Monday, May 30, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction, read by Channie Waites

It's the summer after fourth grade and Carrie is looking forward to spending the lazy days with her best friends Zora (Neale Hurston) and Teddy. Zora is a born storyteller and when she claims she has seen a local man with a gator's head, she spins a yarn that the adults refuse to believe and the children aren't sure what to think. Carrie gets sucked into Zora's wild adventure to find the gator man and solve the mystery of a local murder. Zora's tale may have disastrous consequences for everyone in Eatonville, whether it's true or not. This story focuses more on the power of storytelling to make sense of confusing subjects rather than the historical time period. I found Zora's story of the half-man/half-gator a bit hard to follow though and there was too much involved to keep track of by the time she pieces together the story. Zora is a really well-developed character and I enjoyed seeing what one of my favorite 20th century authors could have been like as a child. Carrie is a good sidekick. She has her own voice and her own story without overshadowing Zora but still remaining a protagonist. Zora's tall tales are a bit hard for adults to swallow but kids will probably enjoy wanting to believe in them the way Carrie and Teddy do in the book. I loved Channie Waites's narration. She changes her voice for each character and had a pleasant tone which makes listening fun. I liked this book and recommend it to fans of Zora Neale Hurston and kids who love a good yarn.

The Daughter's Walk by Jane Kirkpatrick -- Historical Fiction

This adult novel tells the story of Clara Estby who, in 1896, walked across the country with her mother, Helga. (See my review of The Year We Were Famous). Clara Estby works as a domestic in a wealthy household in Spokane. She has a crush on her employer's son and wants nothing more to be the wife of a banker, being his partner is business as well as in life. She resents her mother choosing her to go on this wild and impossible journey across the country. The first part of the book tells the story of Helga and Clara's courageous walk and the difficulties they encountered. A shocking secret about Clara comes to light and leaves Clara wondering who she really is and where she belongs. She's determined to be practical and find a way to help her family. Helga thinks Faith will see them though. The women hope to write a book about their adventures with Clara's illustrations, but back in Washington, tragedy awaits and their voices are silenced. Filled with grief and guilt and not protecting her children, Helga allows her husband to control her and willingly submits to the silence. Clara is not so willing. She struggles to find a place to belong while still trying to help the family who raised her. Their unwillingness to discuss anything related to the trip finds Clara at odds with her family and out on her own, all alone. A family friend helps her find a position and Clara finds friends, meaningful work and a way to support herself. She's still missing her family though and their rejections keeps her from true happiness. The first part of the book is pretty dry. It summarizes the trip and does not add any excitement or drama, at least not for me because I already knew the story. It seems to be setting up for the action of the plot but the plot never really picks up. I was curious to see what happened to Clara and how the author came to create the story. The story deals with issues of gender roles within the Norwegian community and issues of Faith. The mentions of God and Scripture are not overbearing and fit in well with the characters' personalities and culture. The author did extensive research and her story is very believable but I do not feel the writing really sparkles. This is a good companion to The Year We Were Famous. There is nothing really objectionable for young adults though they might find the story boring.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

