Saturday, December 29, 2012

Orchard House Holiday

Orchard House Holiday

My friend Susanna visits the Alcotts
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Louisa May Alcott at her home in Concord, Massachusetts. The year was 1870 and Louisa was celebrating the republication of her first book Flower Fables. Flower Fables is a book of fairy stories dedicated to Ellen Emerson, who Louisa babysat. Louisa has decided to give her book, her "first born" to her Marmee for Christmas, for "grandmothers are always kind." Louisa feels that Little Women gets more attention and it's not fair. She handed the book and a stocking to some young visitors to carry around the house and collect gifts for Marmee. The house was decorated for Christmas with greenery and small trees with homemade ornaments. We were shown around the house by a Miss Hawthorne, two Miss Emersons and Louisa's youngest sister May. May is the model for Amy in Little Women and like her fictional counterpart, she is an artist. She has designed a beautiful angel clothespin ornament to honor her sister Lizzie (Beth), "the angel in the house," who died young. We saw Louisa's bedroom with her special writing desk her father made for her (unusual for a woman to have a desk in her room) and May's room with all her drawings on the walls. Then we were escorted down into the parlor where we met Mrs. Alcott and learned about her family. The little visitors gave Marmee her stocking and she delighted in the gifts from her family. Finally, we saw a play based on one of the stories in Flower Fables which was put on by some local girls. It was a lovely tour and a fun way to see Orchard House!

What I've Read Recently... Regency edition

What I've Read Recently... Regency edition . . .

Julia and the Master of Morancourt by Janet Aylmer -- Regency Romance

 Julia Maitland is being pressured by her family to choose a wealthy husband soon. Her family has fallen on hard times lately : first, her only brother died fighting Napoleon's troops in Spain; then, the local bank failed and Papa lost his investments; after that, Papa's health began to decline. Julia is willing to please her family but she is not too happy about either of the prospects her parents have chosen for her. Mama wishes Julia to marry Dominic Brandon, an Earl's heir and cousin to Julia's best friend Emily. Papa prefers Jack Douglas, the son of his friend Harry, a self-made man. Julia doesn't know Dominic at all, she likes his younger brother Freddie though, and Jack prefers farming and animals to people. Julia's headstrong younger sister Sophie seems to get along well with Jack, but Julia doesn't feel they have anything in common. She prefers conversing about books with Jack's younger brother, Kit. Though she would like to marry for love, she would at least prefer to have some degree of common interests and friendship with her husband. Kit Douglas may be the one to steal Julia's heart; certainly he seems interested, but he is a younger son, a wounded soldier with no prospects. When her Aunt Lucy in Bath sends for Julia, her Papa agrees she needs a break and so Julia heads off to fashionable Bath and leaves her past behind her. Traveling with Emily, she learns some shocking secrets about Dominic. In Bath she meets a man who claims to know Dominic and lets slip an interesting piece of information about Dominic. Julia and Emily are perplexed and determined to discover the truth. Then Aunt Lucy's old friend dies and her heir, Christopher Hatton, writes to Aunt Lucy to come to Dorset and choose a souvenir as a memory of her friend. At Morancourt, Julia receives a huge surprise and discovers some surprising secrets about herself and her suitors and uncovers a mystery. Will the path to true love lie in Dorset? Can she ever find perfect happiness? The title of the book is a pretty big spoiler! Even so, it's still a good story. The period details are amazing and the settings are perfectly described so I felt like I was there. Any newcomer to the Regency genre can easily learn about the social customs of the  about herself and her suitors and uncovers a mystery. Will the path to true love lie in Dorset? Can she ever find perfect happiness? The title of the book is a pretty big spoiler! Even so, it's still a good story. The period details are amazing and the settings are perfectly described so I felt like I was there. Any newcomer to the regency genre can easily learn about the social customs of the day. It's obvious Janet Aylmer has done her research. The writing style is also very accessible. She captures the tone of the era without being overburdened with copying Jane Austen's every word. The writing style is a bit dry though and the characters never really come to life. It lacks Jane Austen's wit and gentle humor. The story is a blend of traditional and sweet Regency styles. The plot is a bit slow to start with but picks up about 2/3 of the way through. The mystery plot could have started sooner. The ending is a bit rushed and I wish the book was a bit longer. The characters are interesting and likeable. Julia is a sensible heroine who acts and thinks appropriately for her time. The other two sisters are two-dimensional but they don't factor much into the story. Julia's mother is also a bit stereotypical but her Papa is not. The romantic lead is wonderful! He's kind, caring, romantic and really connects with Julia. I enjoyed the development of their relationship and how they worked together to solve a mystery. I would recommend this to Janites and those who love the old-fashioned sweet and traditional Regencies.

Mr. Jeffries and the Jilt by Joy Reed -- Regency Romance

The Honorable Mr. Raymond Jeffries is visiting his aunt at the fashionable watering hole of Shelton-On-Sea. He's bored and longs for intelligent company and is trying to steer clear of the matchmaking Mama's. When he learns the notorious jilt, Caroline Sedgewick is also staying in Shelton-On-Sea, he is intrigued. He vaguely remembers meeting her in London and his curiosity and sympathy are aroused when he learns she has most recently jilted a man he knows to be a scoundrel, Robert Cullen. Caroline is hiding out with her friend Lady Katherine. Caroline has her reasons for doing what she did and is embarrassed to be the talk of the town. As she gets to know Mr. Jeffries she comes to believe he may be the one to capture her heart at last, but she couldn't let him saddle himself with someone so notorious. Mr. Jeffries admires Caroline's plain speaking and her witty conversation. He feels like her knight in shining armor. The more he sees of her, the more he longs to make her his wife, but his aunt doesn't approve based of gossip and hearsay. If he can only get Caroline to trust him enough to tell him the truth and see that they belong together. Then there's Cullen who isn't used to being told no. Will he succeed in winning over Caroline again? Mr. Jeffries is the type of hero any girl would love to swoon over. He's pretty much perfect. Caroline has a few flaws but mostly she's a nice girl. I felt very sympathetic towards her but by the end of the book I wanted to strangle her for her self-sacrificing attitude. The story has some good dialogue between the hero and heroine and there are a few amusing moments that come primarily from the secondary characters. This is a nice, light, sweet romance. It's not fabulous but it's not bad either. I wouldn't put it in my top ten category but I would recommend it to fans of the sweet Regency style. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

What I've Read Recently ... Modern Edition

What I've Read Recently ... Modern Edition . . .

Perfect Timing by Jill Mansell -- Women's Fiction

Poppy Dunbar is having a great time at her "hen do" when she tumbles down the stairs and into the arms of a handsome stranger. She feels an instant connection with this man, Tom, but her wedding is tomorrow! What would her fiance say if she jilted him for a stranger? After agonizing all night line, Poppy decides she can not meet Tom but she can not go through with her wedding. She realizes that Rob is all wrong for her and she would be stifled married to him. When her father kicks her out, she heads off to London to begin a new life. She takes a room in a house owned by Caspar French, a notorious playboy artist and a job with Jake, an antiques dealer. Poppy hits it off with Caspar right away and Jake hasn't fired her no matter how many mistakes she's made, but house mate Claudia can't stand Poppy. Claudia Slade-Wlech is 22 and has a great job and a nice room in a fabulous house. What more could anyone want? Claudia is desperately unhappy. She's in competition with her glamorous parents: her father is an actor and her mother is a beautiful, wealthy, man-hunter. Claudia has a desperate crush on Caspar but he doesn't seem to notice her. Will she ever find love? Poppy's friend Dina (and almost sister-in-law) comes up to spend a weekend of fun with Poppy, leaving behind her dull husband, new baby and controlling mother-in-law. She reveals something about Poppy's past that sets Poppy on a search for something she always knew was missing. She still hasn't given up hope of seeing Tom again, but she's sworn off  men... for now. This story is very long and a bit complicated with several plots going on at the same time. The plots alternative points-of-view between each character and it's difficult to tell who the narrator is because of very abrupt transitions. The multiple plots slow the story down and make it far too long. The mystery elements of the plot were the only thing that kept me reading and even then I stopped reading and skipped ahead to the end. The plot I liked best was about Poppy's family secret. The characters were vibrant and unique. I liked them a lot despite the fact that they smoke and drank too much. Those characters are the only ones I actually liked, apart from Jake. Jake is sweet and shy and nerdy which makes an appealing character. He's a foil to Caspar who is a stereotypical womanizer. I hated Claudia. She is whiny and self-centered and really snobby. She spends the entire book complaining, whining and criticizing. Dina is the worst character. Of course she is a new mom and dying to get away but she goes very overboard and willing to do anything to find something more glamorous. She does eventually grow, which I appreciated. Even Poppy is not appealing. I liked her at first more or less but she never really develops or changes in any way until the very end. I didn't agree with a big decision she made towards the end. I did agree with Caspar's assessment of the situation and was waiting for Poppy to realize he was right. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a witty, romantic comedy.

