Saturday, July 30, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

A Season of Surprises by Rebecca Ashley -- Regency Romance

Miss Julia Weston is on the shelf and happy about it. She would far rather write her observations of Society in her journals and hunt for a husband, but her Aunt Sophie has other ideas. Sophie decides that Julia and the Marquess of Brandon would make a fine couple and wrangles an invitation to his country home from his aunt, Lady Sayde. There's only one problem - Julia can't stand Lord Brandon! She thinks he's rude, condescending and insufferable. Their few previous meetings have not been enjoyable at all. Also attending the house party are the beautiful Vanessa and her matronly sister, the sweet but dim-witted Christy and her title-hunting mother. The visit is a disaster from the start. Lord Brandon has eyes only for Vanessa, Lady Sayde appears to be senile and enjoys singling out Julia with her outrageous comments and Julia overhears Lord Brandon accuse her of being a spy! Julia would pack her bags and leave at once if it were not for the kind librarian, Mr. Brixham. To make matters worse, Julia's friend Lord Anthony Devon shows up and becomes friendly with Lord Brandon and sides with him against her friendship with Mr. Brixham. Julia is determined to show Lord Brandon that she's her own woman and far superior to Vanessa. Why should she care what he thinks? There's no chance she will ever marry such an arrogant man! This story is told entirely from Julia's viewpoint and the romance is a bit lacking in the courtship department. She is an unusual, modern character and one with whom I could easily identify. I could see myself acting just like Julia in the same situation. I do wish that the story was also told from Lord Brandon's point-of-view because we never really get to know the real him. It's hard to tell what he's thinking and feeling when all the reader knows is Julia's impressions of him. Lady Sayde and Anthony provide comic relief while the other young ladies are fairly stereotypical characters. The plot drags a bit in the middle and finishes up too quickly and randomly. I had hoped for more character development before the story came to a close. I liked it well enough but it doesn't hold a candle to Georgette Heyer's similar plots. It is a nice light read and perfectly clean. There are exactly three kisses and nothing else beyond kissing.

Water Song : A Retelling of "The Frog Prince" (Once Upon a Time) by Suzanne Weyn -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Miss Emma Winthrop, a proper English young lady, has found herself on the Western front of the Great War (WWI). Trapped in her family's country home in Belgium with only two old caretakers for company, Emma is at a loss. She dreams of her father to come and take her home. When she receives a shocking letter from her crush, she can only think to rid herself of the picture she placed in her locket by tossing it down the well. However, the locket was a family heirloom and contains something more precious than photographs. Jack Verde is an American wanderer, signed on to fight for the British. Separated from his unit, he struggles to survive the deadly poison gas the Germans have unleashed on the allies. Jack knows the only way to survive is to hold his breath. Luckily for him, he's a champion swimmer and has Louisiana magic on his side. Struggling to rescue a young soldier from his unit, he finds himself blindly stumbling towards safety, which he finds in the bottom of a well. When Emma discovers Jack at the bottom of the well, she thinks him an ugly frog, but learns that he can retrieve her locket for her. Unfortunately, they're captured by the Germans and held prisoner in her home. Jack promises to get her locket if she will give him a kiss. Horrified at the idea, Jack amends his demands to friendship. Emma promises, hoping to be rid of Jack and of the Germans soon and get home to England. With a little help from his mother's spirit, Jack learns to have courage and faith in love. As battle rages on and more Germans take over the manor, Emma and Jack find their lives in danger. They have to trust each other in order to survive. This is a realistic retelling of a little-known fairy tale. The details of World War I are incredibly realistic. The plot is fast paced and danger filled. I couldn't put it down. The ending is a bit rushed, especially the epilogue. I think there should have been a sequel to develop the characters and their relationship a bit better but overall this is a really interesting novel that will appeal to teens and adults.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What I Read This Weekend

What I've Read This Week . . .