A Noble Pursuit by Sara Blayne -- Regency Romance
This book is a sequel to A Noble Deception which I have not read.
She's further disappointed that through her first season.Lady Francine Powell, daughter of the Earl of Bancroft, is not looking forward to her comeout this Season. Francie would prefer to stay at home and ride her beloved horse and be with her family. She's also disappointed that instead of being under the chaperonage of her beloved eldest sister Lucy, she has to stay with her middle sister Florence, the new Marchioness of Leighton. Florence is feeling down because her husband scarcely spends any time at home and Lady Bancroft feels her daughter would benefit from helping Francie. En route to London, the spirited Francie wards off a drunken squire by claiming she is betrothed to the Earl of Ransome. Then she convinces her coachman to stop in Quorn country where she yields to an impulse to ride her horse to hounds. Her hoydenish behavior catches the attention of Harry Danvers, the Earl of Ransome who admires the young lady's free spirit. Back at the inn, Francie accidentally overhears two villains plotting the death of her brother-in-law Leighton. When she's noticed, she flees, and runs straight into Lord Ransome. The odious squire puts in another appearance and to save her lie, Francie begs Lord Ransome to kiss her. Harry is completely captivated by the young hoyden's innocent, refreshing nature. When next they meet, he finds himself agreeing to accompany her on her wild schemes to save Lord Leighton's and her sister's marriage. Francie thinks Harry agrees because of his love for adventure. She persists in believing she does not have any feminine attractions. Harry must convince Francie that she's the one woman he can't live without before the villains learn her identity. This is a light, fluffy story despite the villainous plot against Francie's brother-in-law. Francie is very young and very innocent and I found her adventures somewhat cringeworthy because I could tell she was going to find herself in over her head. I wish more of the story was from Harry's point-of-view because I kept wondering what he was thinking and what his back story was. We don't really know much about him except what Francie says. My favorite character is Lucy, Francie's eldest sister and I would like to read her book at some point. I liked that Francie comes from a large, loving family. It made a nice change from dramatic relations. Her relationship with Florence is very complicated and realistic. The rest of the story is not so much. The story is resolved a bit too easily and quickly but contains an Epilogue that isn't necessary. The plot is rather improbable but it's a fun read. If you are a stickler for period language and behavior, then you probably will not like this book. Read about the youngest Powell girl, Josephine, in A Noble Resolve.

A Phantom Affair by Jo Ann Ferguson -- Paranormal Regency Romance

I don't usually read paranormals but this one sounded good and I thought I'd give it a try. It is part of a series but can be read alone. Taken up by a wealthy lady of the ton, Ellen Dunbar, a Scottish lass, has had three Seasons without finding a lasting passion for any gentleman. Sure she's fallen in love but it never lasted longer than an evening. She's optimistic though, when she meets her friend Marian's neighbor and childhood tormentor, Corey Wolfe, Lord Wulfric. Ellen likes his sense of humor and Corey is drawn to Ellen's forthrightness. Unfortunately, a tragic accident results in the young lord's untimely demise. Corey was mortally wounded saving Ellen's life and she refused to leave his side while he lay dying. Ellen is severely shaken by the accident and mourns the loss of what might have been. She receives yet another shock when Corey appears in her bedroom - as a ghost! Corey can not move on until he pays Ellen a debt for staying with him. He vows to find her the perfect husband before summer ends. When Ellen recovers from her shock, she finds the dashing ghost just as charming as he was in life. The two quickly become friends while Corey is determined to play matchmaker. Ellen's friend Marian has a few gentlemen in mind who will bring Ellen all she's had to do without her whole life. Ellen wants nothing more than to be with Corey forever, for she has finally lost her heart. Of course, that is impossible as Corey well knows. Corey has fallen deeply in love with Ellen and it's far too late. Of course they can never be together even if the lady cared as much for him as he does for her. She seems a bit too interested in his cousin Lorenzo's poetry for Corey's tastes. How can he cross over when his heart still beats for Ellen. How can she marry when her whole heart belongs to Corey. There's no easy solution for these ill-fated lovers.  Ellen and Corey have great chemistry. I really like Ellen and can relate to her practical nature. Corey is a bit rakish but charming and witty and I think many women could fall in love with him easily. Most of the secondary characters are rather stereotypical. My least favorite is Marian, who thinks she is doing what is best but is really incredibly unkind and insensitive. I like her hound-crazy husband though. They are an odd couple. The ending is somewhat of a shock and I can't say I really liked it. It stretched my credibility too much. I really liked this book despite the unusual premise. It's funny, sweet and sad and I would recommend it even to those who don't enjoy paranormal.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

