Saturday, April 30, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Regina Scott -- Regency Romance

Genevieve Munroe, her mother and sister have returned to their country estate for Christmas, their first since Mr. Munroe was tragically killed in a carriage accident. Gen hopes they will find peace and happiness at Munroe Abbey. Allison finds it difficult to enjoy the season, however; her mind is occupied by a dreadful secret - her father died heavily in debt. It's been up to Gen to see to the comfort of her family. She thinks that befriending their longtime foes and neighbors, the Pentercasts, might go a long way towards enjoying life in the country. Gen had a childhood crush on Alan Pentercast, now the Squire and she is anxious to see if he's grown into the man she always believed he'd be. When the Pentercasts come to dinner on Christmas Eve the meeting gets off to a rocky start. Mrs. Munroe thinks she's above Mrs. Pentercast and beautiful, headstrong Allison clashes with Alan's mannerless brother Geoffrey. Then, Alan ruins all of Gen's dreams when he bets her that he can bring her all the gifts in the Twelve Days of Christmas poem and when he wins, she will agree to marry him. Her pride is hurt and she angrily demands that he not spend a penny on her. Then she bets that when he loses, he'll provide her family with a tenth of the harvest. With the young curate, William Wellfordhouse, as judge, Gen thinks she can't lose but she underestimates Alan's determination to win her hand. By the second day of Christmas, the two families are getting along beautifully, but Gen continues to believe Alan is an arrogant cad. When some acts of vandalism threaten their homes and Geoffrey is the chief suspect, Gen must revealuate her feelings towards the Pentercasts and especially for one handsome, charming Squire. This is a nice, pleasant Regency romance. The story is clever and well-developed and the relationships between the characters are realistic. The plot moves along quickly and doesn't end up overly sweet. There's no driving home the spirit of the holidays in this full-length novel as there is in holiday short stories. The only problem I had with the story is that I suspected the vandal almost from the beginning and was surprised that the characters didn't catch on. . Regina Scott uses the 19th century poem version of the Twelve Days of Christmas, which is slightly different from our modern song version which shows her dedication to research. As always, she is able to craft a well-written and historically accurate story without resorting to cheap, cliched plots or smuttyness.

A Deceitful Heart by Karla Hocker -- Regency Romance

Jeanette Dundas and her father Hugh, rightfully the Marquis of Luxton, travel to England from New Orleans to reconcile with Hugh's estranged family. Jeanette's father informs her that she must go by Lady Caroline in England and that he once made a promise that he'd bring Jeanette to England when she turned 18 and marry her to an Englishman. Jeanette is horrified. She wants nothing to do with marriage. She learned early on that while gentlemen may put ladies on a pedestal, their own behavior is less than noble. She even started a dress ship for girls of color who wish to avoid the kind of life that is common for girls who aren't Creole. In England, Jeanette learns that her grandfather, the 5th Duke has died and her distant cousin Frederick is now the Duke of Granby. Frederick is young and unsure of himself and his cousin, Simon Renshaw, the family solicitor, has taken it upon himself to watch out for his younger cousin. Simon is firmly convinced that "Lady Caroline" and her father are impostors and he's determined to prove it. First, he argues with Lady Caroline and then he decides to charm her into a confession, after all, she is a beautiful woman. Jeanette is firmly convinced her father is who he says he is but he isn't making any moves to prove his identity, so Jeanette feels she must convince Simon of the truth all by herself. Jeanette's friend Annie, who happens to be a ghost, suggests using feminine wiles on Simon and if all else fails, a love potion. While Jeanette is preoccupied with proving her identity and helping Annie learn what happened to her family, she continually runs afoul of Simon. However, Simon proves to be truly an honorable gentleman. He represents the downtrodden in court and even helps Jeanette rescue a young woman who was tricked into entering a "bawdy house." Jeanette discovers that she may not need feminine wiles after all, for Simon is truly attractive, as a man. It's too bad he's her sworn enemy! The rest of the Dundas clan has mixed opinions on the identity of the long-lost family members but Hugh is determined his daughter will take her rightful place in society, even if it means losing her forever. This story is much longer than a typical Regency and has many twists and turns. Halfway through the book I began to doubt what I was sure I knew. By the conclusion, I was confused because the plot just didn't make much sense. Even so, it kept me guessing and reading late into the night. I wasn't crazy about the romance plot. The hero comes across as such a jerk that I had a hard time believing the romance.I also didn't like the introduction of a ghost friend. That stretched credibility far too much. The romance is kisses only. There is some frank discussion of intimate relations between men and women of lower classes and some advice on marital relations but nothing smutty. Overall, the book isn't bad but it isn't great either. I'd recommend it for someone who likes alpha male heroes and mysteries.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Beyond the Stars by Barbara Cartland -- Victorian Romance

