty of Blackcliff and make him see that he has to stay. Sir Trevor finds Gwen's faith in him irresistible but yet how can he live up to her expectations with his background and lack of funds working against him? When the mysterious intruder returns, Sir Trevor may just find his path to happiness after all. I liked this book much more than the Irresistible Earl. It contains a mystery, that though I figured out really quickly, had me interested to see how the characters would figure it out. The characters are more appealing than Chase and Mercedee too. Sir Trevor has a slightly roguish air about him that I find attractive. He's not overbearing like his friend though he is rather cynical at first. Gwen is an appealing heroine because she's strong and intelligent. She's also very very good and incredibly naive, traits which I found irritating at times. This novel contains a bit more inspirational content than the first. There are brief pleas to the Lord, some Bible reading and more in-depth prayers. Most of all is Gwen's firm belief that the Lord will provide and He has provided Sir Trevor. Sir Trevor must learn to have Faith as well. I didn't find the Inspirational content too obtrusive. I was able to gloss over some of it. I would recommend this book to readers of Regina Scott's earlier Regencies and to those who don't mind Inspirational fiction.

Regency Christmas II by Mary Balough, Carla Kelly, Mary Jo Putney, Anita Mills, Sheila Walsh -- Regency Romance short stories

In Sunshine for Christmas by Mary Jo Putney, a lonely gentleman heads to Naples for the holidays hoping to find some sunshine. Instead he finds an English governess who shows him the the sites and finally the path to happiness. This is the best of the stories in this anthology. It's well-written though I think the relationship between the characters is a little too informal for that era. The descriptions of Naples are incredible and now I rather feel like joining my parents on their holiday there next year. The romance is very sweet and believable.  

The Last Wish by Anita Mills has three young gentlemen coming to attend their uncle's deathbed. Two of the three are deeply in debt and hope to inherit their uncle's fortune. Then a young woman and a small girl show up claiming that the girl is the daughter of Sir John's estranged younger son. Sir John is very ill and wants to make peace with his son but it's too late. Now there's a granddaughter and her aunt to care for but what to do? Sir John decides on a solution but it's one that can not be agreeable to little Rebecca's Aunt Maria. She would rather starve than accept charity. It will take a Christmas miracle to save Maria and Rebecca from the poorhouse. This story is somewhat of an imitation of Georgette Heyer's style but doesn't match her wit or unique characterization. It's a standard story with a predictable ending. 

In Playing House by Mary Balough, Lilias,  an impoverished young woman, swallows her pride and calls in a debt to the Marquess of Bedford to make Christmas for her younger siblings. This will be the last Christmas they have together before Lilias is forced into service and her siblings sent to relatives. The Marquess was once Lilias's childhood friend. He and his older brother used to make merry with Lilias and her younger brother. Now both brothers are dead and the Marquess has grown older and cynical. He learned at an early age that everyone wants something from him and he fears Lilias is hoping to trap him into marriage. He promises himself he'll be courteous and give her the gifts for her siblings but he will not be trapped into another loveless marriage. He's been there done that and the only good to come out of it is is four-year-old daughter. On a standard Christmas visit to the villagers, little Dora becomes fast friends with Lilias's sister and brother. The three children have such fun together that the Marquess can hardly deny his little girl the pleasure of their company. Of course that means being thrown together with Lilias again and being reminded of the love they used to share. Lilias knows that her beloved Stephen would never be so cold as the Marquess but she occasionally gets a glimpse of the boy he used to be and that makes leaving him that much harder. This story is a tried-and-true formula. The relationship develops nicely and is believable based on the characters' past history. The ending is a bit rushed and fairy-tale like. 

In The Three Kings by Carla Kelly, Lady Sarah's brother James has just been killed and she taken prisoner of the French. She doesn't understand why she has been placed in such a situation for she and her brother were engaged in scholarly research in a library in Salamanca. With the French hard on the heels of the retreating British army, Sarah must find protection with the Spanish and British troops to find her way home. She's entrusted to the care of a Colonel Sotomayer. He is anxious to get home to his two young daughters for the feast of the Three Kings on January 6th, but the French are after Sarah and he swore he'd see her to safety. This story has a much darker tone than the others. It's full of loss and sadness and finally, love. Of course the ending is predictable but I liked it. Because of the circumstances the characters were in, the romance was fully understandable and very welcome. 