A Valentine's Day Gambit by Monda Gedney -- Regency Romance

The Countess of Carrington is furious with her brother-in-law, Hayden St. James for taking her husband off gambling in the clubs. She fears he will gamble away the family fortune as her father once did. To put a stop to her husband's lack of judgment she intends to find a husband for St. James. St. James is known as The Constant Lover for he is a serious flirt whose relationships never last longer than three days. He has a collection of locks of hair and love letters from too many ladies to count and he has no intentions of settling down. Tired of his sister-in-law's schemes, St. James heads off to the country with his best friend Lord Stacey, in search of Stacey's wayward younger brother Laurie. St. James's trip to the country has him almost literally running into Julia Preston. Miss Julia Preston, a twenty-three year old spinster, has taken on the role of caretaker of her family since her mother's death. She doesn't mind that admirers have come and gone or that some gossips consider her "on the shelf." Her latest admirer was a Captain Chambers, who seems to have forgotten her in favor of her beautiful and wealthy cousin Anne. Anne's father, worried about his young daughter's attachment to Captain Chambers, decides to take Anne to London with Julia as chaperone. Julia is excited to go to London and see new things but she's worried about playing chaperone for her spoiled younger cousin. She's so distracted, she doesn't watch where she's walking. It's lucky St. James happened along or Julia would have met with an unfortunate demise. Julia is less than impressed with St. James's charm and proceeds to, in his words, "harangue" him. He enjoys teasing the young lady because she's such an easy target but there's something more about her that intrigues him. The more Julia hears about St. James, the more she is convinced he's nothing more than an ornament to society. She condemns his supposed lack of convictions and his flirtatious ways. However, what she doesn't know is that St. James is working hard to catch up to her younger brother and keep him from being sucked into the orbit of Lord Stacey's troublesome younger brother. Julia has a busy time worrying about Anne falling prey to fortune hunters, worrying about her brother Adrian and trying to keep St. James from winning her heart. When the gentlemen of the ton get a good look at the beautiful, but distant Anne, they bet that St. James can win over the new beautiful ice maiden. St. James refuses to have anything to do with the wager for he knows it would hurt Julia if he went through with it, but when he learns that Laurie forced Lord Stacey into accepting the bet, he feels he has no choice but to win or it would ruin Stacey. St. James has to find a way to win the wager and convince Julia that he's not just the frivolous young man she thinks him to be.

The basic plot outline of this book is similar to Regina Scott's The Unflappable Miss Fairchild, but nowhere near as good. The plot takes too long to set up; we don't even meet St. James until chapter 2 and Julia in chapter 3 and they don't meet each other until chapter 4.  The romance is amusing and at times sweet. It's completely clean with kisses only and no sensual language. I like the relationship between the characters. There are too many plot threads and too many characters to keep track of. I prefer the straight up comedy of manners of Scott's book rather than a convoluted plot with villains and heroes. The plot does serve to help form St. James' character though but it drags on too long and the ending is rushed. I would rate this book as average and recommend it for those who like long, complicated plots and not to those who prefer quick, light reads.

