Friday, January 27, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Lady Whilton's Wedding by Barbara Metzger -- Regency Romantic Comedy

Daphne Whilton and Lord Graydon Howell grew up the best of friends. She hero-worshiped him and he thought her a great gun. They arranged their own marriage as children but their parents put off making any formal announcement until Daphne comes of age. In the meantime, Gray went off to school and off to London to sow his wild oats while Daphne remained in the country caring for her two nearly orphaned cousins. After the death of Lord Whilton, his disreputable brother Albert inherited the Barony and the estate. Only Lord Hollister, Gray's father, can keep Albert from causing too much trouble. Lord Hollister, recently widowed, welcomes Lady Whilton and her family into his home for Daphne's debut. Daphne makes a big splash with both the gentlemen and the ladies, secure in the knowledge that Gray is hers. One evening Daphne spies Graydon in public with a fashionable impure and all her dreams come crashing down. She retreats to the country to nurse her wounded heart while Graydon joins the army on the Peninsula. Lady Whilton prefers London to the country and after a time convinces Daphne to return to London. Lady Whilton acts as a political hostess for Lord Hollister, who is a rising political star. Two years later, the old friends have fallen in love and are planning a wedding. Daphne is thrilled to help her mother but dreads meeting Gray again. She's certain he's on the path to becoming just like her uncle: caring only for wine, women and wagering. Dealing with her tumultuous feelings towards Gray takes a back seat when Uncle Albert arrives for the wedding and puts the whole household in an uproar. He soon expires with none to witness his death except for Daphne. She knows that his death will upset her mother and delay the wedding so she's determined to hide the body. Gray wants nothing more than to prove to his Daffy that he's the hero she thinks he is. When he discovers Uncle Albert's body, he's determined to save the situation. When Uncle Albert disappears, it's up to Daphne and Gray to join forces to save the wedding and find Uncle Albert. A gang of bumbling thieves and their dog are on the loose in the neighborhood and Daphne's persistent stuffy suitor Miles, as Justice of the Peace, is determined to thwart them and track down exactly what happened to Uncle Albert. This comedy of errors resembles a screwball comedy movie of the 1930s. While it's not exactly laugh out loud, I enjoyed the mystery and wondering what crazy thing would happen next. Daphne is an admirable character. She's strong-willed, opinionated and not afraid of anything. Her relationship with Gray develops over the course of the novel but it's mostly on her part. He says he's grown up and changed but he's not a very well-developed character to really understand how he's changed. He's charming and eager to please and I can see readers falling in love with him. The secondary characters are mostly one dimensional but provide the comedic moments to balance the romantic plot. My only real complaint about this novel is that the story takes too long to set up. I would recommend this book to fans of Barbara Metzger's other novels and those who like mysteries and screwball comedies. 

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer -- Historical Romance
This second novel by Georgette Heyer is a companion of sorts to The Black Moth. She changed the names of the characters and most of their backgrounds while retaining the sobriquet of her villain, now turned hero. The hero, Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, is in exile in Paris where even the French are so scandalized by his reputation that they call him "Satanas." Walking home after a night of gaming, Justin is nearly bowled over by an urchin. The boy swears he wasn't picking Justin's pocket, merely running from a horrible punishment dealt forth by his brother. When the brother confirms the story, Justin intervenes and buys the boy body and soul. Léon worships Justin, calling him monseigneur and following the man wherever he goes. The Duke's pretty redhaired page attracts attention and some doubt the Duke's motives. However, the Duke's motives are not at all sinister this time, or at least they aren't for Léon. Justin sees Leon as a means to enact revenge on an old enemy. First he needs some help from his silly sister Fanny. His younger brother Rupert enters the picture to complicate matters a bit but serves the family well when the villain sees to thwart the Duke's plans. The question on everyone's lips becomes: "Has Satanas reformed at last?" I don't wish to spoil the plot by adding more description but this is a rollicking adventure that doesn't stop almost from the beginning. Though the plot is predictable, I couldn't put it down until I found out exactly what happened. The resolution with the villain actually came as a bit of a surprise and a shock. The writing is infinitely better than The Black Moth. The characters are larger than life but sparkle with their own unique personalities and the descriptions of the lifestyle and clothing help make the characters come to life. The only character I did not really care for was the heroine. At first she's so subservient she's obnoxious and then she turns around and teases until she gets her own way. I did admire her spirit and her sense of adventure though. My favorite character is Rupert. He deserved his own book where he could have been the dashing hero. The biggest problem with this book is that Miss Heyer shows her upbringing as an upper Middle Class Edwardian. A son of an aristocrat who wants to be a farmer is described as dark, coarse, and clumsy. The desire to farm is inherited from one generation to the next and can't be erased. In contrast, aristocratic features and bearing are also inherited and described in praiseworthy terms. It's still a good story but the stereotypes bothered me a bit. There's also a brief appearance by a black page that is a bit distasteful but it's only two lines and unimportant to the story. This book is not for everyone. Some people, including myself, may be bothered by the "romance" between the hero and heroine. It's awkward and I can't stand that sort of thing but in this book it didn't bother me so much. I just wanted the characters to be happy in the end. There's quite a lot of old French which I had trouble understanding though I took French for 5 years and read French literature during that time. There's also very lengthy descriptions of court life and upper class customs and manners which may seem strange to modern readers or readers more familiar with the Regency period.  I do not care much for the styles of this time period but I liked the story a lot. It's a grand adventure and a wonderful early novel by someone who was quickly proving herself as one of the world's best writers.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer -- Historical Fiction/Romance