The final story, The Christmas Star by Sheila Walsh is a Cinderella story wherein almost-18-year-old Louise has come to spend Christmas with her wealthy Godmother, a Duchess, and her family. Louise has spent the last several Christmases with the Duke and Duchess but this year she will be staying on as a companion for the Duchess. Lou is unsure of her place: not quite a servant and not quite a family member. When a dashing Russian prince needs her help, she is quick to offer assistance without knowing the plot. She discovers a tale of young lovers separated and a young lady in need of rescuing. Though Louise may wind up with a broken heart, her generous nature will not allow her to leave a young woman abandoned to a merciless fate. This is a true fairy tale. The plot is unique but the romance is entirely predictable. This story is too light and fluffy for my tastes.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Fool's Girl by Celia Rees -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Will Shakespeare is a struggling poet, actor and sometimes playwright in London in 1601 when he comes across a little fool and his clown performing in the streets of London. In need of a new fool for his latest play, Will makes the acquaintance of the pair. The clown is actually a young lady, Violetta, daughter of the late Duke of Illyria. Violetta and Feste the Fool have a dark and difficult story to tell of a maiden sprang from the sea, mistaken identities, love, jealousy and betrayal. All that Violetta loves and cares for in Illyria has been destroyed through the jealous machinations of her Uncle Sebastian and the villain Malvolio who calls himself a Jesuit priest. While Sebastian was content to bring down Illyria, Malvolio has greater aspirations. He has stolen a beloved and sacred chalice from Illyria and with it he plans to rally Catholic support in England to kill Queen Elizabeth and place a Catholic pretender in her place.Violetta is determined to stop him with help from Feste and Will Shakespeare. The plan is difficult and dangerous and she may lose everyone she's come to care for, especially her beloved, Stephano. Did you ever wonder what happened to the characters of Shakepeare's Twelfth Night after the play is done? This novel imagines the events of the play as real events and what happens next is not a comedy as I was expecting. The events of the story are dark and tragic and tinged with magic and superstition. Will Shakespeare hears the story of events in Illyria from Violetta, Feste, and Violetta's kinswoman Maria. Much of the story is given over to those past events. The book is a little short on action as a consequence. The action sequences are fairly brief except for the final confrontation. There is lots of violence and bloodshed and no funny moments. Shakespeare fans and scholars will recognize situations, people and lines from his plays that the reader must believe influenced his works.  What I really liked about the book were the descriptions of Illyria and the creation of the culture of that land. I also loved the depiction of Elizabethan England with one foot rooted in superstition. The author weaves in magic and superstition to create a fully believable world. I came to care about Violetta and her homeland but I wanted a bit more action in the story. I felt that it concluded too quickly. Fans of Celia Rees's other books will not be disappointed by this one.

Little Women and Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted -- Middle Grades Contemporary Fantasy/Historical Fiction

Emily March is a typical 21st century teen. She goes to school, does homework, fights with her sister and dreams of getting together with the cute jock with whom she eats lunch every day. Emily feels sorry for herself though. She's the middle sister and never gets anything she wants, not even the boy, for he has a crush on her older sister! When Emily's English teacher gives an assignment to change something about a favorite book, Emily knows she wants to write about Little Women. She identifies with Jo and wants to be a writer like Jo. She cried when Beth died and was outraged when Laurie married Amy. Emily decides that she's going to change Little Women and make sure Laurie marries Jo. As she prepares for her assignment by rereading the book, there's a noise like a vacuum cleaner and suddenly Emily is swooshed back into time and sucked into the pages of the novel. Once again Emily finds herself the middle March sister and she does not like it. She's jealous of Meg and Jo and can't stand snobbish little Amy but Beth, as sweet and loving as always, she can't help but love. Emily experiences all the dullness and privation of the daily life of the March sisters trying to get home, until a boy enters the picture. With the introduction of Laurie, Emily begins to compete with Jo for his affections. Emily decides her purpose is not to get Laurie and Jo together but to save Beth. Soon she finds that even the best stories get away from their authors and things may not turn out as planned. This is a cute story that will appeal mainly to tween and young teen girls. Emily is very selfish and obnoxious but that's the point of her character. She learns lessons along the way that shape who she will become as an adult later on after the story ends. Until then, she's very unlikeable. My favorite March sister, Jo, is also an obnoxious teenager. She doesn't come across as the fun-loving tomboy I grew up loving. She's in desperate competition with her sisters with occasional moments that shine through from the original. The story is interesting though and kept me reading late at night to find out how it turned out. The ending is a bit rushed but there's a big surprise there that I didn't see coming. The author tries a little too hard to impart a moral at the very end that I think could have been left out. Overall though, I liked the story and I think girls in the target age range who love Little Women will enjoy this book.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Jane Austen Mystery series

