Monday, April 30, 2012

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Renegade Magic (Book Two in the Kat, Incorrigible Series) by Stephanie Burgis -- Middle Grades Historical Fantasy

Kat Stephenson is back for another adventure. She's in big trouble now. First her big sister Elisa's wedding was ruined by an old enemy who destroyed Angeline's chances at happiness. Then Kat lost her temper in front of the head of the Guardians and was expelled from the order forever. Stepmama is furious and drags the family off to Bath to stay with her unsuspecting snobby relatives. Stepmama decrees that Angeline will find a suitable suitor or not return home. Without Elisa around to intervene, Angeline and Stepmama are not getting along. Kat worries that Angeline has some possibly dangerous plan in mind. Kat finds she likes Bath though. She finds an ally in Lucy Wingate, Stepmama's young cousin and Kat also discovers an abundance of magic bubbling up from the hot springs under the baths. Kat sets out on a midnight adventure to find the magic and uncovers a magical plot that may threaten the lives of her loved ones and leave her mind broken if the Guardians find out. This is another delightful adventure. I really enjoyed the plot and couldn't put it down though usually I dislike supernatural plots especially of this nature. Kat is such a fun and appealing little hoyden that I can't help but be charmed by her. Her madcap personality provides comic relief for this adventure tale. I also really identify with her and with her sister Angeline. I would probably behave the same way Angeline does in her situation. Other characters show surprising amounts of depth which amazes Kat and the reader both. I liked that these characters were not two-dimensional. The villain is painfully obvious though the motive was a bit of a surprise. I am looking forward to more Kat adventures, soon I hope! This series is great for girls 10-12 and those of us who still think we are that age.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Death at Bishop's Keep : A Victorian Mystery by Robin Paige (Susan Witting Albert and Bill Albert)

Miss Kathryn Ardleigh of New York is a writer of "penny-dreadfuls." She loves the thrilling gothic tales of adventure but she may run out of material soon if she doesn't actually have any adventures. When she discovers that a long-lost aunt in England wants Kate to be her secretary, Kate jumps at the chance to have a bit of an adventure of her own. When she arrives in England she makes the acquaintance of her aunt's aristocratic neighbors, The Honorable Bradford and Miss Eleanor Marsden and their friend, Sir Charles Sheridan. Sir Charles is a scholarly man with an interest in photography and the newly emerging field of forensics. When a body is discovered at an archeological dig, Sir Charles thinks his camera may provide some clues as to the man's identity. Sir Charles' astute observations uncover the fact that the man had more than a passing interest in Ancient Egypt. When Kate arrives at her new home, Bishop's Keep, she learns that her father had not one but two estranged sisters. Aunt Sabrina, who has hired Kate, is kind and caring. Her sister, Mrs. Jaggers, is the exact opposite. She is a strict and dour lady who has charge of the running of the household. Kate refuses to answer to her aunt's cruel rules and stands up to the lady ensuring that Kate is not welcome by at least one person at Bishop's Keep. The servants seem to be a sullen lot and they are keeping secrets from Kate. Kate delights in her work for Aunt Sabrina who is a member of a secret society called the Order of the Golden Dawn. Kate believes this is just the thing for her novels and wants to join. First though, she has to attend meetings and learn their secret ways. She also is charged with investigating the dead body found at the archeological site. Even after Aunt Sabrina backs off the investigation, Kate can't help but be curious. Her investigations intersect with Sir Charles' investigations. He is puzzled by the unusual young lady. He finds her shocking yet appealing at the same time. Charles and Kate are both independently on the same trail but shocking events occur that change Kate's life forever and may make her the next victim. This mystery kept me reading far too late into the night and then I figured out the clues just before Kate did even without evidence. It was pretty obvious by that point who the murderer was and why. Despite the fact that I couldn't put the book down, I really didn't like it all that much. Kate is very naive and thinks life is like one of her novels. She finds adventure and excitement where she should not. Sir Charles is too cool and analytical to be an appealing hero. He has some Victorian ideas about what ladies should be like but his opinions are less annoying than the typical Victorian make ideas some other characters spout. Even so, his ideas make him less appealing. The plot was far too dark for me and there were way too many things going on. Some of the chapters don't advance the storyline at all and serve as character development but they are unnecessary and awkward. I probably will not read the rest of the series.