Set in the Georgian era, this first book by the legendary Georgette Heyer is full of melodrama and sweeping action. Tracy Belmanoir, the Duke of Andover is known as "The Black Moth" for his somber way of dressing. He is also known as "The Devil" for he is as wicked as they come. His friend, The Honorable Frank Fortescue wishes that Tracy will fall in love and have love be the making of him. Tracy is perfectly happy with his wicked ways. Six years earlier, Jack and Richard Carstares, sons of the Earl of Wyncham, were in love with Tracy's sister Lavinia. Only one could have her hand in marriage though and one fateful night, a card game changed all their lives forever. Tracy accused one of the Carstares brothers of cheating at cards. Jack claimed it was he and after being shunned by his friends and family, he fled to the Continent where he learned swordfighting from masters, and then back to England where he has taken up the life of a highwayman. When he learns of his father's death and his own ascendancy to the Earldom, he refuses to return home. He enjoys being a Robin Hood type figure and is always honorable in his dealings. Meanwhile, Richard's wife Lavinia, is never happy with what she has. She wants more gaiety, more frivolity and above all, more money. Her brothers, too, want more money and are determined to squeeze Richard dry. Richard refuses to touch Jack's money, though, for Richard has a guilty secret and it's eating him up inside. A chance encounter during an attempted robbery shows Jack that he has not been forgotten by those who knew him well. When Jack encounters a young lady being abducted from her carriage, he fights off the villain in a daring swordfight. The villain turns out to be The Black Moth himself. Tracy has at last fallen in love with the beautiful Diana Beauleigh, but the lady will have none of him which only increases his desire. Tracy attempts revenge on his unknown assailant by shooting the man. Jack, severely wounded, is taken home by Diana and her aunt to nurse back to health. Jack and Diana fall in love but he is too noble to be so selfish as to ask her to marry him and he's too proud to take up his own life. His friends and family, meaning well, attempt to set things right but there's always the Black Moth flitting around where he is least wanted. 

This book reads very much like a first novel and one that would appeal to teens with lots of melodrama, dashing heroes, swordfights and a beautiful heroine. There are many spots were the writing doesn't flow very well and the characters are all pretty much cardboard. There's noble Jack, wicked Tracy, spoiled and selfish Lavinia, intelligent and kind Diana, etc. These character archetypes would be developed into flesh and blood people in later novels but in this first work, Miss Heyer had not yet developed her ability to create real people the reader can care about. My favorite characters are Sir and Lady Miles. They're the most well-drawn characters in the novel and seem like people I would actually like to know. The plot is a bit ridiculous and unbelievable and a bit complicated. There are many characters to keep track of and I had to keep turning the page back to find out who was speaking or what was happening. There's lots of sweeping melodrama and adventure but not much romance. We're told that Jack and Diana fall in love but the actual falling in love is glossed over, perhaps because Miss Heyer had not yet been in love or perhaps because she was writing for her kid brother. The historical details are incredibly impressive and fans of historic costuming will die at the descriptions of powder, patch, hoops, wigs and other styles of the mid-18th century.  I would recommend this book to those who love an old-fashioned high drama adventure story or to those fans of Miss Heyer who wish to see how her style evolved. It's not a bad effort for a seventeen year old's first novel.