Country Mouse by Jessie Watson -- Regency Romance

Miss Lavinia Taylor longs for a peaceful country home where her many rescued animals can be content. Now that her uncle is dead and her brother is at Oxford, there's nothing left for her in London. Once she's settled in the countryside, she begins to think there's something missing in her life and perhaps that something is a husband. She wants a true companion who will love her and her animals and value her opinions. Such men are hard to find and even more rare in her small country village so she puts the matter aside and doesn't give it much more thought until she comes across an injured gentleman lying by his upturned carriage in the road. The gentleman, Lord Charles Templeton (apparently a Marquess but his style is given as Lord Templeton) has come to one of his country estates to avoid a scandal brewing in London. His very beautiful and very dangerous (former) mistress was about to be served with a divorce from her less-than-adoring husband if she was found to be with child. Though she is not, Templeton feels the need to escape London for awhile. Lavinia immediately takes the strange gentleman to task for being a poor driver and causing an accident on a bumpy country road. Their meeting goes from bad to worse as they can do nothing but exchange pointed barbs at one another. However, he is an eligible gentleman, albeit one with a shocking reputation so Lavinia concludes she needs to get to know him better. Templeton is angry at Lavinia at first, but soon he is captivated by her witty sense of humor. Meanwhile, the villagers have taken temporary positions at the Park with Lord Templeton and are extremely happy with their positions. They want to stay working for Lord Templeton at the Park. The servants also adore Lavinia and they think they know just how to convince Lord Templeton to stay. However, poor Templeton is continually made to look like a fool in front of Lavinia. Will he ever be able to prove himself worthy of her love? There are many different plot threads in this Regency romantic comedy. The story is told in the third person from the points of view of Lavinia, Templeton, the servants/villagers, Lavinia's bird, her best friends and her brother. There is entirely too much going on in this story and the romance suffers for it. I would have picked the animal rescue plot and made that the focal point of the story OR Lord Templeton's accident-prone nature OR a plot about Lavinia's brother but not all of them. It made the story way too long and confusing. The romance suffers because the author has to speed things up at the end because there was too much going on earlier. The author also includes pointless historical details that don't move the story along. I adore period details and can't get enough except when they aren't relevant to the story. I liked the characters for the most part, especially Lavinia. I admire her dedication and determination to helping animals in need. Templeton is an OK hero. He has his faults, some of them bad and some of them charming. There are too many secondary characters to even comment on. This is an OK novel if you like lighthearted novels with a bit of danger

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Miss Truelove Beckons by Donna Simpson -- Regency Romance

Lord Wycliffe Prescott, Viscount Drake, has returned home from Waterloo to a hero's welcome. He doesn't feel much like a hero though. He's seen too much death and came too close to dying himself to feel jubilant about being one of Wellington's youngest Majors. Drake is haunted by his experiences in the war and he dreams about it every night. His mother is worried sick and thinks that a lovely bride will take his mind off things. She has just the girl in mind - the beautiful Arabella Swinley, the daughter of her old school friend. She has invited Arabella and her mother to come for a long visit so the young people can get to know one another. Arabella brings along her cousin, Miss Truelove Becket, a poor Vicar's daughter. True is happy to go along with her younger cousin, whom she practically raised. She needs some time to contemplate her future and decide whether or not to marry her father's former curate who has accepted a position up North. True longs to do good works and care for the people of the parish as she does for her father but she has her doubts whether Mr. Bottleby will provide her with true companionship. When Drake meets True, he hears her name as Miss Truelove Beckons and is instantly attracted to her plain yet beautiful looks. True proves to be true of heart as well. As she gets to know Drake, she is able to draw him out and listens to his stories of war without judging him. She is peaceful and calm and knows all the right things to say. She would make a lovely wife for some man but not for Drake, for he feels he is too damaged to make anyone happy. True falls in love with Drake, attracted to his handsome looks, his sensitivity and his wounded soul. Only she can make him happy, but she knows that Arabella will make a better Viscountess and future Countess. Arabella is repulsed by Drake's forthright manner and his horrific night terrors but her mother has her sights set on Drake and won't back down. This is not a typical Regency romance. It doesn't really follow any of the conventional plots. It is different and more serious than the usual lighthearted fare but also different from the traditional villain plot.Though I felt that Drake's PTSD nightmares were gruesome and repeated too often, I liked the wounded hero concept. Drake and True have a special relationship that is pure and sweet. I liked both the main characters though I think some people might find True a bit too selfless. The secondary characters were mostly stock characters but they mostly exhibited some depth as the story went on. The moral of the story is a tiny bit heavy-handed but only just a little bit. The writing is excellent and the descriptions are beautiful.Some might be put off by the relationship between the hero and heroine but I thought it was sweet and romantic. I loved this book because of it's uniqueness and highly recommend it to those who like their Regencies to have substance. 