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Year We Were Famous by Carole Estby Dagg -- Young Adult Historical Fiction
This novel is based on the true story of the author's great-grandmother and great-aunt. In order to save their family farm in Washington state,  mother and daughter accepted a $10,000 wager to walk across the country in 1896. After the death of her son Henry, Helga takes to her bed in a fit of dismals, leaving seventeen-year-old Clara to care for the younger children and the home by herself. Clara's father is trying to come up with ways to save the family farm and keep them from destitution but one bad harvest after another is not making ends meet. Clara could marry the boy next door, Erick Iverson, a hard-working dependable Norwegian boy, much like Clara's own father. Clara isn't sure what she wants out of life but she knows she doesn't want to get married now and be a farm wife the way her mother did. She dreams of going to college and maybe one day becoming a writer. Then her mother gets the crazy idea to walk across the country to prove women have the endurance for such a thing. At the end of the walk, a publisher in New York will award them $10,000 and publish a book based on their experiences - IF they make it, IF they survive and IF they can get there by the deadline of November 30. Clara thinks her mother's scheme is crazy. Clara has secretly longed for adventure though walking across country isn't what she had in mind. Her father urges her to go along to keep her mother motivated and on track. With a satchel each filled with necessities for emergencies, $5.00 each and sturdy walking shoes, the mother and daughter set forth on a walk across the continent. They manage to gain more publicity the farther east they go, meeting famous people along the way and gathering signatures and stories for their book. Clara learns a lot about the country but she also learns a lot about her mother. The two have a difficult relationship. They have opposite personalities and don't understand each other very well. Clara also learns her mother has been keeping a big secret from her. The walk not only challenges their endurance but it challenges their relationship with each other and the rest of the family they left behind. Along the way they encounter flash floods, sun stroke, Indians and tramps. They wonder if they will ever reach New York and find their way back home again. This is an exciting adventure tale/coming-of-age novel. It imagines the journey taken by the author's ancestors and provides descriptive details about what the pair encountered on their walk. It also looks more deeply at the mother-daughter relationship between Helga and Clara and imagines how their life experiences would have shaped their outlooks on life. Clara is a girl most teen girls can relate to. She isn't sure yet who she is and what she wants to do with her life. She thinks her mother doesn't understand her and isn't sympathetic to her feelings. The introspective plot woven into the adventure makes the book more realistic and interesting. I really liked Clara's personal journey and think the author did a wonderful job shaping her great-aunt. Helga comes across as sometimes unkind and uncaring but she wants what's best for her family and is willing to defy convention to do it. That makes her very admirable in my opinion. The writing style is casual and easy to read. It sounds like a real diary and real letters would. If I wasn't already familiar with the story, I would have been up all night reading to find out of they made it to New York. A map on the endpapers helps the reader follow along Clara and Helga's journey. This is a great book for kids 11+ and adults.

The author's note explains more about the family story and her motivation for writing which is very interesting. If you want a more scholarly/biographical look at Helga and Clara Estby's walk, (the book includes many photos) read Bold Spirit by Linda Lawrence Hunt.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What I Read Last Weekend

What I Read Last Weekend . . .

Flowers For the Bride by Donna Bell, Carola Dunn, Jean R. Ewing, Marcy Stewart, Phylis Warady, Winifred Witton -- Regency Romance stories

These six stories by notable Regency authors all have a wedding theme.
"The Wager" by Donna Bella is about a young lady, Serena Blessed, who made a fun wager with her best friend Angel that whoever marries first before the end of the Season will be paid 100 pounds by the "loser." Of course neither has that kind of money, Serena being from an impoverished family and Angel spending her pocket money as soon as she gets it, but it's fun to challenge each other. Serena accepts the hand of Lord Redmon with calmness if not affection. Then Angel's brother Nicholas and his friend Alfred return from the wars. Selena is certain she's over her childhood infatuation with Nicholas but he seems just as charming as ever and is hard to resist. He doesn't approve of her engagement to Lord Redmon, having known the gentleman at school. Nicholas is determined that Serena will not marry Redmon, even if it means losing the woman he loves. This story starts off well enough but then the characters behave stupidly and it doesn't quite end the way I thought it should. The villain is very stereotypical yet also extremely cruel. The story would benefit from including a bit more interaction between the characters and would have been a nice comedy of manners.

"A Conformable Wife" by Carola Dunn finds Lord Benedict Clifford in need of a wife. He asks his sister Juliet for help finding a comfortable, conformable wife.  Juliet realizes why her brother wants such a wife. Their parents abandoned home and family to travel around the world, causing them to be the talk of the ton and much embarrassment for their children. Benedict has tried to live his life in a proper manner. Julie recognizes that her brother will be bored to tears by a conformable wife and recommends her old school friend, Lady Eleanor Lacey as a bride who will bring Benedict our of himself. Nell has spent her adulthood quietly in the country, caring for first her father and then for her brother. Her brother has recently married, and his wife is making Nell so miserable that home is no longer a comfortable place to be. Nell considers sacrificing her independence for marriage and children. She listens to her sister-in-law's advice and hides her red hair, her large shaggy dog, her love of the passionate music of Beethoven and her cart and thoroughbred horses. Benedict proposes to the woman he believes will make him the perfect wife. Nell realizes that her groom lacks passion and decides to run away before the wedding. Feeling ill-used, Benedict dashes off after Nell with the intention of dragging her to the alter. When Nell's horses are stolen, she's determined to go after them but when Benedict arrives, all her plans go awry, and the pair end up learning much more about each other and about themselves than they ever dreamed they would. This is my second favorite story in the collection. The story was fully fleshed out and funny. The characters really get to know one another and the reader gets to know them too. Carola Dunn is one of my favorite Regency authors and this story is no exception.