Death at Dartmoor : A Victorian Mystery by Robin Paige (Susan Witting Albert and Bill Albert)

Lord Charles and Lady Kate are now married and vacationing on the moors. Charles wants to try out his new fingerprinting program at the prison and Beryl Bardwell (Kate's alter ego) wants to attend a seance with Lady Duncan, a local Society lady. Also interested in the moors and seances are Dr. Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes, and his new writing partner Mr. Robinson. Patsy Marsden, an independent spinster and friend of Kate and Charles is there too. Charles finds the prison just as horrific as he was told it was but something about one of the prisoners makes him think the man may not be guilty of murder. If only Charles could convince the authorities to take more stock in forensic science. Dr. Spencer doesn't wish to have his sentence overturned. He has his reasons and he's keeping them to himself. When three prisoners escape, including Dr. Spencer, the locals are terrified. Their fear increases after a man is found dead and mutilated and everyone assumes it was a certain prisoner who committed the crime. Charles is not so sure and neither is Kate, for one of her new friends had a shocking communication from a spirit before anyone knew the person was dead. Charles and Conan Doyle begin an investigation to find the true murderer while Kate and Patsy make the acquaintance of another unconventional lady who may know a thing or two about the murder. This story is less dark and gothic than Death at Bishop's Keep. It contains elements of the supernatural but the characters debate whether the event was supernatural or natural and the conclusion is left to the reader to decide. I liked this book better than Bishop's Keep because it wasn't so dark. I was a bit disappointed in this novel though because I expected Charles and Kate to investigate together like Nick and Nora Charles in the Thin Man series. The married couple don't spend a lot of time together. Much of the book is given over to Doyle and his problems. As with the Beatrix Potter mysteries, the author(s) step out of the story to provide the history behind the story. This time it works slightly better because some of the history is shared by characters in the novel. This book would be appropriate for young adults and adults but not suitable for children.

Out of Sight, Out of Time (Gallagher Girls 6) by Ally Carter - Young Adult Contemporary Fiction

Cammie Morgan wakes up in a convent in Switzerland with no idea how she got there. Worse, she learns it's October when she thought it was June which means she can't remember her summer at all. No memory is a dangerous thing for a spy-in-training. Back at the Gallagher School, Cammie's friends seem angry with her and she can't figure out why. She also believes that her best friend and her "sorta" boyfriend Zach have gotten closer together. Cammie's mom tells her not to try to remember too much because some things are worth forgetting. Cammie isn't about to take her mother's advice. She seeks the help of Zach's faculty adviser Dr. Steve, to help her regain her memory. Soon she discovers that whatever happened last summer, The Circle no longer needs her alive. Cammie must use all her wits and training to stay alive and find out exactly what happened over the summer. If you've read the Harry Potter series most of this book won't come as a huge surprise. I learned not to trust anyone in this sort of novel and Cammie has not yet learned that lesson because otherwise of course, the plot wouldn't work out. Cammie's friends are a lot like Harry Potter's friends, especially Liz, who is a carbon copy of Hermione. There are some odd plot holes and time line issues in this novel. My biggest question is: why did Cammie's friends let her go? Harry's friends anticipated what he was up to and went with him and Cammie's friends, being super intelligent spies-in-training, should have too.  Despite my suspicions, the plot took me on a non-stop ride with one dangerous adventure after another. It doesn't follow the common plot structure of a novel but it's exciting and I couldn't put it down. This book answers a lot of the questions from the previous novels but there are still many questions left unanswered. It's best just to read it and go with the adrenaline and not question things too closely. I think this is a fun series for young teenage girls.

