Sunday, March 25, 2012

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

The Counterfeit Lady by Daisy Vivian -- Regency Romance

Susanna Archer, the longtime faithful companion of old Lady Wycombe is shocked when her employer dies and leaves Susanna her entire fashionable wardrobe. Lady Wycombe loved clothes but rarely ever wore any of the beautiful gowns she had made. Susanna's friend Tibby, maid to Lady Wycombe, suggests Susanna could catch herself a rich husband by posing as a beautiful, wealthy widow in some watering hole. Susanna is tempted, she's a bit tired of not being noticed by handsome gentlemen such as Lady Wycombe's nephew Patrick, and tired of being dependent on cranky old ladies for a living. Finally, Susanna agrees to pose as Lady Kinsale, a widow of the Irish Lieutenant-General and settle in Cheyne Spa with Tibby posing as her lady's maid. Susanna is recognized almost right away by Lady Morphy whose nephew Gavin Marshall is the best friend of Patrick Wycombe. Lady Morphy decides she and her nephew can use Susanna to further their own ends by marrying her off to Lady Morphy's older brother, the Duke of Quince, a widower without children. In exchange for not revealing Susanna's true identity, Lady Morphy and Gavin endeavor to polish Susanna's manners to make her masquerade more convincing. The Duke is making is own plans for marriage. He's initially interested in young Cecily Fairfax, who has her eye on Patrick Wycombe though her mother desires her to marry the Duke. When Patrick Wycombe comes to town he is captivated by Susanna's beauty and gets to play the knight errant when another Duke takes an unhealthy interest in Susanna. All the while Susanna is confused about what to do. She isn't sure she wants to choose comfort and security over love or whether she can actually have both. This is an unconventional Regency romance. For one thing, it's not modeled after any of the Georgette Heyer Regencies or Jane Austen! Secondly, it took me almost the whole book to figure out who Susanna was going to choose in the end. Also, I found myself leaning more towards a very unconventional suitor. I didn't really like the heroine or the hero. Susanna is a bit unnecessarily cold and mercenary, at least at first. I can understand her desire for independence but I'm not sure I would have made the choices she did. Once she makes a decision though she sticks to it and she does the right thing in the end though it may cost her. The hero is surprising and I didn't much care for him either. The romance is very light with no real development on either side. I felt that Susanna should have not chosen any of the gentlemen! The plot moves along a little slowly in the beginning and picks up a tiny bit later after Susanna's arrival in Cheyne Spa. The ending is rushed and I think another few chapters would have better completed the story. I didn't love this novel but I didn't hate it either. It's nice and light and good bedtime reading. 

Cut to the Quick : Julian Krestrel #1 by Kate Ross -- Historical Mystery

Hugh Fontclair has just come of age. He's in London for the first time and should be celebrating but instead he is miserable because his family has engaged him to Miss Maud Craddock, a young woman he barely knows. The reason for the engagement is not for the usual reasons, however, for Miss Craddock's father is a Cit and has some kind of hold over the Fontclair family and only marriage to Miss Craddock will stop her father from ruining the Fontclairs. Hugh's raffish cousin Guy takes Hugh out for a night on the town where Hugh is rescued from a difficult situation by London dandy Julian Kestrel. Julian, a successor to Beau Brummell, doesn't think anything of the encounter so he is vastly surprised when he receives an invitation to Hugh's wedding. Thinking country life will save him some money, Julian heads off to visit the Fontclairs at Bellegarde, their country estate. Julian soon finds himself knee-deep in a criminal investigation when he discovers a young woman dead in his bed. His valet, a former pickpocket, is accused and Julian knows that an innocent man will take the blame if he can't find the real murderer. Julian's keen mind uncovers secrets about the Fontclair family that they will do anything to protect. This book is similar to Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mysteries but with a male sleuth. The story is told in third person jumping from one character to another, sometimes abruptly. I had to really pay attention to figure out whose thoughts I was reading. As a result of the third person narration, Julian's character remains underdeveloped. A secondary character makes observations about Julian and the reasons for his dandy pose but I didn't really get a good sense of the reasons for Julian's pose just from reading his thoughts and actions. Many of the other characters are stock Regency novel characters: the cruel father, the blackmailer, the young woman in love but afraid to show it, the jealous bridegroom, and the eccentric relations. My favorite character is Dipper, the pickpocket turned valet. There's also the theme of forbidden passion that runs through this novel.  Kate Ross takes stereotypical themes to a new level though involving family pride that verges on madness and secrets that may reveal the reasons for the murder. All the elements of the mystery until then are revealed slowly and compellingly. I just couldn't figure out who the murderer was. Initially I suspected the actual murderer but there didn't seem to be a motive. Indeed, when the motive comes out at the end it seems a little out of the blue. The mystery was so good I couldn't put the book down. The period details are good and seem well-researched.The story is set in the 1820s despite the fact that many people label it Regency. The culture is still the same as in the Regency era, only the monarch has changed at this point. If you like historical mysteries, especially the Jane Austen mysteries, you should like this one.

1 comment:

  1. Kate Ross was my best friend in grammar school. There was no one with a greater imagination! We'd spend hours pretending we were foreign spies like Diana Rigg on the Avengers. We wrote plays together. I always knew she'd be a writer and was SO pleased when I saw her series. Her life ended all too quickly just as she was realizing her potential. It brought a tear to my eye reading your lovely review.


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