In "The Impossible Bridegroom" by Jean R. Ewing, Beth Lindsey is surprised when her wealthy cousin Harriet Honeywell calls at Beth's humble country home to announce her engagement to Henry Fitztroy, Lord Ravenstoke. All Harriet cares about is his title and her trousseau. She invites Beth to join her in London to shop for bridal clothes. Beth declines, feeling she has to stay in the country and care for her father and younger brother, but her father insists she go on holiday. In London, Beth is forced to follow her cousin from shop to shop, never seeing the sites. When her cousin Harriet and their carriage are nowhere to be found, Beth decides to take a hack home. When an urchin steals her money and she becomes lost, a kind gentleman provides assistance. Beth loses her heart to the charming man, only to discover that he is her cousin's fiancee! Henry finds Beth equally charming. He never intended to marry Harriet, or anyone for that matter, but he was tricked into it. If only he could find a way out of the impossible engagement. He decides to try his best and come what may. This is my favorite story in the collection. The romance happens rather quickly but for a short story, it's sweet and believable. I really like Beth and Henry. However, the plot is very predictable and I wondered why the characters didn't realize what was happening. Overall though, this is a nice, pleasant story.

In "An Indefinite Wedding" young Lady Sarah Millbright is about to marry the formidable Duke of Weston. She thinks she's being ill-used and would rather marry her childhood sweetheart, Gerry. Her parents didn't approve of the match and they are determined she will marry Weston. Atremis Shallot, Duke of Weston, had a problem. He needs to marry Lady Sarah or else he'll lose part of his estate. He has inherited his father's debts as well as his father's love of gambling. Though he promised Lady Sarah's father he would reform, he couldn't resist one last wager. He lost and now owes his family jewels to a friend. There's only one problem: the family jewels have disappeared. Lord Weston has hired a husband and wife detective team, Lord and Lady Duncan (featured in My Lord Footman), to find the jewels. Lady Duncan also finds herself taking on the role of counselor to the young bride and her groom. Her advice helps Lady Sarah decide what to do but there are still obstacles that must be overcome before the wedding can come off. This story is rather weak. I can't stand young heroines like Lady Sarah or overbearing gentlemen like the Duke. Together, they make an impossible pair. This, coupled with some newlywed misunderstandings, my other least favorite plot, makes the story difficult to like. There are too many subplots and characters to keep track of in a short story. I had a hard time getting through it. I liked the Duncans better than the main characters and would rather have read about them. 

"Delightful Deceiver" by Phyllis Warady features a pair of twin sisters who are as different as night and day. Bold Hester is willing to risk her reputation while her sister, Hannah, is more meek. Hannah desires nothing more than to marry Charles Stewart, her childhood friend who aspires to be a clergyman. Peregrine Simpson, Duke of Alden, is on the hunt for a wife. He's drawn to spirited Hester but she convinces him that Hannah will make a better Duchess. Hannah doesn't have the nerve to stand up to her family and finds herself in an unwanted engagement. To make matters worse, Hester realizes she loves Lord Alden but also finds herself unwittingly thrust into an unwanted engagement. She has to convince her sister to get up the nerve to set things right. This is the weakest story in the collection. Much of the action is glossed over and summarized. The reader doesn't get to know the gentlemen at all and the ladies are two-dimensional stereotypes. This story is not really worth reading.