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Behind the Masks: The Diary of Angelina Reddy (Dear America) by Susan Patron -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Angeline lives with her parents in the wild western town of Bodie, California in 1880. Her father is a criminal lawyer noted for his ability to keep people out of jail. He's also dead or supposedly murdered in the saloon where he keeps his office. Angeline and her mother are convinced that Patrick/Papa is hiding out, waiting to see what happens without law and order. What happens is that the vigilante posse 601 is out riding around in masks shooting and burning and running "undesirable" people out of town. Angeline sets out to search for clues to her father's disappearance, beginning with a a message brought by a strange Chinese girl named Ling Loi. Angeline's budding friendship with the wealthy Eleanor Tucker reveals more secrets and mysteries in the form of a ghost child. As Angeline searches for clues about her missing father, she discovers the residents of Bodie are all hiding behind masks and when those masks are taken off, then her father will come home and all will be well. Despite the dangerous times, Angeline feels safe because a handsome young clerk at Wells Fargo, Antoine Duval, is looking out for her along with a group of rag-tag actors known as The Horribles. Angeline is drawn to their wit and satirical stories and longs to be a part of their world. This book is not for the faint of heart. It features murder, vigilante justice, warnings about opium addiction, racism, and prostitution. The description of the wild western town of Bodie is very vivid and the author holds nothing back. I really appreciated that as an adult reader but I'm not sure how much the realistic, gritty details will appeal to the target reader group. The mystery of Angeline's missing father isn't much of a mystery. The truth is revealed to Angeline early on and I feel it was too early and should have been dragged out longer. The other mystery, about the ghost child is more compelling and also very true to the harsh realities of life in the 19th century. I do not feel that Angeline is a very memorable character. She doesn't leap off the page as some of the other Dear America characters do and her writing style is boring. Some of the dialogue, especially Ellie's, sounds fake. I think Ling Loi should have been the main character for her story is much more interesting. Taking into consideration all of the Dear America series, this one stands slightly above average but is not the best of the best. I would recommend it for young adults 14 and up and adults interested in a realistic portrayal of life in the Wild West. 

Midnight Masquerade by Joan Smith -- Regency Romance/Mystery

Deidre Gower's aunt, the Duchess of Charney, is robbed of her prized diamond necklace by a man masquerading as a ghost at a New Year's house party given by Deidre's fiance's mother, Lady Bertie Belami. Deidre immediately suspects her fiance, Lord Richard Belami, for he arrives rather late to the party full of lame excuses. Deidre knows Lord Belami has no intention of marrying her and she has no desire for the match either. Dick is determined to prove his innocence in the affair of the necklace and find the true culprit by deduction and reasoning. He enlists the aid of his foolish, bumbling friend Pronto Pilgrim and Deidre insists on sleuthing too. Chief among the suspects are the scandalous Lady Lenore, her lover (her husband is elsewhere), and Lord Bidwell, who helped Lady Lenore plan a tryst with her lover just before the diamond was stolen. Another suspect soon appears but Dick is reluctant to accuse without proof. For that he needs some help from Lady Lenore which lands him in hot water with Deidre, who has come to consider him in the light of more than a friend. While partnering with Deidre in searching for clues, Dick discovers a warm heart enclosed within Deidre's cold external appearance. He finds himself desiring to fan the flames of her heart and win her hand, but first he needs to find that diamond. This novel is simply dreadful and not worth the time or effort to read it. There are too many characters to keep track of in the mystery. The mystery is engaging enough to have kept me guessing all the way through. However, the quality of writing lacks considerably especially compared to Georgette Heyer and the more recent Jane Austen mystery series by Stephanie Barron. The romance is more of a grand sweeping passion than marriage of the minds. The characters come to appreciate each other and feel desire for one another but they never really quite make it as a couple, in my opinion. The hero is an entirely selfish rake who desires what he can't have and Deidre succumbs to his charms. I would not recommend this book to anyone who like quality literature and well-written, well-developed characters and plots. If you just like to read about Regency house parties and enjoy a good mystery, you might like this one.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Jane Austen Mystery Series

Jane Austen Mystery series by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron 