Jane Austen Mystery series by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor: Being the First Jane Austen Mystery
Miss Jane Austen, spinster, of Bath is visiting her dear friend Isobel, the new Countess of Scargrave during the holiday season. Jane looks forward to enjoying a holiday house party celebrating her friend's recent nuptials to the older Earl of Scargrave, only something is amiss. Isobel seems unhappy. She is being pestered to sell her land in the West Indies to Lord Harold Towbridge, a disreputable seeming character. Lord Scargrave's haughty heir, Lord Fitzroy Payne, looks at Isobel in a very un-relative like fashion. Isobel's young cousin Fanny flirts with the charming roguish Lieutenant Thomas Hearst much to the dismay of her Mama who wishes her to marry Fitzroy. Rounding out the party is the Lieutenant's gloomy elder brother George, a clergyman farmer. When dear Isobel's husband is murdered it seems that everyone is a suspect. Isobel and Fitzroy's relationship is suspect and when Isobel's Creole maid meets an unhappy end, the young nobles are sent to London to await the Assizes in jail. Jane is positive her friend is innocent and determined to prove it. She has only a few days to collect evidence and find the true murderer. Everyone has a motive but whodunnit?This story resembles the board game Clue. Was it Fanny in the stable yard with a rope? Was it George in the study with poison? Sleuth Jane to the rescue. I enjoyed this story a lot. Jane works within the boundaries of her world with the help of some men to solve the mystery. I had three chief suspects and figured out who the murderer was but not the motive. Everyone seemed to have an obvious motive and the actual motive came as a bit of a surprise out of nowhere. Jane learns a lot of things about people that make it into her stories. I dislike the use of dialogue and situations from her novels being put into her life story. This is the best written of the mysteries I have read so far and the most realistic for a woman of Jane Austen's time and situation.

Jane and the Man of the Cloth: Being the Second Jane Austen Mystery

This second mystery brings the Austens to Lyme for a holiday. Jane is looking forward to getting away from Bath and exploring the coast but their journey starts off badly when the carriage overturns her Jane's beloved sister Cassandra sustains an injury to the head. Jane and the post-boy head up the hill to the nearest house for help. They are met by the rudest man Jane has ever met, Mr. Geoffrey Sidmouth, who is less than happy to have the Austens as uninvited guests. Living with Mr. Sidmouth is a lovely French girl who is dressed as a peasant who the gossips believe is Sidmouth's mistress. Cassandra receives excellent care under the excellent surgeon's assistant Mr. William Dalgiesh who falls instantly in love with Cassandra. The Austens believe the rest of their stay will be enjoyable and maybe even a hint of romance will be in the air. Rev. Austen makes a friend of Mr. Crawford, a fossil expert and Jane makes the acquaintance of the local tabbies and one dashing wounded ex-Naval Lieutenant Fielding . When Jane is rudely awakened early one morning from some noisy men on the Cobb, she discovers a man hanging from a makeshift gallows. Liuet. Fielding believes the hanging to be the work of the so-called "Reverend" the chief smuggler in the area. Lieut. Fielding is on a mission to catch the Reverend and put him away for good. He insinuates that Sidmouth is the Reverend and certainly the man's uncivil and mysterious behavior gives him cause for suspicion. Yet, Jane seems something in Sidmouth that others do not. He too seems charmed by her unconventionality. When Fielding is discovered dead on the road, Sidmouth is arrested. Jane becomes involved in investigating the murder. She has a personal interest in the matter for she may be losing her heart to Sidmouth. Investigating the shore leads to clues which lead Jane down an unexpected path towards solving the murder. The story starts off slow and picks up about 1/3 of the way into the book. This mystery is very obvious to anyone who has read Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. I figured out the characters based on their Jane Austen counterpart and I guessed the villain. The villain rather exposed themselves early on in Jane's investigation and I think in real life she would have been smart enough to figure everything out more quickly.  I dislike the way Jane goes off on her own to investigate and there are some instances where she would have ruined her reputation in real life. The footnotes are a bit overdone but not too much. I learned a few new things about Lyme and Jane Austen's time. I would recommended skipping this mystery and going on to the third except for a key scene at the end which sort of explains why Jane is where she is in the third mystery.