In "The Vicarious Bride" Miss Kitty Wellfleet escapes the Misses Grimsbey's Select Academy for Young Ladies of Bath to meet with a handsome young soldier. Her favorite teacher, Miss Abigail Fordham, chases after Kittyknowing that Kitty will be expelled if she's found breaking the rules again. The ladies are caught sneaking back in and not only is Kitty expelled, Abby loses her job. Lord Ashley, Kitty's guardian, comes to collect her and hires Abby as her chaperone until Kitty is able to mature enough to marry Lord Ashley. Abby falls head-over-heels in love with the dashing Corinthian who is destined for another. Kitty tries her hardest to break all the rules with Abby trying to keep the girl in line while nursing a broken heart. This story could benefit from being a full length novel. The characters need to be fleshed out more as well as important plot points, which are here summarized. I couldn't get to know the characters and didn't feel the romance was believable. As it stands, this is an average story. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What I've Read This Week

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

Mistaken Kiss by Kathleen Baldwin -- Regency Romance

Willa Linnet has lived with her bachelor brother and his best friend for as long as she can remember. She's been educated in classical Greek philosophy and mathematics. She is able to work out any problem in her head and considers herself quite logical. When her brother finally realizes that she's now a woman, he balks at the expense and discomfort of giving her a Season in London. His best friend, Sir Daniel Braeburn, proposes a solution: he will marry Willa and they will all go on comfortably as they always have. Willa, however, does not find this solution very appealing. She longs for some excitement and romance in her life and she is certain that Sir Daniel is not the one who will provide her with what she wants. She decides that the only way to learn whether she would marry Sir Daniel or not is to kiss him. Willa heads out to the orchard where she believes she sees Sir Daniel resting. She removes her spectacles (she's very nearsighted) and begs for a kiss. The kiss ignites the passion she always knew she had in her, the only problem is, she discovers that her passionate kisser is not Sir Daniel at all! Alex Braeburn, mostly asleep, has a delicious dream in which a young lady demands he kiss her. He's happy to fulfill the lady's request but when he wakens, he finds it was not a dream and he has just kissed the rector's younger sister. Alex, being the black sheep of the family, is not considered a suitable companion for Willa, even if he wanted to marry her, which he doesn't. It's a good thing he'll be gone in the morning. Poor Willa completely lost her heart to the wrong man! She knows she can never marry Sir Daniel. When next Willa and Alex meet, she attempts to stop a prizefight between a neighboring farm lad and a London champion. Alex knows a fight is no place for a lady but Willa won't take no for an answer. Being just as determined as Willa, Alex attempts to stop her and is thanked for his efforts by being poked with an older lady's umbrella. The lady is the Countess de Alameda, or Willa's Aunt Honore. Aunt Honore takes a liking to the girl and sees how attracted Willa is to Alex. She offers Willa the chance to come to London and "hook" Alex (like a fish).  Willa wanst to have an adventure and to see Alex again so she reluctantly agrees. Aunt Honore does her best to push Willa at Alex and make the young man jealous. Willa become a big hit among the young gentlemen of the ton but Alex doesn't seem to be one of them. Alex admires the strong-minded young lady but he's determined to think he's not the right man for her. This is a very light, pleasant read. The plot is entirely comedy of manners with no villains or other adventures. Aunt Honore is totally crazy in this book but she doesn't provide as many laughs as in Cut From the Same Cloth. This book takes place before that one and after Lady Fiasco but can be each can be read as a stand-alone. I recommend this to those who like screwball comedy Regency romance style.