The Marquis' Kiss by Regina Scott -- Regency Romance
Lord Thomas DeGuis has just been rejected by yet another lady (this is a sequel to Catch of the Season). His pride is wounded but his heart is not broken - at least not by love. He does believe that a family history of heart disease will end his life prematurely so therefore, he must marry and set up his nursery soon. It's getting rather difficult to do when the ladies keep rejecting him, all because of a little kiss. Thomas is determined to try again and this time he won't make the mistake of kissing his lady before they're married. An acquaintance literally thrusts him in the path of a Miss Margaret Monroe, someone he's never even given a thought to before. Margaret, however, has thought about Thomas a lot. She is madly in love with the man she thinks is a paragon of perfection but she knows one such as him is not for her. She laughs too loudly, dances too enthusiastically, races her horse in public, speaks her mind and founded a home for reformed ladies of easy virtue. Margaret's stepmother is in despair of her ever finding a husband. Thomas is captivated by Margaret's figure though she's a trifle embarrassing to be seen with. He fears gossip but recognizes that Margaret has feelings too and that she would be hurt if he abruptly rejected her. Thomas agrees to a friendship with Margaret and she accepts. Thomas is a bit preoccupied by trying to arrange a match between his younger sister and good friend Viscount Darton without much success. As he gets to know the Original Margaret Munroe he is captivated by her love for life and begins to think of her as more than a friend but steadfastly refuses to kiss her. Margaret refuses to marry unless Thomas can give her his whole heart. She wonders if she can break through his reserve to win his love. This is not one of the better Regencies but it is not one of the worst. Thomas is a copy of Mr. Darcy but rather more of a stuffed shirt. I did not care for him much, primarily because a key component of his plot is told rather than seen. It makes the story feel rushed where it shouldn't be and doesn't engage the reader. I loved Margaret though she does not behave like a typical Regency lady, even the eccentric ones. I admired her a lot and would like to know more about her. I read this book after reading The Incomparable Miss Compton and I liked getting to know the secondary characters of that book, especially Lady Agnes. If you're a fan of the society that Regina Scott has created in her novels, you'll want to read this one. If you're new to her books and like unusual heroines, then you will want to read this book. Those expecting grand, sweeping passion look elsewhere.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

His Lady Midnight by Jo Anne Ferguson -- Regency Romance

Lady Phoebe Brackenton lives a double life. Part of the time she's a typical Society lady but in the dark of the night she rescues criminals about to be transported. Now she's about to be caught if she doesn't act fast. With her assistant wounded, Lady Phoebe has to make her own way through the dark streets of the docks of London. She loses her way and her carriage but jumps into the nearest nobleman's carriage she finds, believing it to be empty. The carriage is not empty, however. Lord Galen Townsend is inside waiting for his wayward brother and he wants an explanation. He may have a shocking reputation, but Lady Phoebe has no choice but to trust him with the truth. He decides to take her to Thistlewood Cottage, his friend's residence outside of Bath. The journey is dangerous and now Galen is implicated in Phoebe's crime and if caught, they're both in trouble. As Phoebe and Galen learn to trust one another and become friends and possibly more, they must decide whether to abandon their more noble causes to choose love or continue on the same paths without. Then Galen's brother shows up and may ruin everything. The romance is the strength of the story. It's passionate without being overwhelmingly so. (Passionate kisses but nothing more). The writing is good and the characters are well-developed. I admired Lady's Phoebe's convictions. However, in order for the story to happen, the author has to have Lady Phoebe break all the rules of Society. I couldn't put the book down because I had to find out how Lady Phoebe found her way out of trouble, but I was bothered by the lack of historical accuracy. If you are more of a fan of romance than history, you'll love this book.

A Rogue for Christmas by Kate Huntington -- Regency Romance

Fourteen-year-old Mary Ann Whittaker is headed to the pawn shop to pawn her greatest treasure in order to save her family when she's accosted by a brute intent on robbing and murdering her. She's rescued by a handsome gentleman who is impressed by young Mary Ann's bravery. He helps her pawn her ring, escorts her home and disappears. The Whittakers learn that a Christmas angel has paid their debts and sent a goose for Christmas dinner. Mary Ann vows to marry her angel. Seven years later, Mary Ann is a reigning Society belle and has refused all offers of marriage. During a party given by her wealthy brother-in-law, she encounters her rescue angel once again and is determined not to let him go this time. Lionel St. James is not a fit person for a young lady like Mary Ann to know. He's been disowned by his family and makes a living as a professional gambler. Mary Ann won't take any excuse. She's determined to reform Lionel. He has no choice but to succumb to the charms of the lovely Whittaker ladies and join them at their country estate for Christmas. Along the way he becomes charmed by the happy, loving family such as he's never seen the like of before, but he knows it's only temporary and come the new year, he'll be out of the streets. When some unexpected guests arrive, they add more tension to the party, but Mary Ann has faith in Lionel. Only she can see the angel underneath the devilish exterior. Lionel must learn to believe in himself and make others see what Mary Ann sees. For that he will need a Christmas miracle and Mary Ann is determined to make it happen. This story is very much like A Christmas Carol infused with romance. It only needs Tiny Tim's famous life at the end. I love A Christmas Carol but not so much A Rogue for Christmas. Mary Ann is very young and innocent and acts like a much younger girl. Lionel isn't really that bad and is rather appealing if you like the wounded soul type. The story is supposed to be heartwarming but I found it a bit too schmaltzy. The plot is also very unrealistic and Mary Ann breaks a lot of rules to make her dream come true.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Incognito by Suzanne Allain -- Regency Romance