Marrying Up: A Right Royal Romantic Comedy by Wendy Holden -- Women's Fiction

Polly is an archeologist specializing in Roman loos. Her job isn't glamorous but she loves her work and enjoys inspiring a group of local children who are working with her on a dig at Oakeshott, an estate near her parents' home. Then a dog comes and ruins her dig. The dog's caretaker is a handsome, dark-haired young man whom Polly can't seem to stop snapping at. She regrets her words for the man was kind, but Polly is wary where men are concerned because she was burned in the past. She agrees to have a drink with him and a drink turns into another date and then finally the beginnings of love. Then Max suddenly has to rush off home to a family emergency. He said he'd be back quickly, but he's gone for a long time. Did he desert Polly the way her old boyfriend did? Should she try to find out what happened to him? Allison Donald is a scheming social climber who thought she could sleep her way to the top; she even changed her name to Alexa MacDonald. Then her plan backfired and now she's left with nothing, not even a university education. She's back home in her parents' modest home hating every minute, dreaming of the fame and fortune she should have. In London she meets Florrie, a wealthy socialite who takes Alexa up as a companion. Florrie's mother, however, knows a social climber and is determined to stop Alexa. Alexa has a great ally in Barney, a fellow social climber. Can they claw their way to the top? Meanwhile, the the mountain kingdom of Sedona, the King has decided he needs a royal wedding to publicize the country and bring in revenue. As the King is happily married, he decides his heir, Maxim, should stop fooling around studying to be a vet in England, and come home and get married. Maxim is furious with his father. He doesn't want to be pushed into getting married. He'd much rather follow his heart. His younger brother is too busy partying to be sympathetic. Is there any happy solution for any of them? This story is similar to a fairy tale or Regency romance. There are plenty of aristocrats living the high life sprinkled throughout the story and some regular people who have vastly different agendas. The difference is that this is a modern setting and I feel it doesn't work as well. It's easy to romanticize and admire a past time period, especially when authors leave out the poor, but in a contemporary setting it's not easy to admire the aristocrats who spend their lives partying hard. This is where the story fell short for me. I really liked Polly and I was fascinated by her career and wanted to know more about her dig site and what she found. I loved her romance but felt it developed too fast and then was dropped and picked up too late. I couldn't stand Alexa. Her social climbing antics and lack of moral compass are very distasteful to me. Too much of the book was devoted to her plot. I loved Max and feel there wasn't enough of him in the beginning to really develop a relationship with Molly. The kingdom of Sedona is interesting but it's hard to believe that in this day and age, a monarch would be so hard and uncaring of his son's wishes. The best part of the novel are the gossip magazine pages. The names of the people are very witty. If you are addicted to E! you will probably enjoy this novel. If you like modern fairy tales, you will probably like this story.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What I've Read Recently Christmas edition

What I've Read Recently ... Christmas Edition . . .

A Regency Christmas (story collection) by Anita Mills, Patricia Rice, Mary Balough, Gayle Buck, Edith Layton -- Regency Romances

Old Acquaintances by Gail Buck is a retelling of Georgette Heyer's Lady of Quality. Miss Judith Graham is traveling from her sister's lively home to her own lonely house for Christmas when she comes upon a serious coach accident. She instantly mothers a young lady, obviously of quality, traveling all on her own.Young Cecily Brown is fleeing her stern guardian's choice of husband. Judith, knowing how the story will end if she doesn't interfere, she invites the girl home with her. When the other guests hear of the invitation, they assume it's an open invitation and soon Judith's home is filled with guests. The guests include Lord Baltor, the young man who caused the coaching accident, a mysterious silent man and a pair of  encroaching "mushrooms" of the most vulgar sort. One guest she doesn't plan on is Sir Peregrine Ashford, Cecily's guardian, and Judith's former fiance! Something went wrong between them years ago and pride has kept them apart. Will the magic of the holiday season and pair of young lovers help them overcome their stubbornness and find their way back to each other? This story is Georgette Heyer light. The new-money couple provide a lot of chuckles, and "Mr. John Smith" makes for a good mystery. The plot is predictable but well-written. There's lots of realistic dialogue and good chemistry between the hero and heroine without it being excessive. They're both proud and stubborn and don't communicate very well. There's lots and lots of dialogue which is both good and bad because it means people are communicating, but we're being told things instead of being shown them, which I didn't like. This is a decent enough story but I didn't feel like it was so very heartwarming. 

In The Duke's Progress by Edith Layton, the Duke of Austell is excited for Christmas. He's bored most of the rest of the year, but at Christmas, he gets to spoil his niece and nephew and treat the servants. His gifts this year meet with less enthusiastic reception and he feels there must be something missing from his life. That something is the magic captured in the scene of a snowglobe his childhood friend's grandfather gave him as a boy. If only he could find that sense of peace and happiness. He hopes to recapture some of the joys of his lost youth when he inherits guardianship of his late friend's son, Randall. He enjoys spending time with young Randall, but upon learning the boy had made plans with best friend Betsy and her older sister Molly back home. When the boy gives Cyril a gift from the heart, Cyril realizes that Christmas magic may be attainable after all and may even lead to true love. I wouldn't call this story a romance. The romance is tacked on at the end and the heroine is never properly introduced.Cyril is a great man and any woman would be proud to marry him if she could hold his interest. I'd like to see the middle of the story filled. There was lots of potential here for a good story but the length prevents it from developing. 

The Kissing Bough by Patricia Rice is another story about second chances. It's Christmas and Diana Carrington is determined to make Christmas merry for her family, despite the fact that they are in mourning for her Papa and her only brother has been on the Peninsula fighting Napoleon. Charles is supposed to be on his way home but no one has heard from him in ages. Diana worries about her brother and she also worries about her old friend and neighbor Jonathan Drummond. Jon and Diana were childhood playmates and sweethearts and Diana can not forgive him for running off to war without telling her he was leaving. When Charles finally returns bringing a wounded Jon, Diana fears the boy she once loved has turned into a proud and angry man. Jon has reason to be bitter. His father has disowned him and his true love is not wearing the ring he secretly left her. Has she chosen to forget him? Surely a woman such as she has many suitors. With some help from a pair of mischievous twins and Diana's casual conversation, Jon begins to piece together the clues to the mystery and begin to plan a way to show Diana how much he cares. Maybe Christmas is a time for miracles after all. This is my favorite story in the collection. I loved the description of country Christmas and domestic life in a minor gentry household. It reminds me a lot of a Louisa May Alcott story, especially since there's sort of a moral to a subplot. The romance between two well-drawn characters develops beautifully. I loved the secondary characters adding comic relief to the plot. This story is very sweet without being too saccharine and the author refrains from hitting her readers over the head with a message.