Friday, May 6, 2011

What I've Read This Week

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

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction/Fantasy

It's 1803 and 12-year-old Kat Stephenson, the youngest daughter of a country rector, has cut her hair, disguised herself as a boy and sneaks out of the house . . . only to be busted by her older sisters. Kat's whole reason for running away was to help her brother Charles avoid debtors prison and to keep eldest sister Elissa from making marrying an older man who was rumored to have killed his wife. Kat thinks that as a boy, she could make money in London to send home to help her family. Elissa, always willing to do the right thing, just doesn't understand! Neither does second sister Angeline. She has her own plan for avoiding a disastrous marriage for her sister and her plan does not involve Kat's help. It does, however, involve magic! Kat finds herself in disgrace with her sisters and her step-mama. Step-mama is always telling Kat to behave like a lady and forever complaining that Kat's mother was a disgrace to the family because she was a witch. Jealous of her sisters'  memories of their mother and Angeline's budding magical talent, Kat sneaks a peek at her late mother's magical artifacts, hidden away by disapproving step-mama, and discovers she has a secret magical destiny inherited from the mother she never knew. Elissa is pursued by both the wicked Sir Neville and his kind younger brother while Angeline finds an unwanted suitor of her own. Kat is determined to avoid her destiny as a mysterious Guardian and continues to stubbornly seek out a magical solution to her family's dilemmas, all in her own way.Kat is an irrepressible, incorrigible young heroine who will make you laugh with her crazy ideas. She really makes the reader want to befriend her to either join her on her adventures or keep her from carrying out her plans. The characters are a bit two-dimensional but I found the Stephenson sisters very likable and interesting, especially Angeline, the fiery tempered sister. The villain's motive could probably be easily figured out by an adult but I was too tired to really figure it out and I think a child in the target age will enjoy learning it the moment Kat puts all the clues together. This charming book is a good introduction to the Regency genre for younger readers and a good fun diversion for older readers as well. I look forward to reading more about Kat in the future!

Cut From the Same Cloth by Kathleen Baldwin -- Regency Romance
Valen, Lord St. Clare's father is dying and makes Valen promise to find a wife who will fill his heart. Easier said than done when Valen despises all the members of the ton for their snooty ways. His mother was common born and his noble grandfather made her life miserable. Valen gives his father a half-hearted promise and heads off to London to stay with his Aunt Honore. Lady Elizabeth Hampton is in London to find a rich husband. With her father and older brother missing in America and her twin brother not mature enough to save the family, Lady Elizabeth decides she must do the right thing and sacrifice herself to rescue the family finances. Elizabeth revels in creating eye-catching dresses out of beautiful, unusual silks. Her creations have caught the eyes of a few suitors, most notably Lord "Pointy-Nose-But-Has-Thirty-Thousand-a-Year" Horton, a would-be poet. Unfortunately, her unique style has also caught the attention of Lord St. Clare, who delights in creating lurid articles of clothing from the same cloth as Elizabeth's dresses. Lord St. Clare's jokes do not amuse Elizabeth and she takes delight in telling him off. He also happens to be her brother's old friend and when Lord St. Clare and Lady Almaeda invite the twins to stay at Lady Almaeda's, Elizabeth finds herself arguing a lot more with Lord St. Clare than she ever wanted to. Valen sees though Elizabeth's ploy. He also sees the spirited girl underneath the prim and proper young lady., but Valen vows he won't be caught in Elizabeth's schemes. He thinks he's safe because he isn't rich enough but if his Aunt Honore has anything to say about it, Valen and Elizabeth will be at the alter in no time at all. The story takes a dramatic turn and Valen has to prove to Elizabeth that he is not just a fashionable fribble and she must show him that she has a heart after all. This is an excellent, light, funny romance. Aunt Honore is my favorite character with her outrageous comments and carefully designed ploys to bring about a match between her favorite nephew and his friend's sister. The book had me laughing out loud in many places and balances the dramatic events with humor quite nicely. I could have done without the drama but it was necessary for the romance and character development. This is a nice reversal of the Pride and Prejudice plot and an original, refreshing plot which hasn't been used before. There is some brief, mild sensual language but mostly the book is kisses only and the sensuality is handled with humor and charm. Though it's not quite at the level of Georgette Heyer, I loved this book and highly recommend it for fans of the genre.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Lately . . .
Dear readers, I'm behind on blogging my book reviews and I have some interesting historical facts to share with you all in a few weeks. For now, I hope you enjoy the book reviews I have for you.