Friday, April 20, 2012

What I Read This Week

What I Read This Weekend . . .

The Forrester Inheritance by Daisy Vivian -- Regency Romance

Miss Mariana Porter lives in genteel poverty in Dublin with her father, a gamester and painter. They manage to get by but hope for something to come along to help them return to their old lives in London. Perhaps Mariana should accept the proposal of the Marquis, a friend of her father's. If only he hadn't proposed primarily in order to help Mr. Porter. When news of Lyndell Porter's Uncle Josiah Forrester's death, the Porter's hope that the city merchant's fortune will be theirs, but Forrester left his legacy largely to his nephew by marriage, Captain Brion Seymour. Mariana's friend Lucy writes that she's getting married in London and needs Mariana there as her bridesmaid, Mariana wonders if she should go. Then her long estranged Aunt Battledore comes to Dublin to whisk Mariana away to London where the girl enters Society. Mariana makes the acquaintance of Captain Seymour, whom she hates at first because of his newly acquired fortune and later because he is irritating. Captain Seymour is often seen on the arm of the beautiful but catty Lady Blanche. Then Mariana's solicitor makes a shocking announcement: Uncle Forrester left a third of his immense fortune to Mariana but only on the condition that she marry within the extended family or she'll forfeit everything. This leaves Mariana with three choices: Captain Seymour; his gentle poetic cousin Jeremy, a mute; and Tyger Dobyn, a pugilist. She likes Jeremy and even engages the help of a mutual friend, the sculptress Mrs. Damer, to teach her sign language. While Tyger is amusing, he isn't really the type a lady like Mariana should marry. Lucy counsels Mariana to choose one but Mariana refuses to marry without love. Mariana also learns some shocking secrets about her mother which may affect her future and possibly even her safety. This is a nice, quiet comedy of manners Regency. Mariana is young but not too young as to be annoying. She's had a tough life and it's made her grow more quickly than Lucy so she knows her own mind better. I admired her for wanting to marry for love but at times found her cold and snobby. Her three suitors are vastly different from one another. Captain Seymour seems like he might be a rake but he has little personality and not much development. Tyger is unusual but has a cruel streak that neither Mariana nor myself likes. My favorite suitor is Jeremy. He's so sweet and gentle. I would marry him! I liked the introduction of real life characters into the story. The author blended history and fiction quite well with only a few moments of telling too much history outside of the plot. Mostly though, this is a rather unforgettable story. I know I read it once before but for the life of me I couldn't remember anything about the plot except that Jeremy is mute and Mrs. Damer teachers Mariana sign language. 

