Monday, November 28, 2011

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

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

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

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

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

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

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently . . . 

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

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

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

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

Friday, November 11, 2011

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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

Here is my list of books read in November:

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

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

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

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

Sunday, November 6, 2011

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Exile by Anne Osterlund -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy

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

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

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

Friday, November 4, 2011

What I Read Last Week

What I Read Last Week . . .

Caroline and Julia by Clare Darcy -- Traditional Regency Romance

Since Caroline's Devereaux's wastrel father died leaving them destitute, Caroline and her mother contrived to live on whatever they can grow or make. Now Caroline's mother had died too and Caroline is at a loss for what to do. She contacts her father's wealthy uncle Chandos, but when no word arrives, she decides to make her way to London to stay with her mother's old school friend, Julia Daventry, until she can figure out how to make her own way into the world. Julia is a famous actress in London with many admirers, though she still mourns the loss of her beloved soldier husband who was killed several years ago. When Caroline arrives on Julia's doorstep, Julia immediately takes the younger woman into her home. Julia's admirers take notice of young Caroline and one young Byron wannabe is instantly smitten by Caroline's innocent charm. When Caroline's cousin Neville receives word that Uncle Chandos is dying, he rushes to his uncle's manor only to learn that his uncle has died. He finds the housekeeper Mrs. Knox-Gore worried about her future and that of her grown son Sidney, whom she claims was like a son to her employer. Mrs. Knox-Gore is certain that Chandos left everything to Sidney, however, the will can not be found to prove it. A meeting with his uncle's solicitor reveals that Caroline may actually be the sole beneficiary of their uncle's estate. Neville has no idea where to find his young cousin and is terribly worried about her. His friends decide to cheer him up by introducing him to Julia. Neville immediately finds himself behaving like a bashful schoolboy, all tongue-tied in the presence of a beautiful lady. Their next meeting has Neville behaving peevishly, when at last he discovers Caroline and makes plans for her return to the country to observe her mourning period. Caroline is made of sterner stuff that she appears and refuses to leave London. Meanwhile, Uncle Chados's shady butler and the Knox-Gores are plotting to keep Chados Deveraux's money for themselves. However, the butler does not care much for the Knox-Gores and has his own plan that may put them and Caroline into danger. This story resembles one of Georgette Heyer's traditional Regencies but not as well written. There isn't much reason for the couples to fall in love and even less chemistry. The danger is patently obvious but the key characters chose to ignore it even though some of them are not so naive as Caroline. I would have liked to have seen more character growth from the key characters. The story dragged a lot in the beginning and wrapped up too neatly at the end. The story would have been better told as a comedy of manners without the danger plot. This is a good light read for those who like traditional Regencies.

Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury -- Young Adult Historical Fiction
Miss Agnes Wilkins is not your typical teenage girl planning her debut in London Society in 1815. She's well-educated and can quote lines from her favorite novels (by A Lady) in multiple languages. She is both excited and apprehensive about her debut. She doesn't feel ready to marry. She longs for adventure and excitement. Agnes has caught the eye of London's most eligible bachelor, Lord Showalter. Lord Showalter shares Agnes's interest in antiquities and invites the neighborhood to a mummy unwrapping party. Agnes finds the idea of unwrapping a mummy quite appalling, but her mother, eager to please Lord Showalter, forces Agnes to attend the party. Even worse, Lord Showalter urges Agnes to take the first cut! The party goers are encouraged to keep whatever trinkets they find wrapped inside the mummy. As the excitement around the unwrapping builds, Agnes uncomfortably cuts through the wrappings and discovers a small figurine of iron. As no one is watching her and not wanting to show off she tucks the figure in her bodice to save as a memento. Then the museum sends word they sent the wrong mummy and everyone must return their "trinkets." Agnes keeps hers, however, and the decision sets her on a path of greater adventure than she could ever have hoped for. Working with a young museum clerk/self-taught Egyptologist she must discover the secret of her trinket and save England before it's too late. This book is a fun adventure set in Regency England that takes the traditional plot and adds the unique element of Egyptian culture to provide more mystery than is usually found in traditional Regencies. Agnes is a great character. She's smart but unsure of herself and her place in the world as most teens are. She's flattered by Lord Showalter's attentions yet doesn't want to be tied down just yet. She's torn between duty and desire, much like her favorite literary hero Mr. Darcy (though in a different way). The mystery kept me very interested because it was so different from anything else I've read. I enjoyed learning about Ancient Egypt along with Agnes and Caedmon. It made the mystery more enjoyable because I couldn't figure it out right away. Though I guessed the villain, the big reveal came as a bit of a surprise. I liked the little bit of sweet romance too. My main complaints with the book were the inaccuracies in styles of address (for example, the same character is referred to as both Mr. and Lord when they're not the same at all.). Also, Agnes considers going to Scotland Yard to tell the police and I don't see how she can because Scotland Yard wasn't formed yet in 1815! I especially disliked the constant telling of how difficult it was to be a woman at that time. The author could have left out the telling and just shown the reader. If you're a high stickler for accuracy, don't read this book. Agnes is a teenager, this is a young adult book. Agnes does not behave according to the strict rules of propriety that dictate the behavior of young women in this era. I missed the period language as well. Teenagers are not stupid and they can and will read books that are more precisely detailed. For the simplicity of the language I would say this book is aimed at 12-14 year olds. It can be enjoyed by all ages 9+ though. I recommend this book if you enjoyed The Agency trilogy by Y.S. Lee, Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle, La Petite Four by Regina Scott and The Season by Sarah MacLean. I can't wait for the sequel! I hope Agnes will have many more adventures to come.