Years ago, Lady Smithfrield and an old friend, the Duchess of Alford, planned a match between their eldest children but with the death of the Duchess, Lady Smithfield assumed the match was off. Lady Smithfield and her two daughters have had to economize since the death of her husband. Lady Smithfield is laboring under the misapprehension that they are quite poor and is out to find a wealthy husband for her beautiful eldest daughter Lydia. Then the Duke writes to say the match is still on and his son will be visiting shortly to meet Lydia and see if they suit. Lady Smithfield is delighted and can't wait to brag to all her friends. Lydia is less than thrilled for her heart belongs to the vicar though she is unsure of his feelings. Ever the dutiful daughter, Lydia feels she must be a martyr and sacrifice herself. Her more practical younger sister Emily decides that her sister would never make a good Duchess and should marry the vicar before the Marquess of Wesleigh arrives and then the Marquess can marry Emily instead. Emily longs for a life beyond their sleepy village even if it means marrying an unknown Marquess to do it. Alexander Eaton, Lord Wesleigh enjoys his bachelor life in London but his father is fed him with Alexander's youthful exploits. When informs Alexander of his betrothal to Lydia, Alexander is furious at being treated like a child. Finally he decides to head to Stonehurst incognito to determine whether Miss Smithfield can love him for himself. Posing as a penniless curate, Alexander befriends the spirited Emily and helps her with her matchmaking scheme. Unexpected complications arise and Alexander is certain he's found his true love but fears she can never love him. This book is in the style of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and readers of those two wonderful authors will recognize many of the characters, dialogue and even plot elements of this book. I also really liked the main characters. Emily is a bit too outspoken to really truly be from the Regency era though. Alex is a great romantic hero, very different from the usual rakes. The secondary characters are all stock characters. Lady Smithfield is a copy of Mrs. Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility. The story is told rather than shown and it reads like fan fiction. I enjoyed the plot, which was amusing in parts and the book isn't bad for a first novel but don't expect this to be mistaken for another Georgette Heyer novel.

Without Warning Ellen's Story 1914-1918 by Dennis Hamley -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Sixteen-year-old Ellen Wilkins is a working class girl living in a small English village at the outbreak of World War I. Her brother enthusiastically enlists and the family must learn to cope without his wages. Ellen seeks employment from retired Col. Cripps, a former war hero. Her father resents the fact that she has to ask for a job from a "toff" but Ellen finds the Colonel kind and sympathetic. Though he is unable to offer her a job, their meeting changes Ellen's life forever. As the war drags on and tragedy strikes, Ellen learns how to cope and realizes what she wants out of life. She has to find the courage to leave behind the world she knows and enter a new and vastly different one. This is a coming-of-age novel told in the first person. It reads almost like a diary because the action is told to the reader by Ellen. My biggest complaint with the novel is that the story is told more than shown. It reads like a history lesson in places where it departs from Ellen's main storyline. The plot is interesting but gets rather melodramatic at times. I found myself rooting for Ellen though and couldn't put the book down. The story holds nothing back as far as the atrocities of war and is a bit gruesome. I do not recommend this book for younger readers and those who might be sensitive. I would recommend it to high school history teachers and to those who liked Remembrance by Theresa Breslin.

Friday, July 8, 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 July  (links lead to my reviews):
  1. Meet Me in St. Louis by Sally Benson
  2. Incognito by Suzanne Allain
  3. Without Warning Ellen's Story 1914-1918 by Dennis Hamley (YA)
  4. My Lady Midnight by Jo Ann Ferguson
  5. A Rogue for Christmas by Kate Huntington 
  6. Miss Truelove Beckons by Donna Simpson
  7. The Marquis' Kiss by Regina Scott
  8. The Country Mouse by Jessie Watson 
  9. A Season of Surprises by Rebecca Ashley
  10. Water Song : A Retelling of "The Frog Prince" by Suzanne Weyn (YA)

    What I Read Last Weekend

    What I Read Last Weekend . . . 