In A Gift of Fortune by Anita Mills, Susanah Byrnes, an impoverished widow is journeying home with her small daughter and aunt-in-law from seeing her husband's family who refuse to help her. She doesn't know what her future will bring and it certainly isn't a merry Christmas. To make matters worse, the carriage breaks down on an icy road. Justin Marshfield, Marquess of Lynesdale is also traveling that night with his disreputable younger cousin and comes to the aid of the travelers. He is charmed by the child, Katie Byrnes and is determined she shall have whatever will make her happy. Molly Hill, a fellow traveler, is also eager to share her money with those who have been kind to her. While holed up an an inn for Christmas, the travelers conspire to make a happy Christmas for the little girl and for her mother. This story is incredibly unrealistic but it's a good Christmas story full of good cheer and heartwarming moments. The romance plot is a bit lackluster and unconvincing. The characters are rather stereotypical: noble, self-sacrificing mother; prostitute with a heart of gold and the bored Marquess. If you are looking for a good, heartwarming Christmas story then this one is the one that fits the bill. 

The Star of Bethlehem features a married couple Estelle and Alan, Lord and Lady Lisle. They haven't been very close in their short marriage and spend more time fighting and making love than actually talking to each other. When Estelle loses the Star of Bethlehem, as she calls the diamond and sapphire engagement ring Allan gave her, she fears her marriage is over. Allan wonders whether his wife has been unfaithful and feels jealous and possessive. Her loss of the ring is the last straw. He suggests a trial separation after her family visits for the holidays. A surprise appearance by a chimney sweep's boy brings out the maternal instincts in Estelle. She is determined to rescue him from a difficult life while Allan suspects the boy may be more than he seems. The boy soon discovers he has the power to save the Countess's marriage but he's torn between helping his blood family and helping the family that has been kind to him. Is there a way for everyone to have a merry Christmas? I liked this story least of all. I hate stories about marriages of convenience or married couples who don't communicate and this one is not exception. I HATED how they made silent love all the time after fighting. Their lack of communication probably is realistic for the period but for the sake of a story, I prefer couples to speak what is in their hearts. Others may enjoy the story and the development of two wounded souls coming together.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Twelve Clues of Christmas (Lady Georgiana Mystery) -- Historical Mystery

Poor Georgie is stuck in snowy Scotland after the birth of Fig and Binky's second child. Now it's Christmas and Fig's awful family is coming and they all want Georgie out of the house and married off to some terrible prince or ANYbody. Georgie's heart belongs to the enigmatic Darcy O'Meara but they can never marry, even if he does manage to earn a respectable living, for Darcy is Catholic and Georgie is in line for the throne. Even Georgie's other family has happy plans for the holidays: Mum is going off to some quaint Devonshire village called Tiddleton-Under-Lovey with Noel Coward and Granddad and Mrs. Huggins to serve as help. Glumly, Georgie resigns herself to a dreary Christmas in Scotland. Then a casual glance at a lady's magazine reveals the solution: a Lady Hawes-Gorsley wants a society hostess to help at a holiday party in Tiddleton-Under-Lovey. Georgie jumps at the chance. She looks forward to a traditional English country Christmas, especially once Darcy shows up and their relationship intensifies. She refuses to allow a freak accident that killed a neighbor scare her. That is, until more people end up dead - one a day during the 12 Days of Christmas. The local police don't have a clue but suspect some escaped convicts from Dartmoor. Georgie enlists the aid of Granddad to help her spot clues, but it's not going well. Will the entire village end up dead before Christmas is over? This is the very best book in the entire series. The mystery is completely unsolvable until the motive is finally revealed. I did guess at the villain, which was obvious, but Georgiana was really very clever to figure out the clues and find out the motive. I wanted to read straight through until the end to find out whodunnit but I found a good stopping point and reluctantly went to sleep. I adored the quirky English village complete with a mad woman and "village idiot". It reminded me a lot of Cranford and Emma and was perfectly English. The party guests are hilarious and really illustrate the difference between American "new money" and British aristocracy. The 12 days of Christmas customs were straight out of Dickens and the author provides recipes and parlor games in the back of the book. I love social history and Charles Dickens so I really enjoyed that aspect of the story, plus it provided a lot of comic relief. There's also the perfect amount of romance in this book. Georgie and Darcy's relationship progresses (thank goodness!) and there's some resolution there. I hope this is the last book in the series because I like a good promise of a happily ever after even if there isn't a true resolution. I think that if the series continues, the relationship will turn into another annoying star-crossed lovers plot to be dragged out indefinitely. The author has an e-novella available. Thankfully, it's a prequel and not a sequel though I'd still like to read it.


Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell -- Adult Contemporary Fiction (Women's Fiction)

After her boyfriend moves out, Tilly Cole can't afford to stay in her London apartment, so at the urging of her best friend Erin, she moves to a small town to take a job as a "Girl Friday" to single dad Max Dineen. Her duties aren't hard: she helps Max care for his teenage daughter Lou, works with Max in his fabulous interior design business and do a bit of cooking. She also has to avoid the town's most eligible bachelor, Jack Lucas. The ladies are crazy for Jack and he has a reputation as a ladies' man. Jack is commitment phobic and Tilly is not about to get hurt by him, no way, no how. Jack, on the other hand, is intrigued by Tilly and the more she tries to ignore him, the more he's interested in her and the chemistry between them heats up. Can they learn to trust each other and trust their hearts? Meanwhile, Tilly's best friend Erin has finally found love after sacrificing everything to care for her dying mother. The only obstacle to Erin's happiness is Fergus' estranged wife, Stella, a type-A, selfish witch. Stella wants Fergus back and she'll stop at nothing to achieve her goal. Another plot follows Max's ex-wife Kaye, a huge soap opera star in LA who accidentally finds herself in the middle of a scandal. Retreat to England is her only hope for salvation. She's eager to be with her daughter again but with the move goes her career and her chance at happiness, maybe. This story is a typical "chick lit" novel along the lines of Helen Fielding, Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot and others. The characters in this story have more depth to them which is a welcome surprise. The addition of character backstories really gives the novel more substance and keeps it from being too too fluffy. I had a hard time following all the characters' plot lines at first and I think it would have been better streamlined into Tilly's story. Tilly is a likeable enough heroine. She's independent, seems intelligent and easy going. Towards the end her character turns rather annoying and I wanted to yell at her for being so stupid, but then as the reader, I had information she didn't. I love Jack. Since some of the story is from his point-of-view, the reader gets to know him a bit more than Tilly does at first. He's charming and roguish but kind. I loved the Dineens. They are very funny and such a loving family. Lou is a remarkable and unrealistically adjusted teenager with two caring parents she loves very much. Erin and Fergus are my least favorite characters. Erin is too self-sacrificing and Fergus is a bit of a pushover where Stella is concerned and he's rather dull. Stella surprised me the most. Her story takes a very unexpected turn that made me see her in a different light. The plot is pretty predictable for the most part, with a few twists and turns to keep the story from being too formulaic. The romances are sweet and they're also clean. The characters indulge in adult relationships but the bedroom door is always closed. I enjoyed this story a lot and I plan to read more of this author.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell -- Young Adult Paranormal Historical Fiction