Jane beloved sister Eliza dies and brother Henry is bereft, so Jane suggests a holiday at the seaside for the two of them. Henry chooses Brighton, the fashionable watering hole of the Great. Along the way, they stop to change horses when they discover a young lady bound and gagged inside a crested carriage. Miss Catherine Twining, a young miss of 15 years, claims to have been abducted by none other than the infamous poet Lord Byron! Byron intended to take Catherine to Gretna and when she tried to escape, he bound and gagged her. Jane is outraged and even more so upon returning to the young lady safely to her home only to be insulted by General Twining. General Twining spared no insults for his only surviving child as well, blaming her for dishonoring the family name. Poor Henry is nearly obliged to fight a duel with the General! Jane and Henry make a hasty exit and take up their lives among with fashionable residents of Brighton. Jane is surprised and delighted to discover that Pride and Prejudice is popular amongst the ton and even more surprised when Lord Harold Trowbridge's niece, Lady Desdemona Swithin, claims Jane as a friend. Jane likes the frank, intelligent countess and soon they are partnering to solve a mystery. A certain young lady known to Jane is found lifeless, stitched in a hammock in a bed recently vacated by Lord Byron! Byron is taken up for murder and though he is allowed to go free, some suspicion remains. The Countess wishes to know whether he is truly guilty or not for her dear friend Lady Oxford is Byron's latest paramour. Lady S wishes for Jane to solve the mystery. Jane finds doors opened that were never open to her before as she rubs elbows with the likes of the Prince Regent and his set. Complicating matters a bit is Lord Byron's cast off mistress, the notorious Lady Caroline Lamb, come to Brighton to stalk her love. Caro was the person last seen in company with the young lady before her death: could she have rid herself of a rival? Could it have been the young lady's closest relative or the pompous elderly clergyman who wished to marry her? Or perhaps her chaperone or the odious lecher General Hangar, a crony of the Regent's once seen attempting to ravish the now deceased young lady? Jane has a tough job on her hands but with help from the Countess and Henry, she will hopefully be able to put together the clues and solve the mystery. 

This is the most ridiculous of all the mysteries. Lord Byron, outrageous though he may have been, was never taken up for murder in 1813 and Miss Austen never hobnobbed with the Prince Regent and his set. Aside from the historical facts, the plot was slow- the murder doesn't happen until halfway through the book. Also, I guessed the murderer's identity right away. Even though I changed my mind a few times, I was right in the end. The author really excels at period detail and this book is even better than all the rest in regards to setting the scene. I like that Barron's Jane knows her limitations as a woman and a shabby genteel spinster. She requires help from others to take her where she can not go. Lesser writers would send their heroines into improbable situations. The descriptions go on a bit too long though without adding to the story and one scene is lifted from Georgette Heyer. This one gets an A+ for period details and a C for the plot. The cover is also dreadful. Is that supposed to be Jane or the murdered young lady or someone else entirely?

Jane and the Canterbury Tale 

It's the fall of 1813 and Jane is visiting her brother Edward and his family, now known as the Knights, at Godmersham in Kent. Jane delights in watching her too-serious niece Fanny dance and flirt all night at the wedding of one of their neighbors, Adelaide Thane Fiske. It's a second marriage for young Adelaide, her first husband was a wastrel who ran off to India and left his wife in debt. With his death, Adelaide was able to find true love with a dashing captain on Wellington's staff. The wedding is fun until the bride receives a mysterious gift from someone that seems to have some meaning for her When Jane's nephews and their friends discover the body of a pilgrim on the path cutting through Godmersham, they fear they mistakingly shot the man while shooting pheasants. Jane's keen eye and experience see more: the man was shot at close range. It was no accident! As Magistrate, Edward must begin an investigation. The body is revealed to be Cuzon Fiske, the first husband of Adelaide and when the smoking gun is found, young James Wildman, Adelaide's cousin, is charged. When evidence points to Adelaide as the killer, Jane begins to worry that the wrong person will be hanged for murder. The introduction of an old sailor complicates matters and the death of another person from the Castle leads to more questions than answers. Jane is running out of time and knows she has to get to the true culprit quickly. A little subterfuge on her part is required along with help from Fanny before the truth is revealed. This mystery is closest to the first book in story and in tone. Jane has mostly stopped wallowing in pity and she is well-placed to investigate. As a history of the time period, this book is quite good. However, as a mystery, I give it low marks. I figured out the murderer right away and even figured out the motive before Edward and Jane. I think that Jane would have figured it out much more quickly. Even so, I enjoyed this one much more than the last few and couldn't put it down until it was finished. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend

The Rogue's Reform : The Everard Legacy Book 1 by Regina Scott -- Inspirational Regency Romance