Ingram, The Earl of Ardwick is all set to marry the beautiful, dashing Heloise Brook when she jilts him for a Duke! Not only does she throw him over, she leaves him without a partner for the elaborate costume ball to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. To make matters worse, Heloise kept the expensive jewels he gave her for the ball. Humiliated and angry, Ingram decides to spend the evening with his grandmother at home. Then he discovers a carriage accident and decides to offer his help to the lovely young lady in distress. Lady Lupita Lang and her little brother are running away from a dastardly cousin who is trying to kill the young boy. Lord Ardwick offers his protection as guardian. He knew their father and knows of their cousin's wastrel lifestyle. Lord Ardwick plans to take to the ball with a plan that will launch her into society and show up Heloise. He finds himself increasingly drawn to the beautiful girl and desires to help her. She is attracted to his authoritarian manner and the safety she feels when she's with him. She thinks that once her cousin is gone, Lord Ardwick will go back to London and forget about her. He worries for the safety of the young woman he admires but isn't willing to admit love until he's faced with a challenge is isn't sure he can handle. This is another drippy love story with a very young, very innocent girl who falls in love with her guardian. I absolutely hate the young girls who fall in love with their guardians. That's really all I have to say about this story, except that it's short and the villain is vanquished a little too easily.

Finding Family by Tonya Bolden -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

At the turn of the 20th century, Delana Hannibal is comfortable living with her grandfather and Aunt Tillie in Charleston, WV. She's learned from Aunt Tillie not to question and to beware of many dangers. Delana loves her Aunt Tillie, though, especially the funny family stories she tells that accompany family photos. The two people that Aunt Tillie never talks about are Delana's parents. She assumes that talking about her mother makes Grandpa said and Delana was told her father was a wastrel who ran off. When Aunt Tillie dies unexpectedly, Delana's whole world changes. A surprise visitor, Delana's cousin Ambertine, arrives and tells Delana stories about her family that contradict what Aunt Tillie has told Delana. Delana begins to wonder about her parents and their relationship. As she searches for answers, she finds her wings and learns to fly. This is a coming-of-age story about an African-American girl whose family life has been affected by slavery. The family stories in the book are made up stories about people in the author's antique photo collection. The stories sound like they could be real and the photos are magnificent. The plot of the novel is interesting and engaging. It kept my attention and I couldn't wait to find out what happened to Delana's parents. The coming-of-age story is wonderful and unique. The lessons are subtle and not too heavy-handed. I really liked this book and I hope there's a sequel!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Love in the Clouds by Barbara Cartland -- Victorian Romance/Adventure