This book is a companion to The Vespertine which I have not read. Seventeen-year-old Zora Stewart has experienced the devastating loses of her best friends and her beloved fiance. She's taken to moping about her family's home in Baltimore and visiting the cemetery where she meets a young Edgar Allen Poe fan, Theo de la Croix. Zora's mother worries about the girl's moping but Zora feels she can never be a part of society again and makes plans to become a mail order bride out West. After creating a scandal in Society with Mr. de la Croix, Zora is sent off to her Aunt Birdie in Oklahoma Territory (newly opened to settlers). Shortly after arriving in Oklahoma, Zora's coach is accosted by highwaymen and she's left all alone along the dusty road where she's picked up by Emerson Birch, a local homesteader. Emerson is handsome, yet a bit prickly and Zora isn't sure she trusts him. Birdie warns Zora away from Emerson, but Zora isn't sure what to think; Emerson has been kind and discovered a secret about Zora that even she didn't know. Zora is what the locals call a springsweet, meaning she has the magical ability to find water. Zora has feelings for Emerson she isn't sure she understands. She feels connected to him in some way and is intrigued by their connection. Then Theo comes calling in his fancy carriage and Birdie pushes Zora into accepting his courtship. When Birdie discovers Zora's talent she decides to turn it to their advantage. Zora allows it, even knowing what will come. Does she have the courage to live again? To follow her feelings? This story reminded me a lot of The Luxe novels by Anna Godbersen because of the time period, the high society and the rebellious teen romance. I could have done without the teen romance but parts of it were sweet and done well, mostly until the epilogue which was so far from realistic. I liked the connection between Emerson and Zora and how they slowly come to know one another through this amazing connection they share. The historical details in the novel are excellent. I loved the description of Oklahoma Territory and the history of the land rush. I'm taking History of the West this semester so I appreciated the author's attempt to create a realistic West rather than the mythic West of Buffalo Bill and dime novels. The description of homesteading in Oklahoma in 1890 is the best part of the book. The characters aren't really very likeable though. Not knowing the events of the Vespertine, I couldn't really feel Zora's loss very keenly. I felt sorry for her but I didn't like the way she handled her grief. I didn't really come to know her as a person through the course of the novel. I didn't like Theo very much either. He's a bit of a stalker though he's kind. I liked Emerson a lot and thought the story should have alternated from his point-of-view. I wanted to know more about him. Don't read this thinking it's a true paranormal or gothic like The Vespertine because it's not. The paranormal is more subtle which I really liked. The plot leaves the reader hanging a bit and I expect there will be a sequel. The writing style is very nice. I liked the descriptive passages the best and could easily imagine Oklahoma. I would have liked a bit less drama in the beginning and more about Zora and her special talents. I liked the story well enough to recommend it to fans of historical fiction, especially teen girls. 

Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Gier translated by Anthea Bell -- Young Adult Fantasy

This sequel picks up right where Ruby Red left off - with Gideon snogging Gwen in a church in 1912 after being confronted by their missing relatives and shot at. Poor Gwen is confused about Gideon's feelings for her and she seems to have attracted a new sidekick - a ghost of a demon who won't leave her alone. Gwen wonders who was out to kill them and why; why did Lucy and Paul steal the chronograph and what is her role in all this? The plot of this book provides a few answers but creates more mystery! On a routine elapse to 1948 Gwen has an unexpected encounter with someone she knows she can trust. That person gives her a clue that creates a bigger mystery about what role she is to play in the future. Her unflappable best friend Leslie sets off to do some research while the demon Xemerius looks through walls and spies on people for Gwen. On top of everything else, Gwen is given a crash course in everything her beautiful, talented cousin Charlotte already knows, which makes Gwen even more nervous about time traveling. Will she ever figure anything out? Being with Gideon makes it much more easy (especially when he's kissing her) but at the same time, he doesn't seem to trust her and she's not sure she can trust him either.  This book is obviously written for young teens. Gwen is a typical modern teenage girl with interests in boys, music and normal things. She's a fine heroine for the story but I prefer her more bookish friend Leslie. I love the addition of the demon; he's my new favorite character and serves as comic relief. I also really like the person who Gwen meets in 1948. That character seems very kind and trustworthy. I also like Lucy and Paul though I can't stand the whole star-crossed lovers conflict, the few glimpses into their travels provide clues and mysteries for the rest of the plot. I think I admire them for what they did, but that yet remains to be seen. I'm not sure I like Gideon. He's a bit mysterious and he confuses poor Gwen. He's a bit of a Mr. Darcy type, I think.  The plot is face paced and balanced between adventure and romance. There's one long tedious section where Gwen has to learn all about the 18th century that slows the pace a bit but the scene that follows is a good contrast and very funny. The story ends with a BIG cliffhanger that serves as a clue to the past and future of the Circle of Twelve. The conclusion, Emerald Green, will not be out for another YEAR! I can not wait that long!! I need some answers and I need them now! This series is highly recommended for teens and adults who don't mind somewhat annoying teenage protagonists. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

A Worthy Wife by Barbara Metzger -- Regency Romance

Miss Aurora Halle McPhee is a Bath miss of no importance. She's thrilled that the dashing, handsome Lieutenant Harland Podell has chosen to marry her. All Aurora's dreams seem to be coming soon but then the marriage is interrupted by someone who knows a secret about the groom. Kenyon Warriner, the Earl of Windham has just cause to prevent the wedding. Lieut. Podell is already married to Kenyon's sister! It seems Podell is a scoundrel who has left a trail of wives and broken hearts and taken fortunes. Kenyon assumes Aurora has been compromised and steps in to marry her himself. On their wedding night, he discovers just what he's gotten himself into. Aurora is an innocent young maiden with no interest in being married to him, so it seems. Aurora is nervous around the extremely attractive Earl. Can she ever live up to his expectations of her? The newlyweds settle in London to unravel the mystery of Aurora's birth and the reasons why Podell wished to marry her. Lady Anstruther-Jones is the source of gossip for the East India Company and her gossip comes with the most unusual of gifts. When Kenyon has to leave to rescue his brother from a French prison, he sends Aurora to his estate to deal with his moody sister and eccentric aunt. It's not easy for Aurora to take charge but she manages to do so amid a difficult situation. She makes some changes that result in a growing entourage of unusual companions. She can't wait for her husband to return home so they can pick up their married life right where they left off on their wedding night. In my opinion, this is not one of Ms. Metzger's best stories. I really liked the animals and the crazy secondary characters. They provided a lot of laugh out loud moments. The mystery plot hooked me and I couldn't put the book down until I discovered the truth. I pretty much guessed along the right lines but it was still a surprise. The marriage of convenience plot did not interest me at all. They're all the same! I kept groaning because Aurora and Kenyon didn't share their real feelings or talk to each other. I also didn't like the main characters. Aurora is so young and innocent in the beginning of the story that I couldn't stand her, but as the story goes on, she grows up a lot and I found myself cheering for her and really liking her. That caused a problem because I did not like Kenyon. He's lusty and has a hot temper. I can not forgive him for seducing his innocent bride on their wedding night. He went too far, in my opinion. Then he refused to trust her or believe in her. In my opinion, Aurora deserved better. This story is more sensual than her earlier novels and the animals don't play a starring role but are more in the background to cause havoc and complicate the plot more. If you like marriage of convenience plots and Georgette Heyer's comedies, then you might like this one too. For me, it wasn't good enough.

Wickham's Diary by Amanda Grange -- Austenesque

In this novella, the reader is given a glimpse into the world of George Wickham, the villain of Pride and Prejudice. Born to a father content to be a steward and a beautiful, spoiled mother, George is brought up to appreciate the finer things in life. His mother teaches him to be courteous to everyone he meets because you never know who will do you a favor. She encourages him to curry favor with old Mr. Darcy to get a Living (he'll have a fine house) or to marry an heiress (he has his sight set on Lady Anne de Bourgh). Then while George is at Cambridge, his beloved mother dies, he falls in with a bad crowd and the rest as they say, is history. The story concludes with his failed attempt to seduce Georgiana. The ending of the book came as a surprise since I was expecting more to the story. I was hoping for P&P from his point of view, painting himself as a tragic victim rather than a villain, but instead this story is a prequel. It doesn't reveal a whole lot about his life except that his mother resembled Lydia Bennet and he was always jealous of Fitzwilliam. The best moments were the interactions between the two boys and seeing how Fitzwilliam grew into the hero we all know and love. I'm not a huge fan of Grange's "telling" style of writing which combined with the lack of plot made this story doubly disappointing. It's a good one to get free from the library

Friday, November 23, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Rake's Redemption by Regina Scott -- Regency Inspirational Romance