I was send an advance copy of this book in exchange for my review. This review will be unbiased.
Jerome Everard has worked his whole life to ensure that his legacy, his Uncle Arthur's estate, should prosper while Uncle Arthur was content to float through life enjoying himself with London pleasures. Now Uncle Arthur is dead and his solicitor reveals shocking news: Jerome is not the heir after all! Uncle Arthur has a secret daughter and the title and the estate pass to her from her father. Jerome will only inherit a minor estate and only after his cousin has a successful season with three offers of marriage and her governess's approval. Jerome heads off to Cumberland accompanied by his dashing brother Richard and his roguish cousin Vaughn to charm the governess into revealing the truth and expose their so-called cousin as a  fraud. Jerome expects to find a scheming jade and her greedy governess, but instead he finds a young lady badly in need of comfort and a remarkable woman who stands as her friend. Adele Walcott, Samantha Everard's governess, is 27 and had her share of difficulties. She has been managing the Everard estate for the last ten years and she is determined to protect her cousin from the rogues who appear unannounced on her doorstep. Yet, as she watches Jerome go about estate business she starts to admire the serious, dedicated young man. The more Jerome gets to know his lively young cousin and her remarkable friend, he begins to feel protective towards the ladies and perhaps even something more for the lovely Adele. Adele once loved and lost and felt the light go out of her life. She has found a new Light to guide her yet she still remains cynical. As Jerome and Adele become close, someone seeks to separate them and will stop at nothing to achieve their aims. Adele must decide who to believe in and trust in her Lord to guide her and show her the way to truth and happiness. Before I share my opinion, I must begin by saying this book is the most Christian of all three of Regina Scott's Love Inspired books so far. It is not as easy to gloss over the Bible passages and prayers in this novel as it is in the other two. If you don't believe in Adele's God, then you probably won't want to read this book. If you do want to read this book, read on. 

As usual Regina Scott excels at creating a wholly original story in a genre in which many authors borrow plots from Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and each other and toss in cliche after cliche. The characters are well-developed and are kept from becoming stock characters by Regina's excellent characterizations. Jerome is a nice hero but a bit too serious. He's on a mission which could be interpreted as caddish but he has good reasons for it and he grows and changes throughout the story. Adele is the weak link. She's a typical redoubtable spinster, capable of handling everything that comes her way calmly. Yet she's also more well-drawn than many Regency novel heroines. She has doubts and fears yet she isn't afraid to trust her heart. She could use a bit more of a temper to make her a bit more human but I quite like her, aside from her reliance on God to guide her way. I quite like Vaughn and I expect I shall entirely lose my heart to him once he has his own story. I also really liked Samantha who at times seems spoiled and childish but also has backbone and a good sense of humor. I look forward to seeing her grow up. The plot was interesting enough to keep me reading but dragged on a bit in the last third of the novel. My only major criticisms are that the mystery of Samantha's mother is easy to figure out and the romance happens a bit too quickly for me to believe. Finally, my biggest complaint is that since this book is the first in a series, the big mystery is yet to be resolved and I hate waiting!!! Overall, it's a good book but not as good as Regina Scott's older non-Inspirational books, but that's my personal opinion and I would recommend that those who like the Regency genre and don't mind Inspirational Regencies give this one a try.

The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

This sequel to A Brief History of Montmaray picks up just after the first book began with Sophie's first journal entry in a brand new book detailing the FitzOsbornes new life in England. While Sophia is looking forward to her presentation at Court and all the lovely new frocks and Henry is running wild, Veronica is depressed. She feels responsible for the destruction of their home and feels helpless. She wants nothing to do with Aunt Charlotte's plan to marry the FitzOsbornes off to wealthy and influential suitors. Toby too resists Aunt Charlotte's grand plans for him. Fate has grand plans for the FitzOsbornes that differ from Aunt Charlotte's: the Spanish Civil War affects someone they know and Veronica finds relief in working towards saving starving Basque children and becoming more interested in international politics. In between all the parties and balls the young relatives (including Simon) plot and plan to save their home. When everything seems to go wrong, it's up to Sophie to keep her head and save the day. Not much happens until around page 400 and then the story picks up for the last few chapters. Most of the book is a typical coming-of-age novel. The plot is peppered with real-life historical events and people (The Kennedys make a cameo) as well as fictional situations. Henry provides the comic relief with her wild antics and Veronica's obtuseness about the workings of the human heart also provide some lighthearted moments. Again Sophie's journal is full of fabulous literary references : Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, W.H. Auden, Virginia Woolf and more, which I absolutely loved. The biggest problem I had with this book is that I had a hard time following the political situation in Europe and the difference between Fascists and Communists. There were a little bit too many real-life facts and people thrown in (Including the Kennedys!)  to keep track of, at least while reading late at night. Luckily the author has some great summaries on her website. This book also lacks the charming feel of the first, not being set in Montmaray. I especially loved the history and descriptions of Montmaray and I missed that in this book. It's still a great novel and I am eagerly awaiting the final volume in the trilogy.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2012

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2012

I am aiming for Severe Bookaholism: 20 books! This should not be difficult but more difficult than last year to find 20 NEW books to read!