Miss Chandra Wardell's father is a renowned Sanskrit scholar who has translated and written on numerous works from Asia. Since the death of her mother, Chandra has helped her father with his work and taken care of him. Now, he is offered the opportunity of a lifetime when Lord Frome asks Mr. Wardell to join him in Nepal to search for the sacred Lotus Manuscript in a Buddhist Monastery. The opportunity could not have come at a better time, for they really need the money. However, Chandra's father is not in good health and Chandra doesn't know whether she should want him to go or not. When her father suffers a setback and has to remain in Europe, Chandra takes her father's place to confront the woman-hating Lord Frome and join him in his quest. At first Lord Frome is angry and doubts Chandra's ability. He hasn't time to send her back and wait for another assistant for he is only allowed in Nepal for a certain amount of time. Chandra joins Lord Frome on the dangerous journey through India over the mountains into Nepal. She is determined to keep up and not give Lord Frome any cause for regretting allowing her to join him. She also has a secret quest. A precious emerald was once taken and Chandra is charged with the task of returning it safely to the monastery where it belongs. Upon arriving in Nepal, the pair must pose as husband and wife for propriety's sake. Neither is happy with the arrangement. She  loves the thrill of the hunt for ancient manuscripts, something she shares with Lord Frome. As they enter Nepalese society, Chandra grows to love the country and the people and appreciate the hidden depths of her travel companion as well. The plot speeds along to a predictable conclusion. The historical and geographical details and well-researched and well-developed. The romance is rather corny and I wanted more adventure and danger. I liked the hero and heroine together. The character development of Lord Frome could have been drawn out a bit more but I learned to like him the same time Chandra did. I especially liked the chapters set in the archive and the ethical questions raised about taking manuscripts from a library to share with the public when it seems like they're not being used. As an archivist, I disagree with Chandra and Lord Frome but I think their attitudes reflect those of the British upper class in the Victorian age. I recommend this book for those who want a romance novel set in a different location than the usual London drawing rooms and ball rooms. 

Imperial Splendour by Barbara Cartland -- Napoleonic era Romance
Blake, Duke of Welminster is in St. Petersburg on a diplomatic mission trying to learn what Napoleon and his army are up to. No one seems to know for sure. Lord old friend Princess Sonia invites him to visit and meet her lovely daughter Tania. She hopes that Tania will become an English Duchess one day but Blake enjoys his bachelor life too much. He's far more interested in the charms of the lovely Russian spy Katherina Bragation, alias "The Naked Angel." While visiting Princess Sonia he is suddenly and mysteriously captivated by a young ballet dancer Zoia.  She is the daughter of a famous French composer and since her mother's death, somewhat of an outcast in society. A Grand Duke has labeled her the "Ice Princess" because she will not succumb to seduction but seems to know the depths of her heart. He feels he has been bewitched and doesn't know what is happening to him but he knows that he feels a strong connection to young Zoia that he can't explain. Zoia feels the connection too, for only Blake has ever known what her Papa's music has meant. When the French advance on St. Petersburg, Zoia is sent home to Moscow and Blake is determined to be with her despite the battle raging near Moscow. Zoia knows she wants to be with Blake too but her Papa cautions her that men like him don't belong with girls like her. True love has to find a way to overcome all obstacles. This is a sappy, sentimental novel with a doe-eyed, innocent heroine who falls in love with a man of the world. I can't stand those plots so needless to say, I didn't like this book too much. It was also too short and there was TOO much history. Too much history, you ask? Is there such a thing? Normally I would say no but I prefer it when an author weaves the history seamlessly into the story or puts it into an author's note rather than stepping out of the plot. The inclusion of real letters that have no bearing on the plot is also not necessary. I wouldn't recommend Ms. Cartland's novels to modern audiences unless of course you like that sort of plot. If you like Eva Ibbotson's adult romances, you'll love Ms. Cartland's novels. (Or vice versa).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Baron and the Bluestocking by Joy Reed -- Regency Romance