Lady Imogene Devary wonders who the handsome stranger is who continues to call on her father, the Marquess of Widmere, and is constantly turned away. Who is he? Why won't her father see him? A fateful meeting at a ball introduces Lady Imogene to Vaughn Everard. Vaughn is intrigued by the bold young lady who skillfully ensures that every girl has a partner. He is surprised to discover that she is the daughter of his sworn enemy and thinks he can use her to get information about his uncle's last duel. Imogene is worried about her father's increasing distance and vows to help Vaughn get answers to his questions. She sees through his exterior mask to see the man within. She believes he is the one sent by God to marry her and rescue her family. She's not entirely convinced, however, because Vaughn has a reputation as a flirt. Vaughn soon discovers that the clues he has uncovered lead to an uncomfortable truth that could hurt the woman he's grown to care for. He had sworn vengeance but now he's uncertain. Imogene believes in him and that makes Vaughn want to believe in himself. Meanwhile, Samantha, Lady Everard is busy trying to navigate the social waters of her first season. Then there's the matter of Vaughn, so like her dear Papa and so dear to her heart. Will he ever come to love her? There's another gentleman who seems interested but Adele and Lady Claire don't seem to like him. How can she know if he's sincere? This book concludes the thrilling mystery of the Everard Legacy. I think it's the best in the bunch. Even though I figured out the villain right in the very first book, I liked how the clues sometimes didn't add up and sometimes they did. It made me want to skip ahead to find out. I love love loved the romance! I was in love with Vaughn before I read this book and now I love him even more. I was worried that the redemption theme would change him too dramatically, but it didn't. The inspirational message is more subtle than the previous books. I think the message about Faith is a bit forced into the story. He believes in her and she believes in him so he believes in himself which leads to finding Faith. If you cut out the Faith, the message is very similar to the one in The Unflappable Miss Fairchild and other stories featuring rakish heroes. As I mentioned before, I'm madly in love with Vaughn. He's hot-headed at times, flirty and a bit ridiculous but he's also loyal, caring, loving and kind. Imogene is my favorite of Regina Scott's Love Inspired heroines so far. She's intelligent, determined and a bit stubborn but also dreamy, loving and loyal. The only thing I didn't like about her is that she thinks God has a plan for her. I liked the brief cameos by the other Everards and learning what happens to them. As usual, Regina's love for the time period and extensive research pays off. The period details are lovely and the language and setting seem accurate. She doesn't try to copy Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer and she knows how to make her characters speak realistically and act realistically (mostly - Lady Widmere allows Imogene to be alone with Vaughn). I highly recommend this book to those who love a good rake story. You don't have to read the previous two, but it works better if you do. I think even those who have different beliefs will love this one too. A five star read!

Mr. Churchill's Secretary (Maggie Hope Mystery 1) by Susan Ella MacNeal -- Historical Mystery

Maggie Hope has a degree in mathematics from Wellesley College where her aunt teaches and still she's only qualified as a typist. Maggie is furious with the mysoginistic attitudes at No. 10 but it's war time and everyone must do their bit. Maggie accepts a job as Winston Churchill's secretary, the previous one having recently been murdered. After very long and weary days at work, Maggie enjoys socializing with her house mates and their male friends. There's David who is a fun-loving pal and rated very very safe in taxis, probably queer; the handsome, fliratious Simon (Not Safe in Taxis), and the silent, stiff John who works at No. 10 (Maggie and John got off on the wrong foot ages ago). Maggie's work keeps her busy but not too busy to finally visit her parents' graves for the first time. She was raised in America and always had an excuse not to go but now there's a strong possibility London will be bombed and Maggie has an overwhelming urge to see the graves just once. A simple, innocent trip to the cemetery leads Maggie on a search for answers she never though she'd be asking. Her search leads to extreme danger she never expected. Maggie finds herself longing for the comfort of numbers and she struggles to deal with surprising and difficult news about the people in her life. Her talents could go a long way towards helping the British war effort, if only she were allowed to help. Meanwhile, a group of IRA sleeper agents are planning the downfall of Britain by forming an alliance with the Facists. Beautiful Claire hides a secret identity but knows the duplicity is all for a good cause. She's seen terrible things in her short life. She's also in love with Michael Murphy, a dangerous man who seeks revenge on the British. Together with Malcolm Pierce and other loyal Hitler supporters, they will bring about the destruction of British rule for good. This is a different sort of mystery than your typical "whodunnit." It's more of a thriller than a mystery. The story is told from the points of view of several characters so the reader knows who and what and why before the other characters but not the outcome. As a result of this type of story telling, I found that the plot moved very slowly for the first 2/3 of the book. There was a little mystery about Maggie but the main mystery didn't pick up until 2/3 of the way into the book and then it turns into a heart-pounding thriller. There are a lot of twists and turns along the way and a bunch of red herrings thrown into the plot to confuse the characters - and the reader. There's just too much going on in this story to keep track of. It's also very unrealistic that ALL of that would be going on at the same time surrounding one character. Some of the events truly border on  fantasy. I had a hard time getting to know the main characters or even liking them. Maggie loves numbers and I loathe and despise math and numbers and don't understand people who like them. I really couldn't like Maggie at all because she's so analytical and enjoys mathematical puzzles. (My worst nightmare). Her friends are largely stereotypes. My favorites are Chuck and Sarah, the two who have slightly more depth to their characters. Winston Churchill appears prominently in this book and when he's on page, his speeches are quoted at length. Too many of his speeches are used and too many words are his actual words. They don't really do anything to advance the plot. There's also a bit of a romance in the story. It's pretty obvious especially since some situations closely mirror Pride and Prejudice. I liked the romance and wish the mystery had been the more internal one and the romance more in the forefront. I also wish Maggie and her Aunt Edith actually talked about their issues instead of the reader reading letters that Maggie never seemed to get. The best part of the book is the period details. If you're not familiar with the clothing styles and designers of the day, like me, you'll have a hard time picturing that aspect but the rest of the details of war time London are amazing. I could easily imagine myself in 1939 London.  I wouldn't recommend this to those who are used to cozy mysteries. I would only recommend this book to those who like crime thrillers and hard boiled mysteries. I wasn't a huge fan of this novel and probably won't be reading the sequel.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Saved By Scandal by Barbara Metzger -- Regency Romance

Lord Galen Woodbridge has been jilted at the alter - twice - by the same lady. This time, Lady Floria has run off with a fortune hunter leaving Galen to nurse his wounded pride. Galen decides that an even bigger scandal will save him from the gossip mill. The only thing to do, he decides, is marry the lovely opera singer Margot Montclaire. He enlists the aid of his drunken clergyman friend "Skippy" Skidmore to purchase the special license and assumes all will be smooth sailing from there. Wrong. When he arrives at the singer's boarding house he can't get past the front door. First there's a growling mongrel, then an old crone and yet another old woman who won't even give Galen the time of day. Determined not to be thwarted in his scene, Galen continues his pursuit with bribes (including losing his gloves to the mutt, Ruff) until he meets Margot. To Galen's surprise and delight, Margot reveals she is a real lady, the daughter of a Baron who made a love match with a French singer and displeased his family. Galen and Margot lay all their cards on the table: she agrees to a provisional marriage in name only (for six months) and Galen agrees to provide a home for her sickly little brother Ansel, the dog, Margot's dresser Ella, rescue Ella's husband from jail and thwart Margot's wicked uncle from seizing Ansel's rightful property. Galen readily agrees and they are married three hours later. Galen is convinced he has done the right thing and that Margot will grow to love him in time. To prove his love for her, he rushes off to rescue the young Baron while Margot is left to finish her contract at the London theatre, charm the ton, plan a wedding party, deal with all the invitations and wedding gifts that arrive, and hire a new staff that isn't afraid of Ruff. Then Galen's hoydenish little sister arrives in town and another unexpected visitor arrives hot on her heels to further complicate matters. Will Galen ever return home? Can Margot live up to his expectations and rise to the occasion? This story is very different from the typical marriage of convenience plot. The plot follows more along the lines of a "sweet" style romance. The story has all the hallmarks of a classic Barbara Metzger book: a loyal animal companion, comic characters, a no-nonsense heroine and a sweet romance. The characters are all appealing, except, of course, for the villains. My favorite character was Ruff, the dog. He stole every scene he was in and is an integral part of the plot. Galen is a perfectly swoonworthy hero. His nickname, "Sir Galahad," suits him and if I were in Margot's situation I would have married him too. I would have married him even if I weren't in Margot's situation. Margot is beautiful and innocent but she's not spoiled and she's not a wilting flower. She's intelligent and strong and handles all the crazy situations thrown at her with good grace. Skippy is a great sidekick. He provides a lot of laugh out loud moments in the story. For those keeping track, there's very little sensuality in this story. Galen is attracted to Margot and there are some serious kissing scenes but the prose doesn't go beyond the fact that their clothes were rumpled.I loved this novel and recommend it to those who enjoy comedy of manners plots, screwball comedies and sweet romances.