Jane and the Wandering Eye : Being the Third Jane Austen Mystery

Jane, her brother Henry and his wife Eliza are invited to a masquerade party in honor of a troop of actors come to Bath. Jane is tagging along with her more well-to-do relatives to keep an eye on the hostess's granddaughter, Lady Desdemona. Jane was asked specifically by The Gentleman Rogue to look after his niece, who is trying to avoid the man she has just jilted. Just as one of the well-known actors finishes declaiming a speech from Macbeth, the dead body of the theater manager is discovered! When Lady Desdemona's brother is found with the bloody knife in his hand, he is immediately suspect, though he swears he didn't do it. Gentleman Rogue, Lord Harold Towbridge to the rescue! he arrives in Bath hunting for clues and discovers that his nephew recovered a miniature portrait of an eye from the dead body. The portrait leads to more clues and an list of suspects that includes everyone from actors to artists to peers of the realm. Jane tags along to help figure out the clues to the mystery. This being my second Jane Austen mystery, I found that I did not enjoy it as much as the first. There were far too many characters introduced too quickly to keep track of. Many of those characters become suspects in the murder mystery and I found myself trying to figure out who they were and what their motive would be. I did guess the villain right away but not the motive. The motive was unusual and not explained very well. There really wasn't any good reason for murder. I also did not like real life characters and events playing into the story. It lacked credibility. I do not have a problem with the sentence structure so far but those not familiar with 18th and 19th century writing may find it difficult. I still am bothered by the footnotes, which in this book are mostly unnecessary. Using a rating of 1-5, I would give it perhaps a 3 1/2 or 4.

Jane and the Genius of the Place : Being the Fourth Jane Austen Mystery

Jane is on the move again. This time she is at the Canterbury Races in Kent with her brother Edward and his family. Also at the races is the scandalous Mrs. Grey, a Frenchwoman who has captured the interest of many of the men in Kent but not many of the ladies. Scandalous Mrs. Grey is rumored to have had numerous affairs while her husband was occupied with business in London. Mrs. Grey gives rise to the rumors when she is seen hitting a gentleman with her riding crop. Later she is seen entering a neighbor's carriage and then following the horses as they race. Finally, she is discovered dead in the neighbor's carriage, strangled to death with her own hair ribbon and wearing only her shift. As Justice of the Peace, Neddie Austen is charged with finding the murderer and bringing them to justice. He immediately suspects the neighbor in whose carriage Mrs. Grey was found, but isn't positive. Neddie needs Jane's help to solve the mystery of the murdered woman. Among the other suspects are Mr. Grey who is said to have had little affection for his wife, Neddie's impecunious brother-in-law Edward, Edward's military friend, a timid governess, a dashing French count and a genius of a landscape architect. This mystery can probably be figured out in part by those who have read any number of novels, include Miss Austen's own. Some situations and conversations appear in her novels, a joke which I really wish the author would abandon. It makes the mystery way too obvious. I figured out the what but not the why or who. The why was a bit confusing and seemed to be summarized far too quickly and wrap up too neatly. As usual there's a bit too much history tossed in and some pointless conversations between characters that seem to go nowhere though actually lead to clues. I'm not a big fan of the footnotes and usually the reader can figure out the context just by reading the story. An author's note would better explain the history behind the story but as Barron is writing as an editor of Austen's journals, I see why she chooses to add footnotes. I like Jane the character a lot. She's intelligent and witty and she refuses to be pressured into being someone she's not. The mysteries are a lot of fun and I look forward to reading the rest.

Jane and the Stillroom Maid: Being the Fifth Jane Austen Mystery

Jane, Mrs. Austen and Cassandra are still making a tour of various relatives before settling down with Frank in Southhampton. This time they are visiting cousin Edward Cooper. The Cooper family becomes afflicted with whooping cough so Edward must take his relations off on a tour of Derbyshire. Jane heads off to explore the peaks while the gentlemen fish and Mrs. A and Cassandra rest at the inn. While exploring, Jane comes across her most gruesome murder yet. She discovers the body of a young gentleman with a bullet hole to his forehead and a badly mutilated body. Cousin Edward's friend Mr. Hemming lends his assistance in bringing the body back to town. The locals believe the crime is the work of the local branch of Freemasons based on rumors and superstition of devil worship and Satanic sacrifice. When the coroner/surgeon examines the body it is found to be that of a young female named Tess Arnold who worked as a stillroom maid at the home of Mr. Charles Danforth, a grieving widower with a club foot. The locals all fear Mr. Charles Danforth is cursed or worse since his entire family has recently deceased. They believe he is the murderer and want him hanged. Jane is disturbed by the grisly murder and determined to see justice done. Lord Harold, her gentleman rogue, shows up in Derbyshire to mourn the loss of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire. His niece, Desdemona is also there and desires to see Jane again. Jane heads off to the luxe Chatsworth estate and finds herself socializing with the scandalous Cavendish set. At Chatsworth Jane discovers an unhappy situation and fears that the clues may lead to the murder of the maid. With the help of the maid's stillroom book, Jane manages to solve the murder but not before more death and unhappiness visit the area. This story is the best mystery yet. It introduces the murder and suspects right away. Just when the answer seems obvious, the story takes twists and turns. The motive and murderer were pretty obvious but the clues left me in doubt until all was revealed. I liked having an intimate glimpse of Chatsworth and the Duke's family whom I know a little about from the Keira Knightly movie The Duchess. I was happy to have Lord Harold return to help Jane solve the investigation but I did not like that she loses her heart to him and nearly succumbs to the desire to live the life of the ton. That does not fit with the Jane that is depicted in the previous books and very unlike the real Jane. I absolutely loved the stillroom recipes included at the end of each chapter. There was very little knowledge about medicine in those days and even the descriptions of the doctor's care are cringeworthy. An editor's afterward names the sources of stillroom medicine from Jane Austen's time and explains what happened to the Duke of Devonshire and family after the events of the novel.