After learning that her mother has spent their last penny, Elizabeth Watson discovers that an elderly man she never met has died and left her a large bequest. Mr. Lucius Atwater left Elizabeth the money because he so enjoyed a book she wrote on the Second Punic War (Ancient Rome). There are two conditions, however. The first: Elizabeth must use the money to write about ALL the Punic Wars, the second: Mr. Atwater's nephews may feel entitled to the money. Elizabeth feels uncomfortable taking money that rightfully belongs to someone else, but after meeting Mr. Atwater's disagreeable sister-in-law, Elizabeth changes her mind. Mrs. Atwater is determined to get the money for her wastrel son Gilbert and nothing will stop her, not even lying about her nephew Julius's view of the matter. Lord Julius Atwater has decided to remain neutral. He believes his uncle's will should be honored. He becomes fascinated with Elizabeth based on his aunt's description and when they finally meet, she exceeds all expectations. She makes him want to be a better man. However, Elizabeth wants nothing to do with Julius whom she believes is her enemy. She thinks his charming manner is a ploy to lure her into doing what he asks. Julius is determined to woo in spite his aunt's scheming. Elizabeth isn't too interested. She's more focused on  thwarting Mrs. Atwater's plans and protecting herself from fortune hunters. As the toast of the town, Elizabeth can take her pick of men, or not, if she so chooses. She finds herself the object of attention of Lord Steinbridge, a wealthy Marquess but she can't stop thinking about Julius.
This story could have been told in 100 pages or so. Instead it drags on for 250 pages before reaching the inevitable conclusion. I wanted to like Elizabeth because she's a bluestocking but I couldn't like her. Her behavior is childish and immature. She is too old to be so naive. She also seemed to forget about condition #1 in her obsession with getting the better of Mrs. Atwater. Julius is also stupid and boring. Little of the story is told from his point of view so the reader does not get a good sense of who he is. There's some kissing, but no real chemistry between them. This is a fast, light read which may please fans who are looking for something a little different, but for me, it wasn't quite good enough.

Crossed Hearts by Monette Cummings -- Regency Romance

Miss Miranda Drake is happy in the country living with her companion "Sammy" and writing Gothic novels for profit and fun. When her publisher has exciting news for her, Miranda decides to take her London cousins up on their offer to visit. Lucy Owens is making her comeout this Season and can't wait for Miranda to come and enjoy the delights of London with her. Her younger siblings, Diana and Giles, are also excited to have someone new in the house. The only person who does not seem thrilled to have Miranda and Sammy in town is Captain Jonathan Murray, an army friend of the Owens' older half-brother Charles. Jonathan is home on invalid leave and he has his reasons for disliking Miranda on sight and his feelings increase when he sees her in the company of a mysterious man accepting money before sneaking into the house. He'll be darned if he lets the sweet young Owens children be corrupted by this wicked woman and does his best to send Miranda packing. Though Miranda and Jon often quarrel, they can't help feel an attraction for one another. Jon is urged by Princess Esterhazy to take a different approach if he wants to win over Miranda. Meanwhile, Miranda is hard at work at her latest novel, featuring Jon as the hero or the villain - which is it? A serious misunderstanding between Jon and Miranda threatens to ruin Miranda's happiness as well as her writing. Miranda may have to compromise her ideals if she wants to be with Jon and he has some lessons to learn before he can find happiness. This is a pretty light, quick read though it's long for a Regency. The plot is very different from the usual light romantic fare and I felt the story suffered because of it. Jon's misunderstanding is REALLY unfounded and implausible. I couldn't stand him and felt he needed a good slap in the face. I really liked Miranda but I wish she had a bit more personality. The story is told from the omniscient (all-knowing) viewpoint which is unusual for this genre but it still doesn't make the story any more interesting or realistic. This is not one of my favorites. The description on the back of the book is a lot more interesting than the actual plot.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I Read Last Weekend . . .

The Wonder of Charlie Anne by Kimberly Newton Fusco -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction 

Charlie Anne is growing up during the Depression in a small farming community in Massachusetts. She has lost her mother and now her father and older brother have left to go build roads up North. Charlie Anne and her siblings are left on the farm in care of her mother's bossy cousin Mirabel who is determined to teach the children manners, especially Charlie Anne. She doesn't give the children any time for fun - only chores and more chores, most of which go to Charlie Anne. Whenever she can slip away, Charlie Anne heads to the hill overlooking the river to have a conversation with her mother who is buried there. She pours out her feelings on the tough times and her mother responds with kindness and sympathy, teaching Charlie Anne how to be deal with tough times. When the neighbor, Mr. Jolly, remarries, his wife brings along color and kindness, along with her adopted daughter Phoebe, who happens to be "colored." Charlie Anne quickly finds a close friend in Phoebe. Rosalyn and Phoebe also help Charlie Ann gain the confidence she needs to learn how to read. Together, Charlie Ann, Phoebe and Rosalyn confront racism and classism in their small farming community.