Emma and Knightley: Perfect Happiness in Highbury: A Sequel to Jane Austen's Emma by Rebecca Billington -- Austenesque

Emma Woodhouse and George Knightley have been married for about a year and everything has been perfectly happy and peaceful. Then tragic news arrives that upends the society at Highbury. Emma comes into some knowledge she should share with Knightley but can't seem to find a spare moment. Then more terrible news arrives that further divides Emma and her beloved husband. Emma heads off to London where she makes a new friend and discovers strength she didn't know she had. She worries about Knightley, always running between London and Highbury, seeming to keep secrets from her.  Once returned to Highbury, Emma is restless. The initial tragedy has further consequences in Highbury and Emma longs to share her feelings with her husband, but he is often distant, treating her like a child. Meanwhile, the whole of Highbury awaits the long delayed arrival of the much-lauded Suckings (Mrs. Selina Suckling is the sister of Mrs. Elton and mistress of Maple Grove). Emma wonders if life will ever be the same again and if she wants it to be. How can she reconcile her marriage and find perfect happiness? This very long sequel to Jane Austen's Emma follows many of the conventions of a marriage of convenience novel.  The plot drags on and on without any change in character. I knew what Emma's problem was and the solution to it and I kept waiting for her to realize it and act on it but Emma remains just as spoiled, childish and snobby as she ever was until the end of the novel, some 500 pages later. Knightley is just as dull and enigmatic as he is in the original novel. I liked Miss Bates a lot. She gets to be the heroine of her own subtle yet predictable, plot. The events of the story are a bit too Gothic and melodramatic to please me. I did not like Emma's new friend Philomena. At first I did, many of her views are in line with mine, but by the end, she made some decisions that even though I suspected would happen, I didn't agree with and neither did Emma. Rev. Tidmarsh annoyed me, always speaking in Latin, but he provided a bit of comic relief with his somewhat absent-minded nature. I also really liked the visitors who appear at the end and would love to know more about them and their story. They were far more interesting than Emma and Knightley's story. Even though I didn't like the plot much, I found Emma and Knightley's relationship realistic and true to character. Harriet's story too seemed realistic and true to her nature. Some of the other characters I am not sure are really true to the story. I'd like to think that one person was not intended to be so bad yet I can can readily imagine that character's relationship with another character from Emma not working out happily. One thing I liked about this book is that the author adequately captures the tone of Jane Austen's writing. The e-book has many typos that made reading a little difficult. I wouldn't recommend this book to any true Janeite.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

The Autumn Rose by Fiona Hill -- Regency Romance

Lady Caroline Wythe has come, with her chaperone, to London to stay with her sister-in-law's brother Lord Seabury, his cantankerous father and silly young cousin Amy. Caro feels a bit lost and in need of an ally, and decides upon Lord Romby, Lord Seabury's father, to be her new friend. She is appalled at his account of treatment at the hands of his son and declares Lord Seabury to be a hateful man. Lord Romby's sister, lady Beatrice, takes an interest in bringing out Caro, but Caro is too old, too tall and too thin. Lady Beatrice decides to cultivate an eccentric persona for Caroline. Caroline quickly attracts the attention of eligible gentlemen, and some ineligible like her neighbor Lord Mockabee. Even Lord Seabury seems to take an interest in her though he has been long promises to Lady Susan Manning. Soon Caroline has her hands full fighting with Amy, denying suitors and discovering that she has been quick to make assumptions about people. When Amy creates chaos, Caro feels guilty so she must find a way to right the wrongs she feels she has created. I liked and admired Caroline for not wanting to marry and for trying to do the right thing. The rest of the characters are flat and unappealing. Amy is like every other bratty young teenage girl, one gentleman is a true villain and the other is so impossibly good he is rather annoying. The plot moves along slowly until the last few chapters and then it wraps up too quickly. The romance is a bit unsatisfying if you like courtship and waltzing into love. The romance is more of a friendship and a true meeting of the minds type. I read this book at least once before, possibly twice, and I am sad to say it did not stick in my memory. The plot will probably be promptly forgotten again when I return the book to the library.

May B : A Novel by Caroline Starr Rose -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

This novel in verse gets inside the head of Mavis Elizabeth Betterly, May B. May lives on the Kansas prairie with her parents and beloved brother. She dreams of being a teacher one day but everyone says she can't because she has difficulty reading. Her dreams are ruined when Papa hires her out to a neighbor, Mr. Oblinger, to help his new eastern bride settle in. May doesn't want to leave home but she has no choice. The Oblingers' sod house is not as nice or clean as May's family home and Mrs. O is rude and whiny. Mrs. O hates the prairie. She can't see the beauty in it the way May can. Then one day May finds herself all alone in the cabin. The winter is coming and it's sure to be cold. She must stay strong if she is to survive. I don't usually care for novels in verse because they're quick reads. I loved pioneer stories when I was a young girl so I chose to read this one despite the easy level. I found that I rather enjoyed this novel. May is a strong and courageous heroine. She has a learning disability but she doesn't let it stop her even when the odds are against her. The descriptions of life on the prairie are incredibly detailed and I felt like I was right there with May. I couldn't put the book down until I found out what happened to May. This is a great read for Laura Ingalls fans. It adds another dimension to the story of pioneer life and what it was like to be a child at that time.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What I Read Last Week

What I Read Last Week . . .

Ace of Hearts by Barbara Metzger -- Regency Romance

Alexander Chalfont Endicott, Earl of Carde, nicknamed Ace, has found himself unwittingly engaged to three separate young ladies at the same time. Not wanting to marry any of them, Alex flees to the country to locate his late step-mother's relations and fulfill a promise he made to his dying father 13 years ago. At that time, Alex's young step-mother and her young daughter were involved in a coaching accident. Lady Carde was killed and the girl, Lottie, disappeared along with the hired guard. Alex's father believed little Lottie still lived and Alex does too. He realizes it's time to do his duty and find out what happened to his sister once and for all. When Eleanor Sloane's brother rushes off who knows where unexpectedly, he warns her there is a rake in the village and not to talk to anyone, especially not strangers. Nell, no green girl, dismisses her brother's warnings to visit the tenants, discovering a disastrous situation and acquiring a pet goose. When said goose encounters Alex, the results are instantaneous chaos. Alex becomes wounded and can not be moved, so Nell and her eccentric Aunt Hazel (and Aunt Hazel's ghosts) are left alone with Alex. Nell can't help but be attracted to the man who was her childhood savior but knows she isn't his usual type. Alex finds Nell highly attractive indeed and is torn between his responsibilities as lord and master and his desires. If only Nell's brother would come home and answer Alex's questions so Alex could get on his way to the task at hand before proving to Nell just how much he desires her. This story is not up to Barbara Metzger's usual standards. It's far more sensual than her typical Regency romance. Whether or not it's clean depends on your definition. While there isn't a love scene per se, there is a scene with Alex and his mistress. The focus in on how Alex was feeling at the time and the importance of the conversation. Most of this book is taken over by boring descriptions of how much the characters are physically attracted to each other. I can see why they fall in love without the physical desires. I can not see this couple suiting though. I found Nell to be far too selfless and self-denying to be an appealing heroine. She constantly doubts herself, her feelings and the hero's feelings. She feels that way for a reason, which is part of the plot. I found all that drama too repetitive and slow. Ace isn't much of a rake or an appealing hero. He's different from the usual cocky, confident hero and I liked the change but he didn't take action soon enough. I was more interested in the mystery which gets dropped and doesn't pick up until 3/4 of the way through the book. The ending feels rushed and there's no real closure. An epilogue tells the reader what happened next and what didn't happen, setting the stage for the sequel. This story also lacks Metzger's usual witty dialogue and comedic style. There weren't enough scenes with animals. The best scenes in the entire book featured the goose, Wellington. I will not be reading the next two books in the series. I do not care enough about what happens next. 