I believe that the doctor killed the family unknowingly with all that bleeding. That subject was never addressed in the editor's afterward.

Jane and the Prisoner of the Wool House : Being the Sixth Jane Austen Mystery
Jane, her mother, her sister and their friend Martha Lloyd have removed to Southampton to live with her brother Frank's bride Mary. Frank is on shore too, hoping for the Royal Navy to grant him a fast sonhip. Frank's wish is about to come true - he will soon be granted command of the Stella Maris. Unfortunately, the promotion for Frank comes at the sacrifice of his friend, Captain Seagrave, who is under arrest for murder of the French captain whose ship the Stella Maris had overcome.Captain Seagrave has been accused by his Lieutenant, Eustace Chessyre, who should have stood by him. Frank knows his friend and knows that Tom Seagrave would never have violated the Articles of War by killing a surrendering captain. As the people of Portsmouth turn against Captain Seagrave, only Frank remains loyal. Jane, being possessed of a  "fine naval fervour" also believes that Captain Seagrave is innocent. Jane, having the opportunity to employ herself as a nurse in the Wool House, where French prisoners of war are kept, decides to investigate the murder to find clues that will exonerate Captain Seagrave. Jane's investigation takes her from Captain Seagrave's home, to the Wool House, the docks and the slums of Portsmouth. Jane's search brings her in contact with a prisoner-of-war French surgeon who seems to have some answers, if only he will testify and only if she and Frank can keep him safe, for when Lieutenant Chessyre turns up dead, it becomes clear that someone wants the witnesses out of the way. This being my first Jane Austen mystery I did not know what to expect. The author writes in the style of Jane Austen, alluding to the fact that the novel is an edited version of a long lost manuscript written by Jane Austen. I really liked the way Barron copied Jane Austen's style of writing and I also loved that Barron obviously did a ton of research to write the novel. However, I think she included far too many historical details, some of which she felt the need to add a footnote to further clarify. Those who are familiar with Jane Austen's life and times probably will not need the footnotes. The story is very slow to start but once Jane began her investigation, the story captured my attention and I couldn't do anything until she had solved the mystery. There are many twists and turns in this book that I never suspected. Like Jane, I jumped to a lot of conclusions, having read too many "dreadful novels." The ending is really rushed and I felt like more explanation was needed. I highly doubt that Jane Austen herself would have been running all over Portsmouth (often by herself!) trying to solve a murder mystery but it's fun to think that she would have if she could. I would recommend this book to Janeites that don't take their favorite author too seriously and also fans of Georgette Heyer's mysteries and traditional Regency novels. On a scale of 1-5 I would give this a 4 or 4 1/4.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Greetings Readers! I have entered the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge sponsored by Historical Tapestry. As you know it's not much of a challenge for me, but it will be fun. I'm aiming for "Severe Bookaholism": 20 books. I've already beaten that but I'd like to see how many I read. I hope some of you will enter the challenge also.

Here is my list of books read in December:

Monday, November 28, 2011

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Out of Oz: The Final Volume in the Wicked Years by Gregory Maguire -- Fantasy