The Book of the Maidservant by Rebecca Barnhouse, read by Susan Duerden -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Johanna is a maidservant to Dame Margery Kemp, a 13th century holy woman. It's a bit of a trial for Johanna to look after Dame Margery who continuously weeps for Christ's sufferings, but Cook and little Cicely (the other maid) make Johanna's position a bit easier with their friendship. Johanna still longs to return home to her father and older sister though, and enjoy the comforts of being a prosperous farmer's daughter. However, her father is in debt and her sister is now married, so Johanna has been sent into service to help the family. She has little choice to put up with Dame Margery's constant demands and the public gossip about Dame Margery's private life. When Dame Margery decides to go on a pilgrimage to Rome she insists on taking Johanna with her. Johanna is nervous about leaving England but looks forward to the adventure. The journey does not turn out as expected when Johanna discovers that the rest of the pilgrims are far less kind than her mistress. Only John Mouse, a student heading to Bologna, and Bartholomew, another servant take an interest in her. After a difficult and dangerous journey to the Alps, the rest of the pilgrims decide to part ways with Dame Margery, taking Johanna with them! Johanna must be brave and resourceful if she's going to find a way home. She is abused battered and beaten down before she finally finds the courage to help herself. This book is for older teens and adults. It's full of gritty details of daily life in the Middle Ages, much like Karen Cushman's books, but without the humor to ease the disgustingness. There are quite a lot of religious references that bog down the story but were so important to people at that time. There's also lots of violence, some sexual innuendo and some nasty characters. I appreciated the details but it got to be too much after awhile and I wanted something happy to occur for a change. I was torn between liking and not liking Johanna. For most of the book she meekly accepts what happens to her and I found that annoying. By the time she finally takes charge, I felt sorry for her and wanted her to have a happy ending. The ending is a bit unusual and not really necessary. It could have ended a chapter or two earlier. 

I listened to the Audible Audio edition read by Susan Duerden. I really liked her narration. She pitches her voice differently for each character and I could always tell who was speaking. She has a light, pleasant voice with an English accent to lend an air of authenticity (though I doubt Johanna would have spoken so well). I would recommend this book to dedicated medievalists only.

A Golden Web by Barbara Quick -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Alessandra Giliani is the daughter of a medieval stationer, or bookmaker and seller, living in 14th c. Italy where girls like Alessandra are expected to marry and raise children. Alessandra doesn't wish to be married. She fears dying in childbirth like her own beloved mother and dreams of going to the University at Bologna to study anatomy. Alessandra, bright and curious, is a thorn in her step-mother's side and Ursula is determined to be rid of her troublesome step-daughter. Alessandra is protected by her big brother Nicco but on her 14th birthday, Ursula shuts Alessandra away from the world as is expected of girls of her station before marriage. Alessandra's father is kind and sympathetic. Her brothers and sisters sneak her her beloved books but still she isn't content. When her father finds a wealthy man for Alessandra to marry, she knows she has to take action and soon, but how? When her father proposes she spend a year in seclusion at a convent, Alessandra reluctantly agrees. From there, she embarks on a dangerous journey of deception to live out her dream. She proves herself able to the task, though she must avoid detection at all costs or she could be burned at the stake. She even finds an unexpected ally and true romance. This is an exciting story about a (possibly) real young woman who dared to defy convention. The book is rich with historical detail, especially about the stationer's trade and anatomy lessons. The anatomy parts were pretty gross, unless you like that sort of thing. The romance is bit predictable and cheesy but the remarkable story caught my attention and I couldn't put it down. The language is fairly simple and some parts are a bit rushed but I think adults can enjoy this novel as well as teens.

Tuesday, May 3, 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 May (links lead to my reviews):
  1. Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis (Middle Grades)
  2. A Golden Web by Barbara Quick (YA)
  3. The Book of the Maidservant by Rebecca Barnhouse (YA)
  4. Cut From the Same Cloth by Kathleen Baldwin 
  5. Mistaken Kiss by Kathleen Baldwin 
  6. Valentine's Day Gambit by Mona Gedney
  7. Flowers for the Bride by Donna Bell, Carola Dunn, Jean R. Ewing, Marcy Stewart, Phylis Waradym Winifred Witton 
  8. The Year We Were Famous by Carol Estby Dagg (YA)
  9.  A Noble Pursuit by Sara Blayne 
  10. A Phantom Affair by Jo Ann Ferguson 
  11. Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon  (Middle Grades)
  12. The Daughter's Walk by Jane Kirkpatrick