The Stanbroke Girls by Fiona Hill -- Regency Romance

Lord Marchmont has new desire to ever marry even though the title will die out and the estate pass to a scoundrel cousin. His sister, Lady Emilia, is just as determined to see her brother married (though she has no interest in marriage for herself). She chooses Lady Elizabeth Stanbroke to be her brother's brides. Lady Elizabeth jokingly tells her younger sister and best friend Amy that she intends to marry Lord Marchmont. When Lord Marchmont meets Lady Elizabeth, he is struck by her wittiness, intelligence and sense. Good Lord, could he be falling in love at last? Elizabeth is preoccupied with the love lives of her sister Isabella and friend Amy. Isabella, a young, romantic girl, has found herself the heroine of a Sir Walter Scott novel and Lord Marchmont's cousin, Sir Jeffrey the hero. Isabella KNOWS Jeffrey loves her as much as she loves him and is determined to be with him whatever the cost. Meanwhile, Amy Lewis is pining away for Elizabeth and Isabella's brother Charlie. Charlie is a young man with more fashion sense than common sense. He is oblivious to poor Amy's feelings while he runs after a more fashionable lady. When Isabella upends everyone's lives, she causes a scandal that may just result in happily ever after for everyone. I read this book long ago but forgot everything about it until I picked it up again. It's not a typical Regency romance plot by any means. The hero and heroine of the story are largely on the periphery while secondary characters take center stage. The romance is a very quiet meeting of like minds sort. I would have liked to have seen more development of that relationship and less space dedicated to silly Isabella and Amy. I admire heroines like Elizabeth who are intelligent and speak their minds. I despise silly little girls like Isabella and am not fond of girls like Amy either. Thus, I found this book very difficult to get through. Some of the dialogue is funny but mostly the book is slow and short on action and romance. The period details are excellent and lovers of the period will enjoy the descriptions of clothing, etiquette and all other aspects of Regency life. Unfortunately, the story isn't memorable enough to keep. I've already forgotten this book only a few days after I finished it. 

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read Lately . . .

Dear Readers, my apologies for the lack of reviews recently. I have been too busy to share my thoughts with you. Please accept these multiple reviews a little late than never!

An Acceptable Arrangement by Jeanne Savery -- Regency Romance

Lord John wants to find a bride but not one of the giggling misses his overbearing mother keeps throwing at him; so he enlists the help of his trusty butler, Tuttles. Miss Phillida Morgan, spinster, has come to London to to stay with her great-aunt. Educated and at the advanced age of 24, Phillida expects to be a companion but her lively aunt has other ideas. Lady Brookhaven wants to launch Phillida on Society and find her a husband. Phillida decides to take matters into her own hands and find herself a husband so that her mother can safely remarry without worrying about Phillida. Phillida enlists the aid of her abigail, Flint. What the upstairs folks don't know is that servants get together to gossip about their employers! Flint and Tuttles reach the agreement that Phillida and Lord John are perfect for each other, but how to make them see that without the opposite effect? When Phillida and Lord John actually meet, the best laid plans seem to go awry. Will the course of true love ever run smooth? This book could have been a real gem in the hands of a master like Georgette Heyer or even a comic genius like Barbara Metzger. Instead, most of the plot is slow, boring and repetitive. It takes an unexpected twist towards the end that livens things up a bit. The characters were really interesting and could have been wonderful and memorable if they had been fleshed out a bit more. I love bluestockings like Phillida but all she does is mope and whine about how Lord John couldn't possibly love her. Lord John appears to suffer from PTSD and survivor's guilt but that's hardly dealt with in the story. The servants are amusing and provide some chuckling and a subplot of their own. This book was not the lighthearted, funny romp I expected it to be and I had a hard time finishing it. It's not among the top tier of Regencies.

For Myself Alone by Shannon Winslow -- Austenesque Regency Romance

Miss Josephine Walker does not expect to marry. She is content to stay at home in the country writing children's stories and confiding in her diary. There are no worthy gentlemen in her corner of the country and she doesn't have much to tempt them with. That all changes when she unexpectedly inherits a fortune from her late uncle. Then Josephine becomes the most sought after girl in the county, a fact which she can not stand. Her parents, older brothers and true friends, Agnes and Agnes's intended husband Arthur, stand by her and support her wishes to be loved for herself alone. An opportunity for love comes on a visit to Bath where Jo meets the handsome, charming Richard Pierce. Jo is deliriously happy, but when situations change, she has the opportunity to find out exactly who loves her for herself alone. This novel is supposed to be a "what if" Jane Austen had lived to complete another novel but is not based on any of the major 6 plots in the Austen canon, however, I did not find this one to be at all in the style of Jane Austen. For one thing, it was too slow. The plot took forever to develop so that the ending was very rushed. The action of the story was largely summarized and lacked Jane Austen's witty dialogue. The ending is largely predictable for readers of the genre, but there are a few twists and red herrings which I greatly appreciated. The characters are dull and unmemorable. The relationships develop randomly without good reason. I could not understand why someone with such a big heart like Josephine would be friends with someone so shallow as Agnes. The only character I liked was Arthur and I felt very sorry for him. I was hoping for light, bright and sparking but this book was too slow to fit the bill. Readers who enjoy clean, Austenesque fiction written in a somewhat period style might enjoy this one. For me, the book was entirely unmemorable and I have forgotten most of it already. Later on I shall give it another try and see if I like it better but my first impression was not entirely enthusiastic. 


Friday, November 2, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Ardent Apparitions by Ellen Fitzgerald -- Regency Romance

Lady Arabella is sent to the wilds of Yorkshire to visit a great-great aunt she's never met while her beloved Papa goes on a diplomatic mission to Paris. At first Arabella wants to stay in London but once she sees the gothic old castle and discovers the family ghosts, she decides the adventure is worth having. There's also her handsome cousin Sir Francis, who is very charming but wishes to exorcise the ghosts. The ghosts do not take too kindly to the idea of being banished and hatch up some schemes of their own. The plot is a bit silly and a bit gothic. It gets a bit bizarre at the end and goes in a different direction than what I expected. The description on the jacket is a bit misleading. The romance is more of a whimper than a grand passion. It's barely there. I can not tell what the characters see in each other besides good looks. The romance just never really develops. It's not a paranormal romance though it does feature several lively ghosts. The ghosts are more developed than the human characters. Each ghost has a back story and a distinctive personality. Their stories are a bit cliched but make for fun reading. The humans are bland and two-dimensional. I couldn't feel anything for any of them. The writing style is a bit awkward and old-fashioned. It feels very forced and doesn't flow smoothly as if it came from the pen of Jane Austen or Emily Bronte. Warning to the modern reader: the story contains some negative depictions of Canada's and the First Nations. The attitudes reflect the attitudes of the time but are very different from modern opinions. Overall, I think this is a light, fun read, good for Halloween.