This volume purports to be the final volume of the series that began with Wicked. When the book opens, Dorothy Gale, now 16, is traveling to San Francisco with Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. They hope the trip out of Kansas will put all thoughts of Oz out of her head and make her suitable for marriage. With Toto riding along too, Dorothy compares all the sights to Oz, whether better or not as thrilling. On the morning of April 18, 1906, Dorothy and Toto too are in an elevator car when the car began to shake to quake . . . Back in Oz, Munchinland has seceded from Oz and the two factions are deep in a fierce war. Commander Cherrystone, now General, and his forces take over Lady Glinda's home, leaving her with a skeleton crew. With her are Puggles the butler, Murthy her companion and Rain, the little broom girl. General Cherrystone wagers Glinda that he can teach Rain to read and if he's successful Glinda will learn to cook. When Glinda realizes Gen. Cherrystone wants Rain to read for his own purposes, she learns that the little girl is a valuable spy. They discover a terrible secret about the army and when a Clock of the Time Dragon appears, the boss leaves a certain book with Glinda. She understands the significance of the Grimmerie but doesn't know how to use it. Finally, she and Rain discover a way to halt the army's plans, but it is no longer safe for Rain or the Grimmerie to stay with Glinda so she sends them off with the crew of the Clock of the Time Dragon. Rain joins up with Brr the Lion, his human wife Ilianora (aka Nor from Wicked), the dwarf known as Mr. Boss and later his wife Little Daffy on a long journey through Oz to find a safe place to hide. Rain goes along for the journey, not realizing what is happening outside her little family in the forest. She has an affinity for animals and acquires a rice otter along the way. She has few memories of her early life and no idea how important she really is. The journey is long and dangerous and at last the little family meet up with Liir and Candle and Rain learns the secret of her birth. Sullen and resentful, she wants little to do with events outside the country home where she lives, but the Army of Oz is mighty and their arms reach wide. It's time for the family to leave and to separate once again. A rumor around Munchinland says Dorothy is back in Oz and about to be tried for the double murder of the Wicked Witches. The Lion feels it's time to finally redeem himself for his part in the story by defending Dorothy while Rain is sent off to boarding school to keep safe. At school Rain learns enough to think for herself. She befriends and falls in love with, an orphan boy, a vagabond running from dangerous enemies. To continue on will spoil the plot. The rest of the book deals with Dorothy's trial and summing up the war and tying up loose ends. Most of the book is exposition, devoted to beautiful descriptions of the world of Oz and thought provoking questions. It's slow going but I couldn't put it down because I wanted to know what was going to happen. The story gets a bit bogged down in the middle and the plot seems to be going nowhere. When the denouement begins, it seems to be going nowhere and finishes with a grand summary of events, some teenage ahem "Butter and Eggs" ahem, revelation of secrets and then a spectacularly failure of an ending that could have been the beginning of another book. There seems to be some messages concerning war, parenthood, sexuality, gender issues, destiny, nationalism and national identity but they're harder to figure out than the message in Wicked.

 I really really wanted to like Rain but she's a tough character. She's very ambiguous, part Elphaba but mostly Liir. I related to her affinity with animals but I kept waiting for that to come to more and it never did. She was a victim of circumstances and was acted upon for most of the novel. Rain seems to want to be a victim of circumstances rather than do anything to change her situation. By the time she takes action at the very end, it could be an entirely new novel which I did not like. She's kind of an anti-hero.

I really liked the beautiful prose, especially the descriptions of Oz. I also liked the inside jokes and references to The Wizard of Oz movie, Gone With the Wind, Charlotte's Web and A Little Princess. The full color maps on the endpapers are beautiful and a much needed timeline and summary of previous events is included.

If you've made it this far in my review, I recommend just reading the book and letting me know what you think. I have mixed feelings about it and I wish I had time to reread the series again and analyze it a bit more, but I don't.

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently . . . 

Georgina by Clare Darcy -- Regency Romance
Georgina has been raised by her grandfather in a most unladylike fashion. She was the grandson he never had. Life was more fun back then. Now Georgie is ready to come out but her grandfather's death has the women in retreat in Bath where Georgie's grandmother is trying to marry her off to someone or another. Georgie isn't the least bit interested in marrying. To punish her for failing to do her duty, Grandmama sends Georgie off to distant relatives in Ireland. In Ireland she finds everything all helter-skelter with her silly aunt in hysterics because the household must move posthaste ere the heir moves on. The heir, Mr. Shannon, inherited The Place of the Oaks from Georgie's late cousin Nuala. Shannon is the illegitimate son of a Scottish Earl and said to have married Nuala for her money. When her aunt is injured in a fall, it's up to Georgie and her cousin Brandon to keep the household running smoothly, which they are unable to do until the appearance of the autocratic Mr. Shannon. Georgie decides to hate Shannon from the beginning because he is rude and unsympathetic to the family's plight. The traitor Brandon adores having adult male company for a change. When the family finally removes to their new home, Georgina's aunt hopes a romance between Georgie and Brandon will bloom, but soon Georgie is the belle of the neighborhood and has more suitable suitors than her impoverished and lame cousin. Georgie doesn't seem to care much about her suitors though, but she does begin to revise her opinion of Mr. Shannon when Georgina's aunt and most of the neighbors snub him. The only one who will receive Mr. Shannon is Lady Eliza, a wicked flirt. Georgie decides to take it upon herself to help Shannon, with very unexpected consequences. I seemed to like this book a lot the first time I read it but I have a revised opinion. I admire Georgie for standing up to her grandmother and she's an appealing heroine for her spirit but she's very young and very naive. Her innocence is both charming and annoying at the same time. Her behavior towards Shannon is pretty dreadful even when she means well. She behaves a lot less stupidly than most other teenage heroines in Regency novels. Shannon is not a very appealing hero. Shannon was shaped by life experiences which have made him proud. He's also stubborn with just enough sense of humor to find Georgina mildly interesting and mildly irritating at the same time. He's a bit too authoritative for my tastes but maybe he would come around and loosen up a bit. The story has it's funny moments and there's chemistry between the hero and heroine that becomes apparent in a realistic and romantic way. It's almost a rewrite of Georgette Heyer's Venetia with a younger heroine. If you're a fan of Clare Darcy's other books or want Georgette Heyer light, then read this book.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Explosive Eighteen : A Stephanie Plum Novel by Janet Evanovich -- Contemporary Mystery