I'm including only books I've never read and books that challenged me, especially to read an author or genre I haven't read before. Here is my list of books read in 2012 :
  1. The Bucaneers by Edith Wharton
  2. Sweet Revenge: A Lady Ariana Hadley Mystery by Andrea Penrose 
  3.  Pride and Prescience: Or, A Truth Universally Acknowledged by Carrie Bebris 
  4. Lady Julia Grey Mysteries by Deanna Raybourn
  5. Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert
  6. Julian Kestral Mysteries by Kate Ross
  7. Rose White, Rose Red : A Romance of Georgian England by Daisy Vivian
  8. If Only to Deceive (Lady Emily) by Tasha Alexander 
  9. Death at Bishop's Keep : A Victorian Mystery by Robin Paige
  10. The Help by Kathryn Stockett 
  11. To Have and To Hold (Bridal Veil Island 1) by Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller 
  12. Cassy by Elizabeth Lyle
  13. The Magicians and Mrs. Quent trilogy by Galen Beckett 
  14. Song of My Heart by Kim Vogel Sawyer 
  15. The Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer 
  16. The Union Quilters by Jennifer Chiavarini 
  17. Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell 
  18. Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal 
  19. Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
  20. The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss

      What I've Read This Week

      What I've Read This Week . . .

      Of Paupers and Peers by Sheri Cobb South -- Regency Romance

      James Weatherly, a penniless curate and Latin tutor, receives the shock of his life when he learns he is the new Duke of Montford! About 100 years ago, James's great-great grandfather disowned his second son for marrying a milkmaid. Though James's great-grandfather was disowned, the estate and title were still entailed and James is the next heir. With a purse full of coins, he sets out on the common stage and by foot to Montford Priory and is attacked by ruffians. He manged to get in a few blows before being knocked senseless. Miss Margaret Darrington discovers the unfortunate man lying in the road. She assumes he is Mr. Fanshawe, the tutor she has hired for her younger brother Phillip. James finds he can not remember his identity or anything before he was attacked. Assuming he is the tutor, he goes home with Margaret. Margaret fears her younger, beautiful sister Amanda will fall in love with the tutor. Margaret has grand plans for Amanda which include marrying a fortune and supporting the family. Amanda makes the acquaintance of an unknown, infuriating young man whom she can't seem to get out of her mind. As Mr. Fanshawe, James quickly becomes one of the family. He enjoys his cozy chats with Margaret and even teaching Phillip. When he finally recovers his memory, he discovers that he desires to be a permanent member of the Darrington family. However, in order to discover his lady love's true feelings, he must remain incognito for awhile longer. Margaret comes to lean on the sturdy young tutor and depends on his advice and conversation. Surely that doesn't mean she's in love with him, does it? After all, he's in love with Amanda, or is he? A Gypsy fortune teller tells Margaret she has a difficult choice to make that will affect her future.Is love the choice she meant? What to do? If you're a fan of this genre you will know how the story goes. The plot drags a bit in the middle with a few random, unlikely moments of discovery. The writing is otherwise decent and the period details about country life are good. The characters interact with each other realistically for the most part and can easily be identified with. Margaret and Amanda resemble the Dashwood sisters in Sense and Sensibility. James is a much stronger character than Edward Ferrars, however, and I really liked him. He's sweet and a bit awkward and very earnest. This is a pleasant read in the tradition of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. It's what Heyer would call a "quiet" romance. I rather liked it but I wouldn't rate it in my top 10 or even top 20.