I can't gush enough about this book. The writing is beautiful though the sentence structure is simple. The first person present tense voice was a bit awkward at first but I quickly got used to it. I thought the book was set in the South but the cataloging information says it's set in Massachusetts, which makes it very different from most of the northern-set Depression era kids books. The plot is interesting and engaging though you wouldn't think so because it doesn't have any grand action or adventure. I couldn't put it down. It teaches important life lessons a non-moralizing hit-you-over-the-head way. This is one of those MUST READS for everyone ages 10+. Some elements may be too harsh for younger children but it would make a good book to read to a 4th grade class. This is one of the best books I've read in a long time!

Saturday, April 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's my list of books for April (links lead to my reviews):
  1. The Wonder of Charlie Anne by Kimberly Newton Fusco (Children's)
  2. The Baron and the Bluestocking by Joy Reed 
  3. Crossed Hearts by Monette Cummings
  4. Love in the Clouds by Barbara Cartland
  5. Imperial Splendour by Barbara Cartland
  6. Beyond the Stars by Barbara Cartland
  7. Finding Family by Tonya Bolden (Children's) 
  8. Twelve Days of Christmas by Regina Scott
  9. A Deceitful Heart by Karla Hocker 

Friday, April 1, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week Part 2 . . .

My Lady Faire by Emily Hendrickson -- Regency Romance

This book is the last of the series that follows the Herbert family. Claudia was married young to Lord Fairfax. He had little interest in her except as a mother to his young son. He was far more interested in his mistress in the next village than his lovely wife. Claudia remained a dutiful wife until her husband's untimely death and now she's determined to be a virtuous widow. She loved her step-son Edward as if he were her own. She entertains him with stories of the fairies she's seen in the garden and is determined that he will stay with her for a few more years before going off to school. Unfortunately for Claudia, Edward's co-guardian and neighbor Noel Clifford, Lord Hawke has other ideas. Noel is determined to send Edward off to Eaton ASAP so he can have the lovely widow all to himself. His intentions are honorable though it doesn't seem like to to Claudia. Claudia is infuriated and attracted to Hawke and it makes her angry that she is easy prey for his considerable charm. Even young Edward adores his guardian. The vicar also has an interest in Claudia which she attempts to thwart by pushing him on her friend Olivia, who actually is attracted to the vicar. Determined not to be alone with Hawke, she invites some friends to stay but Hawke has charming friends as well who see what Claudia doesn't.  Hake is one determined man and he never loses, but this is one battle he's not sure he can win. He's also torn between his love for Claudia and his duty to produce an heir. Claudia also claims she sees fairies. What of that? Will love rule the day? What will it take to win the lady's heart and convince her that they belong together? Claudia's story is pretty standard Regency fare. There's nothing much that's original about it, except Claudia's interest in fairies. Noel acts like a rake though he insists he isn't. He reminds me a lot of Rhett Butler. If you like that archetype then you will fall for Noel. I found him a bit sleezy and pushy. I admired Claudia's determination not to give in to Noel and I also admired her kindness and caring towards her step-son.  This book is more sensual than any of her previous books I've read but there's not more than a few passionate kisses and looks. The epilogue shares what happens to the various members of the Herbert family which isn't really necessary but nice if you've read the whole series. The book stands alone nicely even if you haven't read the other books. It has more depth and more emotion than some of her other books as well. For me, it was an OK read. It didn't wow me but I didn't hate it either.