When last we met Stephanie, she was given two plane tickets to Hawaii and had to decide which one of her men she was going to take. The book picks up after the vacation and Stephanie is on her way home - alone. Stephanie is exhausted and her stomach is in knots over the mess she has made with her love life. She's not talking about what happened in Hawaii but there's a telltale ring tan line on her finger and Grandma and Lula really want to know what happened. All Stephanie will say is "it's complicated." Her life gets even more complicated when some phony FBI guys, followed by some real ones, come searching for a photograph a man on the plane may have slipped into her bag. The man has turned up dead and everyone wants the photo but Stephanie doesn't have it. She's followed by the FBI agents (real and fake), a crazy Somali terrorist and a mourning fiance (or so she says). Meanwhile, the bail bonds office is being rebuilt by a mafioso who won't play nice with Vinny and there are the usual FTAs to apprehend. Finally, Joyce Barnhardt shows up in Stephanie's apartment nearly sending Stephanie over the edge of sanity. Stephanie has decided to turn over a new leaf where men are concerned but having to rely on Ranger and Morelli for protection from the bad guys isn't helping. And so goes another chapter in Stephanie's crazy life. The good news is the mystery was pretty good. There were some unrelated mysteries that didn't really belong but the central mystery was different from the past dead body in Trenton plots. The funny moments come mostly from Lula and are gross enough to please a 12 year old boy. Lula has been getting more page time than Grandma lately and I think Grandma is a better written, funnier character. The bad news is Stephanie's love life. Don't read this book looking for answers. The only good thing is Stephanie realizes she doesn't like herself very much but then she really doesn't do anything about it. This book is infinitely better than the last but if you're new to the series, quit reading no later than book 12.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Greetings Readers! I have entered the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge sponsored by Historical Tapestry. As you know it's not much of a challenge for me, but it will be fun. I'm aiming for "Severe Bookaholism": 20 books. I've already beaten that but I'd like to see how many I read. I hope some of you will enter the challenge also.

Here is my list of books read in November:

  • Cecily by Clare Darcy 
  • Georgina by Clare Darcy
  • Jane Austen Mysteries by Stephanie Barron (Books 1-3, 6)

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Cecily: or a Young Lady of Quality by Clare Darcy -- Regency Romance

Mr. Robert Ranleigh's friends are all agog over the newest actress come to town. The beautiful young ingenue Miss Dangerfield-Nelson has caught the eye of all the gentlemen of the town except for Mr. Ranleigh. The young lady seems disinterested in gentlemen but Mr. Ranleigh's cousin Lord Anthony Portandrew believes that every woman has heard of Mr. Ranleigh and would be honored to see him. Tony challenges his friend Sir Harry Breckonridge that Ranleigh can gain entree into the Green Room to meet Miss Dangerfield-Nelson. Mr. Ranleigh accepts the wager to prevent his cousin from losing money and looking like a fool. His request is met with acceptance by the young actress but then denied by the Female Dragon who serves as chaperone. However, Miss Dangerfield-Nelson requests Mr. Ranleigh to call upon her the following afternoon where she reveals that her name is actually Cecily Hadley, an impoverished distant relation of Mr. Ranleigh. She asks for his help in obtaining a suitable position as a governess. Ranleigh, concerned about Cecily's virtue and upset at the association with an actress, sends her off to his mother in the country. Cecily falls instantly in love with Mr. Ranleigh but thinks he sees her only as a tiresome child. Cecily is determined to prove she is grown-up and when a potentially dangerous situation gets out of control, she thinks she can handle it with nearly disastrous consequences. This story closely resembles a Georgette Heyer novel with a naive young heroine and an authoritative hero. The plot was slow moving to begin with but picked up after a few chapters. Cecily is very young and naive and whenever she tries to solve her problems, she ends up in a greater mess than ever before. I am not a huge fan of the innocent, silly heroine plot. I found Cecily annoying and I found myself cringing in anticipation of her next disaster. I did find some parts amusing, especially with the colorful secondary characters. I would recommend this book to fans of Georgette Heyer's Friday's Child, Spring Muslin, and The Corinthian.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Exile by Anne Osterlund -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy

This sequel to Aurelia picks up where Aurelia left off. Aurelia has renounced her claim to the throne after her father refused to believe that her step-sister Melony tried to kill Aurelia. Aurelia has gone into exile with a troop of armed guards and her friend Robert. Aurelia longs to see the kingdom and meet the people to discover more about them. She travels as a normal girl and not just a princess, but though she has renounced her claim to the throne, someone still wants her dead. She soon learns the only person she can rely on is Robert and he is infuriatingly stubborn! Aurelia realizes she has more than friendly feelings for Robert and she wonders if he feels the same way too? He must not or we wouldn't be continually yelling at her for doing things he considers foolish... or would he? Robert can't fight his growing attraction for Aurelia. She's stubborn and foolish sometimes but that's what he loves about her. Love drives him to follow her into exile and guard her with his life for Aurelia refuses to accept the reality of her dangerous situation. Along the journey Aurelia learns about the people of the kingdom and their wishes and needs. She discovers that what is right and what is true are not necessarily the same thing. Aurelia also learns about love and loyalty and what it takes to become a great leader. This book is heavy on action and romance. The first third of the book is full of action and danger. There is quite a lot of grisly violence that affects the characters profoundly and drives their actions. Then the story halts a bit in the middle and picks up with lots of romance in the last third before ending in somewhat of a cliffhanger! The story doesn't quite come to the point. Aurelia is a girl on the brink of womanhood. She's trying to figure out who she wants to be and what to do about the corruption in the kingdom. She's also trying to figure out her feelings for Robert, who is not a suitable consort for a princess. All of these qualities make Aurelia very real and easy to identify with. I especially like her personality because I can see myself saying and doing many of the things she does. I loved the sweet romance that develops though I think Robert's character could be defined a bit better. I feel like we don't really know him though the story alternates between his point of view and Aurelia's. The story does not really seem to go anywhere, however. It reads like the middle of a story rather than a story that can stand on it's own. The characters refer to events in Aurelia but unless you've read the book, you will not know to what they refer. The story doesn't come to a full conclusion so another sequel is needed. The writing is really good and seems geared for teens and adults. The author does not talk down to her readers and expects her readers to come along for a journey that is not always pleasant. I hope the sequel is in the works and will be published soon because I quite enjoyed this one.

Smokin' Seventeen : a Stephanie Plum Novel by Janet Evanovich -- Contemporary Adult Mystery

Stephanie is in trouble. The bail bonds office is operating out of Mooner's bus and resembles the Death Star, a dead body was found on the property and now business is way down, Joe's Grandma Bella put the evil eye on her and to make matters worse Stephanie's mother is after her to get married. Stephanie's mom tries to fix Stephanie up with a former classmate of hers named Dave. Dave is a nice guy and he loves to cook. Stephanie's mom loves him, her friends love him, but... Stephanie just isn't interested. She still can't decide between Ranger and Joe! Lula suggests Stephanie decide which one is best in bed and choose that one. When Grandma Bella puts another curse on Stephanie, Stephanie takes Lula's suggestion and runs with it. Meanwhile, there are the usual FTAs to apprehend, Dave won't leave her alone and someone is leaving dead bodies for Stephanie to find. Stephanie is close to her wit's end and determined to get some answers. This is a typical Plum story. There's the usual quirky FTAs (one thinks he's a vampire, one is a nudist and one has a circus bear), Lula's crazy antics and the smoking bedroom scenes with Joe and Ranger. Most of the humor comes from the secondary characters, especially the FTAs and Mooner. Grandma doesn't get enough page time but she does have one memorable scene. I found myself giggling a lot in places but the plot was really only mediocre. I pegged the killer from the very beginning as soon as they were first mentioned. It was really obvious and it bugged me that Stephanie couldn't figure it out. It also bothered me that she didn't do anything to stop her creepy stalker wannabe boyfriend. Most of all, I did not like what the jacket flap calls the "red hot boudoir bake-off." To do what Stephanie did is demeaning and stupid. She acts more like a teenager in lust than a grown woman and she refuses to take responsibility for her behavior, blaming silly curses instead. The mystery was solved way too neatly and then ended in a cliff hanger. I agree with those who think the first 12 books were better. This book may have been fine as a stand-alone but as a part of a series about one character, it flopped. There's only a tiny bit of character growth at the end and from the description of the next book, it sounds like Stephanie is right back to where she started. Grab this book from the library for some nice, light reading but don't expect too much.