Dark Destiny (Dark Mirror 3) by M.J. Putney -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy/ Romance

While still in 1940, Allarde has a premonition that Napoleon is about to invade Britain. When Mrs. Rainford can't find evidence to the contrary in history books, the Irregulars know they need to return home NOW. They arrived back in 1804 to discover their magical wards severely compromised and Napoleon planning to invade Britain. Tori, Allarde, Cynthia, Jack and Elspeth are needed to stop to the invasion. This time they are up against the dangerous unknown weapon of magic. Meanwhile, in 1940, Rebecca Weiss has been staying with the Rainfords to develop her magical powers. She's looking forward to getting back to school to study non-magical subjects which will help her on her quest to become a doctor. She realizes her dream is to become a psychologist. She learns she can enter minds and help redirect their thoughts in order to heal. Rebecca's newly discovered talent is much needed in 1804. Will she have the courage to step through the mirror and head into danger? She must, for the Irregulars saved her life, but is she a powerful enough mageling to do what they ask? She also must deal with Nick Rainford's growing attraction. She's Jewish and he's not so she's certain that they can never be together, but Nick is persistent. Can they find a way after all? Allarde must also face the truth that what he is about to do will sever him from his family and his estate forever. Tori is determined to stay by his side no matter what. The plot of this story is similar to the first book with starts and stops. There are several chapters with major action and then a thrilling ending. Then there are periods where nothing happens, followed by a brief period of action and a startling conclusion. The first action sequence is more dangerous and exciting than the second, which ends rather abruptly. I didn't like the way the Irregulars got out of trouble at the end. It's a story about magic and what happened didn't exactly fit. I would have liked one continuous plot with all the characters starting at the same place and time working together to save the day rather than the back and forth start and stop action. The slow parts of the book deal with Allarde's relationship with his father and their estate. All of that should have come at the end. The conclusion to that plot is a bit corny and very predictable. I also wanted more of a conclusion with Tori's family and an epilogue to find out what happens in the 19th century. The war with Napoleon lasted a long time and I wonder if Tori, Allarde, Cynthia and Elspeth will stay at Lackland until then or leave once they come of age. The romances are still very intense and there's one more new romance to add to it. I like Jack and Cynthia the best and wish their story was more developed. I also liked Nick and Rachel and how she was able to teach him about Judaism. Tori and Allarde are the ultimate hopeless romantic's dream couple. I think teenage girls will like them the best. This series is best appreciated by teen girls who may not want the complexity of Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic series or want more romance and lighter fantasy. I don't think adults will enjoy the series as much. I liked it but would have preferred more adventure and less intense romance. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella -- Women's Fiction

Poppy Wyatt is in big, big trouble. She's lost her engagement ring in the middle of a hotel fire drill. The ring wasn't just any old ring it was an heirloom, belonging to her fiance Magnus' family. He had to get it out of a special vault and everything. Trying not to panic, Poppy sends texts to all her friends who were with her what it happened. While checking her messages, Poppy's phone is stolen. Now she's in even more trouble but luck is on her side when she finds a mobile phone in the trash. Finders keepers! Now everyone can call her on the phone if the ring is found. Only one tiny problem - the phone belonged to a former PA at a consulting group and the boss, Sam Roxton, wants it back. Since Poppy does Sam a favor, he allows her to keep the phone if she forwards his messages. Meanwhile, Poppy is trying to keep up with her intellectual in-laws, hide the fact that she's lost the ring and give in to her wedding planner's crazy demands. Poppy can't help but noticing that so many people are trying to get in touch with Sam and he seldom replies. When he does, his messages are very brusque. Poppy has no business critiquing his e-mails, but she just can't help herself. She thinks she can help. Poppy's help only causes more chaos but it brings her a sort of bizarre friendship with Sam. Poppy has a lot to learn from Sam and he from her. When a potential scandal threatens the company and Poppy may be the only one who can help. This is a typical Sophie Kinsella novel. It's light and breezy and has a lot of funny moments, especially in the beginning. The characters are culled from Sophie Kinsella's previous novels. For example, Poppy is very immature and the story documents her growth. Some of the plot elements are also recycled from previous stories. There's a little bit of a darker element to the story that helps round out Poppy's character development. I appreciated the extra added element. The plot drags in the middle and then ends too quickly. I didn't have difficulty putting the book down at first but I wanted to see how it ended. Even though the ending seemed like it could be predictable, there was a plot twist that made me doubt the outcome I had envisioned. My biggest complaint is that the premise of the story could never happen because if your phone is stolen, the wireless carrier can transfer your account to a new phone right away. I can suspend disbelief though because Poppy was in a panic. The one thing I really hated about this book were Poppy's annoying footnotes. I hate footnotes to begin with and hate them even more in fiction. If you like Sophie Kinsella's other books, you'll love this one too.

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale -- Austenesque Fiction

Charlotte is a thirty-something divorcee with two kids. Her kids and her business are her whole world now that her two-timing husband has left her. On a whim, Charlotte picks up a set of Jane Austen's novels and begins to read and becomes hooked on the simple and elegant world of the novels. Deciding she needs a break, Charlotte books a trip to Jane Austen's England - literally. Austenland is an all -inclusive immersion Regency experience typically geared towards women needing an Austen fantasy. The other guests include Miss Charming, a middle-aged romantic; Miss Gardenside, a young lady suffering from consumption (who, in the real world is a teenage pop star with a big secret) and Miss Gardenside's nurse, Mrs. Hatchet. The gentlemen, portrayed by actors, are there to woo the ladies. There's one for each of them: the charming and foppish one; the handsome, charming, lovable one and the brooding one. Charlotte is curious about the brooding Mr. Mallery, her assigned love interest. Is he playing a character or is he really brooding? She has misgivings about being assigned such a man as a love interest. Charlotte also wonders whether Col. Andrews' thrilling tale of murdered nuns is true or part of the script. She also wonders about Mr. Wattlesbrook appearing and disappearing. Charlotte's questions increase when she stumbles across a dead body in a secret room. Everyone else believes her imagination is running away with her. Charlotte is convinced the body was real but she has no proof. Is she more like Catherine Moorland than she thought? Is the body all part of the game? If not, then her life may be in deadly danger. Charlotte doesn't know what's real and what's not real. She even questions the feelings of one who would love her. She's been hurt before and she's not about to let it happen again. If she can solve the mystery and get home to her kids alive, she'll be content; or will she? I picked up this novel even though I didn't like Austenland very much but I decided to give this one a try because I thought it would be a fun read for this time of year. It seemed from the description on the dust jacket that the story would be a take on Northanger Abbey. If I had known the main character was a divorced mom, I probably wouldn't have read it. I really can't relate to Charlotte, never having been in her shoes. I found her very deeply scarred and needy. She's a bit of a doormat at first and spends most of the story worrying, especially about her kids, and fretting over what happened with her husband and what might have been; all of which makes her very annoying and unappealing. Slight spoiler alert: I had a problem with Charlotte falling in love because she was so deeply hurt. She fell in love with the safe option and I do not see their relationship as a healthy one at this point. The story chronicles her journey to truly becoming a well-adjusted adult and I think it should have been left at that, minus the romance. More spoilers ahead: The plot didn't develop at all like I expected it to. I thought this story would be an amusing update of Northanger Abbey and SPOILER ALERT it turned out to be a murder mystery! It was just weird and totally out of place for a Jane Austen wannabe novel. The writing was very good though. The story alternates between Charlotte's past and present. The transitions are not awkward at all; the story flows well. I liked the descriptions of pseudo Regency life. I liked that Charlotte didn't know anything about the Regency period so the author could explain things without stepping out of the story, however, I found Charlotte's lack of willingness to play along very irritating, especially her dialogue. Miss Charming is very stereotypical but at least she tries. This time around I was more interested in Austenland and the experience though I think it's weird and it seems to attract mainly sad, lonely women which I have a real problem with. I'd like to see a confident heroine visit Austenland and make the most of it. I would not recommend this book to someone looking for lighthearted fun. If you love Northanger Abbey, Jane Eyre and Rebecca, then you might like this one. I found that it had far too many flaws and wasn't what I expected or wanted to read.

A Match for Melissa by Kathryn Kirkwood -- Regency Romance

This is a retelling of Cinderella, without magic and set in real life early 19th century London. This story is incredibly simple and light that it doesn't require any sort of thought. It's just the sort of pleasant thing I was looking for. I can't say that I enjoyed the story very much though. The characters were just TOO good and selfless. I found them all boring, especially Lissa. I wasn't attracted to the hero. I think he's an idiot and doesn't deserve Lissa at all. How could he fail to recognize her at the end? That part was forced to fit the Cinderella story and didn't fit with the rest of the plot. The writing is OK. There's quite a bit of period description, especially of food, which I really liked. I liked the depictions of the social life and customs of the era but the story just didn't feel realistic at all. I love a good fairy tale romance but there has to be more to the story than that. I'm just not into straight up fairy tales, as much as I try. Read this one only if you love fairy tales.