What I've Read This Week

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

Mistletoe Kittens by JoAnn Ferguson, Judith A. Landsdowne and Regina Scott -- Regency romance 

These three novellas by well-known Regency romance authors are set at Christmastime and all feature cats. The first story "Beneath the Kitten Bough" features a tiny little kitten who becomes a pawn in a matchmaking scheme. Recently orphaned, the niece and nephews of Lord Snoclyffe decide they need a wife for their uncle and mother for themselves for Christmas. They have just the lady in mind and hope to lure her to their home by leaving a tiny kitten in a basket on her doorstep. The plan doesn't quite go the way they hoped when the lady's outspoken cousin Rosemary Burton believes it her duty to take Lord Snoclyffe to task for endangering the life of the kitten. When she learns the children acted on their own, she takes pity on the motherless children and shows them the delights of the Christmas season. Her intention is to completely avoid their uncle, who has an alarming tendency to make her feel uncomfortable (in a good way), for she has heard stories of his youthful exploits. Andrew finds the bold redhead refreshing and delightful and falls helplessly in love. He knows she would be a wonderful wife and mistress of his home and he also knows she'd make a good mother for his wards. Rosemary isn't so convinced that His Lordship's intentions are honorable. It's up to Cutie Pie the kitten with some help from her spirited two-legged friends to help the adults find their way to the kissing bough. This is my favorite story of the three. It was well-paced and the characters had good chemistry without being overblown. The pacing of the story works well for a novella and the ending is very sweet. 

The second story, "The Christmas Kitten" features a beautiful lady and a sleek, dark-haired handsome stranger, both of whom happen to be cats. Lady Ellena is a purebred house cat who is devoted to her owner. Rowdy is a mischievous stable cat who is determined to make his way to the most beautiful lady he has ever seen. Lady Ellena's owner, Camelia Dunsbury is set to marry the oh-so-proper Lord Cottsworth, a match that was made when the pair were children. Camelia has never thought about not doing what her father asks, which includes keeping her cat a virtual prisoner in her bedroom and marrying Daniel. As Rowdy and Lady Ellena become more determined to meet, they help Camelia and Daniel become better acquainted with their inner cat. This is a weird story because of the four points of view. Camelia and Daniel are largely unrealistic and uninteresting. Their transformation is quick and unusual and it doesn't make a lot of sense. The story contains a lot of sensual imagery, but mostly from the point of view of the cats. It's a nice, light read though and not terrible.

Regina Scott's "A Place by the Fire" tells the story of Eleanor "Norrie" Pritchet, a poor spinster teacher at a school for young ladies. Years ago she had tutored the handsome younger son of the school's benefactors and fallen madly in love with the scholarly young man. Then Lord Wenworth reminded Norrie of her place in society and sent her back to the school. Norrie has continued to love Justinian, but feels that he must not have loved her enough to defy his family to be with her. She's resigned to teaching and truly cares for her students, especially Justinian's recently orphaned niece. When Dottie defies the headmistress to bring a cat to the school, Norrie takes the blame for the child's misbehavior and finds herself turned out. She decides to seek a home for the cat with Justinian, who is now the Earl of Wenworth. She arrives wet, cold, and sneezing on his doorstep and he offers shelter to the woman he believes is merely his niece's favorite teacher. Norrie finds herself still attracted to Justinian and plans to leave in the morning, but the kitten and the Dowager Countess have other ideas. Justinian Darby, Earl of Wenworth fell in love with the beautiful Norrie when she came to tutor him, but his father claimed Norrie was a fortune hunter and embarrassed by Justinian's poetic offerings. He wonders whether this bedraggled woman on his doorstep is the same Norrie he once loved and if so, why she isn't telling him the truth. He wonders if love can overcome all obstacles in time for a Christmas miracle. This is not Regina's best story. I wanted to know who Norrie from The Incomparable Miss Compton was so I picked up this book. The cat doesn't play as large a role as in the previous two stories but is still a catalyst for the romance. The length of the novella isn't right for the plot which would work better as a longer story that starts at the beginning of the relationship. There were too many misunderstandings that made the plot tedious and the characters annoying. It's a nice, light read for cat lovers and fans of her other books.