    Meet Me in St. Louis by Sally Benson -- Historical Fiction

    Like me, you may know and love the 1944 movie starring Judy Garland. The movie was based on short stories by Sally Benson about her childhood in St. Louis. In 1942 the stories were compiled and published in book form as Meet Me in St. Louis.

    The book follows the lives of the various members of the Smith family, a well-to-do family in St. Louis in 1903-1904. There's Mother (Anna), Father (Lonnie), Lon (18), Rose (17), Esther/Judy Garland (16), Agnes (12), Tootie (6), Grandpa, Katie the cook and assorted pets and dolls. Rose is the beauty of the family and Esther is described as small, dark, dimpled with a pretty singing voice. Rose and Esther are boy crazy and can't wait to find the right man to marry. They find most of the boys they know boring and prefer a bit more mystery surrounding their crushes. They also crush on matinee idols and heroes. Agnes can be prim and proper but she's also pretty wild. Tootie is bloodthirsty, naughty and completely wild. Her favorite activity is killing her dolls and burying them. The whole city is looking forward to the World's Fair in the spring. The Smiths are a close-knit family and love each other despite their differences.

    The book is pretty much like the movie but lacks the charm of the musical numbers. It also lacks the central romance of the movie. Each chapter revolves around a month instead of a season like the movie. There are a few other differences too.

    It's well worth a read for any fan of the classic movie.

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    Friday, July 1, 2011

    What I've Read This Week

    What I've Read This Week . ..

    Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown -- Young Adult Historical Fiction/Mystery/Romance

    This gothic novel/scrapbook is set at the end of the Civil War. Jennie Lovell's twin brother Toby has died in the war. She feels his presence always around her as she awaits the return of her beloved cousin and fiancee, Will Pritchett. When Will's brother Quinn returns, wounded, with news that Will has died, Jennie's whole world seems to end. Not only does she have a broken heart but her aunt treats her like an unpaid servant. Her Uncle Henry threatens to turn her out unless she uses some of her late father's contacts to hire Mr. Geist, a spirit photographer to contact Will. Jennie wants to believe that Will is there with her, especially after a strange experience at Mr. Geist's studio, but she uncovers a secret that could change her beliefs. However, she can't see to escape the feeling that Will is there making contact with her. She wonders if he is trying to tell her something and if he's unhappy about her budding romance with Quinn. Quinn seems to be hiding a dark secret and she's determined to figure out what it isWith her brother Toby whispering in her ear teaching her to be a spy, Jennie sets out to solve the mystery. This is a fast paced mystery that I just couldn't put down. I read it all in one sitting and far too late into the night. I figured out one piece of the puzzle but couldn't put all the clues together. When Jennie finally did, it came as a bit of a shock. I liked Jennie and felt sorry for her position in life. The rest of her family is fairy stereotypical. The plot was engaging and very different from anything else I've ever read. The epilogue was unnecessary and didn't quite jell with the rest of the book. What I loved best about this book are the period details, especially the scrapbook containing photos, letters and other items relating to the story. The scrapbook is illustrated but based on extensive research of period photos and letters. The fabulous website adds more historical context for the book including spirit photographs, the Civil War, fashion and anything else you want to know about the book. I highly recommend this book for anyone ages 11+.

    The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction
    Miss Kanagawa was made by a master dollmaker in Japan as a gift to the school children of America. She and her sisters travel to the United States as ambassadors. Miss Kanagawa takes her roll seriously and attempts to help four little girls discover the meaning of friendship. In return, she will experience something she's never known before. First she meets Bunny from a wealthy family in NYC in 1928. Only Miss Kanagawa sees how lonely Bunny is despite her riches. Then there is Lois who dreams of flying in Depression-era Chicago, Willie Mae in rural Kentucky and finally Lucy, an Okie migrant with big dreams.

    This story is a bit disappointing. Though it's told from Miss Kanagawa's point-of-view, it's mostly about the girls. In any other book, I would have loved to read about those girls but in a book about a Japanese friendship doll, I was expecting more about the doll. The stories of the girls are not interconnected in any way and the lessons learned are really corny and heavy handed.
    Younger readers who may not be familiar with the story of the friendship dolls will probably like this book.  The book may be a bit too intense for some young readers.

    One of the characters dies.