      Star Crossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy

      Set in a fictional fantasy sort-of Renaissance era world, this fantasy features a 16 year old thief named Digger as the narrator. Digger is on the run from the dangerous Greenmen. They caught up to her and her partner Tegen while on a job "recovering" some important letters. Digger spends the night in a thief's hideout waiting for Tegen. When he doesn't come, she concludes he was killed and takes off running. While on the run she encounters a party of young nobles heading down the river to escape duty. The young nobles take her up in exchange for directions. Digger, the most devout of the liar god's servants, spins a tale of a life spent inside the walls of a convent. The parents of the young nobles catch up to them and attempt to dole out punishment to the wild teenagers. The very young Lady Merista Nemair has a big surprise when she discovers her parents have returned from exile (they were banished for being a part of rebel forces during a civil war) and plan to take her to their castle in the mountains to prepare for her Kernja-velde, a coming-of-age ceremony. Meri is shy and unsure of what to expect. She takes a liking to Celyn, as Digger is calling herself and asks her parents to bring Celyn as her lady's maid. They also bring along Phandre, a noblewoman whose parents died in exile. Digger can't help becoming soft in her luxurious surroundings so to stay sharp, she steals little things from the castle. Then the guests begin to arrive including Marlytt Villatiere, a city courtesan and Lord Remy Daul, the foster brother of Meri's father. Lord Daul catches Digger doing what she does best. In exchange for her silence, he puts her to work for him spying and stealing from The Nemair and their guests. The Nemair have been good to her but if they find out her secret, will they stay kind? Digger doesn't want to take that chance and soon finds herself in way over her head as she uncovers secrets involving forbidden magic and political intrigue. She discovers that she has violated the thief's rules don't get caught and don't get involved. This book differs greatly from the author's first novel, A Curse Dark As Gold. This one is set an an entirely fantasy world which in some ways resembles the real world and in other ways does not. The history, politics and religions of this country are incredibly confusing. The story seems to start in the middle, assuming the reader knows what Digger means with references to various gods and political leaders and then the history is revealed in bits and pieces. Digger's story is also hinted at and then finally revealed towards the end. This method of story telling did not work for me. I had a really hard time getting into the story. All of the unfamiliar and unpronounceable names complicated the already complicated story. Once Digger starts spying for Lord Daul, then the story picks up and I couldn't put it down. The ending seems like it would be rushed but was actually paced well. I was hoping for something along the lines of a Tamora Pierce novel or Patricia C. Wrede's Mairelon the Magician but this one was just too complicated and out there for my tastes. I would recommend it to experienced fantasy readers.

      Sunday, January 8, 2012

      Young Adult Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

      YA Bliss's YA Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
      The rules are simple:
      • All historical fiction books must be YA or MG.
      • Books don't have to be 2012 releases.
      • Anyone can join. 
      • You can join at anytime. The challenge runs from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012.
      I signed up for Level 3: 15 books. 

      1. A Brief History of Montmaray and The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper - 1930s
      2. Deadly by Julie Chibarro - early 1900s America
      3. Magic Under Glass and Magic Under Stone by Jaclyn Dolamore - fictional Victorian
      4. Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee- Victorian England
      5. Dark Mirror ,   Dark Passage,  by M.J. Putney -Regency England/WWII England
      6.  Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney - Great Depression
      7. Renegade Magic (Book Two in the Kat, Incorrigible Series) by Stephanie Burgis 
      8. Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen -- Robin Hood adventure
      9. Secret Letters by Leah Schier -- Victorian England
      10.  The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats -- Medieval Wales
      11. Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley -- early 1800s Virginia
      12. Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl -- Regency England
      13. Princess Academy Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale -- fantasy fairy tale 
      14. Cross my Heart by Sasha Gould --16th century Venice
      15. Courtship and Curses by Marissa Doyle -- Regency England 

        What I've Read This Week

        What I've Read This Week . . .

        A Brief History of Montmaray: The Montmaray Journals Book 1 by Michelle Cooper -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

        On her 16th birthday, October 23, 1936, Her Royal Highness Princess Sophia Margaret Elizabeth Jane Clementine FitzOsborne, of the island kingdom Montmaray receives a new journal from her brother at school in England. She also receives a summons from her Aunt Charlotte, the Princess Royal, to come to England where Sophia and her cousin Veronica will be presented at court, have their Season and get married. Sophia is excited to go but Veronica refuses to leave. She has to hold the family together and keep track of their dwindling finances. Veronica is excited for Sophia to chronicle the history of their tiny nation in her journal (population: 1 mad king, 3 princesses, a prince, a housekeeper and 4 villagers), but Sophia worries she won't have anything interesting to write. She's the plain middle child. Veronica is bookish, her brother Toby is the heir to the throne and her younger sister Henry wants to be a boy. At first Sophia writes about her dream of going to London and making her debut and charming everyone with her poise. She writes about her crush on the housekeeper's son Simon and about her frustrations being the middle child in an eccentric family. Simon arrives from London with news of the Spanish Civil War and bickers with Veronica over what role Montmaray should play in international affairs. It's confusing for Sophia who doesn't understand the difference between Communists, Facists and Socialists or why she should care what is happening outside of her country. Then her life changes forever when two strangers appear flying a flag with an inverted cross and searching for information. As the situation becomes more dangerous, Veronica's composure begins to crumble and Sophia must take the lead or their country and their lives will be in danger. This is a brilliant coming of age story set just before World War II in a fictional island nation off the coast of Spain. Sophia is a good narrator. She's quiet, caring and observant yet she doubts her own abilities until faced with a crisis. All of the characters truly come to life and become flesh and blood before the reader's eyes. The author does an amazing job sharing the history of Montmaray, complete with quirky ancestors. I loved the epic poem which Violet dismisses as nonsense but provides the comic relief in the story. I also loved the literary references from Jane Austen and the Brontes, to Shakespeare and Tennyson. The plot starts slow but halfway through it picks up and doesn't let go until the very end. My only real complaint is Sophia's moments of introspection and speculation on great issues which seem out of character for her and a bit forced.This story will make you laugh and it will break your heart and make you cry before it's over. I highly recommend this book for older teens and adults. I can't wait to read the sequel!

        Saturday, January 7, 2012

        New Year, New Look

        New Year, New Look

        I found this background on Photobucket and decided to redesign my blog. I think it looks much better. What think you? Do you like the new look or was the old one better?

        Thursday, January 5, 2012

        Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Best Seller

        Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Best Seller
        by Jennifer Kloester

        I received this lengthy biography for Christmas. I believe it was purchased through an Amazon reseller.

        Miss Heyer was born in 1902 to an upper middle-class British family. She loved to watch the stage coaches come rolling down the street, an image which stayed with her for the rest of her days and helped her Regency world come to life. A bright and imaginative child, her parents allowed her imagination to run free and her father encouraged and influenced her story telling. At the age of 19 she published her first book, written to amuse her invalid brother Boris. She published one or two novels a year almost every year for the rest of her life. Her early marriage to George Ronald Rougier and the birth of her son Richard did not hamper her career. Her husband was supportive and even helped shape the plots of her early mystery novels. Miss Heyer's early novels were contemporary and dealt with the issues of a woman's place, marriage and other topics of the day. Her fun mystery novels paid the bills and allowed her the freedom to research for her historical novels. History was her true passion and by the 1930s, she was writing nearly exclusively Regency novels. Miss Heyer was notoriously reserved and very private. She almost never gave interviews and was very demanding in regards the the publication of her books. She was conservative, snobby and prejudiced by modern standards though she was very much a product of her upbringing in that time and place. She admired and idealized the Regency era and drew her world from her own memories of the Edwardian era and extensive research. Her attention to detail and ability to bring characters to life made her books instant best sellers. Her death from lung cancer in 1974 was a great tragedy in the world of literature.

        Ms. Kloestner built on a previous work by Joan Aiken Hodge to create a complete picture of the life of one of the 20th century's most prolific and beloved authors. Ms. Kloestner interviewed Miss Heyer's son, friends and others who knew Miss Heyer well. The biography is also drawn from archival sources (my favorite!) such as private correspondence and publishing records. The biography is well-written and the writing style is accessible to anyone. Though it is long, it moves along quickly, at least if one doesn't ready every word! The book goes into great depth, almost too much at times, about the life of Georgette Heyer and those who were close to her. Ms. Kloestner quotes extensively from Miss Heyer's correspondence and the back of the book includes lists of Heyer's novels, short stories and Ms. Kloestner's sources and acknowledgments. There is even a section of photographs, many never before seen from private family archives. I am very impressed by Miss Kloestner's research and think this is a wonderful biography. Short of any new information that comes to light in the future, there can never be another book about Georgette Heyer equal to this one. I highly recommend it to those who want to know more about their favorite author.

        Monday, January 2, 2012

        2012 Reading Challenges

         Reading Challenges 2012

        This year I will participate in 

        I am aiming for Severe Bookaholism: 20 books! This should not be difficult but more difficult than last year to find 20 NEW books to read!

        And YA Bliss's YA Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
        Level 3: 15 books.

        Again my challenge will be to find 15 NEW books to read!