The Help by Kathryn Stockett -- Historical Fiction

By now you probably know what the story is about, but assuming you don't, let's begin with a summary. Aibileen Clark is a maid for Miss Elizabeth, a twenty-three year-old mother and wife in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. Miss Elizabeth pays little attention to her girl Mabley Moe, so Aibileen works to install confidence and caring into the little girl while silently putting up with abuse from her white employer. Miss Elizabeth's best friend, Miss Hilly, president of the Junior League, has the grand idea to install separate toilets for "the help" for ridiculous untrue racist reasons. Miss Elizabeth and Miss Hilly's friend Skeeter wonders aloud to Aibileen if she ever gets tired of the injustice. Minny Jackson is a maid for Miss Hilly's mother Miss Walters. Miss Walters is becoming senile and is sent to a nursing home. Miss Hilly desires Minny to work for her but Minny's big sassy mouth gets her into a heap of trouble and she finds herself without a job. No one in Jackson will hire her except Miss Celia, a former poor white girl from the country who lives with her wealthy husband far from town. Minny is puzzled by Miss Celia for the young woman is not at all like the other white ladies Minny has worked for. She keeps secrets from her husband, she can't cook and spends all day in bed. None of the other white ladies will even speak to her because they believe she stole Miss Hilly's boyfriend, now Miss Celia's husband. Minny is determined to keep out and keep her mouth shut this time for she has a husband and five kids to support. Eugenia Phelan aka Skeeter was born to a cotton family is college educated and dreaming of a career as a journalist, much to the dismay of her mother who wants Skeeter married and married fast. Skeeter has always felt like an outsider. She's too tall, her hair is too frizzy and she feels hurt by her mother's critical comments. Only her family's maid, Clementina, helped Skeeter become more confident. Now Clementina is gone and no one will tell Skeeter where. Skeeter feels lost and alone. When a Harper & Row editor decides to take a chance on Skeeter if Skeeter can write about something that really matters, Skeeter decides to interview the local maids to find out what it is like being "the help." She learns that many of the women are unwilling to talk to her because her of race and for fear of losing their jobs. Only Aibileen, who dreams of writing, believes in Skeeter. She enlists the aid of Minny and the three women begin a slow and painful journey towards civil rights. This is a very powerful novel that really makes you think. The characters are fairly fleshed out so the reader gets a sense of what drives them and motivates them, aside from the main villain who is truly awful. Aibileen's story broke my heart and is the most moving of the three narratives. She's a strong, proud woman who has been broken down by years of hardship and heartache. Her conflicted feelings towards change are understandable given her life so far. Minny is a loud-mouth, brassy woman yet also fiercely proud and loyal. She's thinks she's not afraid to stand up for what she believes in but yet when the time comes, she is afraid for her family's sake. It really made me think about what a difficult position she was in and how hard it would be to want to change but have circumstances working against you. Skeeter is the character I can most relate to. Her story reminded me a lot of To Kill a Mockingbird and I can see young Scout growing up to be like Skeeter. Skeeter learns courage from the amazing women she meets while writing her book and her journey is nearly as emotional as Aibilene and Minny's. Miss Celia's story is also heart-breaking and the author does an excellent job portraying her loneliness as an outsider while the queen bee character dictates the actions of others. I had a hard time putting this book down because I wanted to find out what happened to the characters in the end. The ending is a bit of a hit-you-over-the-head preachy moment and doesn't quite fit the rest of the story, but nevertheless provides a satisfactory conclusion. I had a hard time understanding the dialect at times but once I got into it, it was easier to read. I can see how this novel might be controversial written by a white woman in black women's voices in a time period that the author did not grow up in. Her author's note reveals more about her motivation and inspiration for writing the novel. I enjoyed it and it made me glad to live in 2012 and hope that the book inspires people to look at the world around them and make changes for the better.

Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

This book is set in Depression-era Elmira New York and alternating chapters tell the stories of three young people whose lives are changed by the radio and Joe Louis. Hibernia Lee Taylor secretly listens to Swing Time at the Savoy on her Daddy's radio, given to him by his Baptist parish and dreams of being a jazz singer like her Mama who went away to pursue a dream before Hibernia got to know her. Rev. Taylor doesn't approve of Hibernia's dream but she's determined anyway. Rev. Taylor listens to broadcasts of boxing matches on the radio eagerly awaiting news of Joe Louis "The Brown Bomber" as he contends for boxing's highest title. At the Mercy Home for Negro Orphans, two boys also listen and wait and dream of boxing's greatest African-American hero. Willie once dreamed of being a boxer himself but his abusive father put an end to his dreams and sent Willie running into the night. Otis clings to his Philco radio, one of the only things he has to remember his parents by. His loves riddles and can rattle them off faster than Jack Benny. The riddles bring him comfort. The boys spend their days in the care of Lila Weiss, a kindly, loving woman who teaches the boys that life goes on. They spend their nights trying to thwart "The Bleach Man" as they call the head of the orphanage. The three children will meet and come together united by a common bond - Joe Louis. Joe Louis represents the hopes and dreams of the children and hard-hit African-Americans. If "the Brown Bomber" can win, then dreams can come true. This is a moving story set in a time and place I know little about. It's different from other Depression-era novels because it focuses on the radio and the power of the machine to inspire people. I found the theme very moving and uplifting. I liked the two boys and their stories are tragic yet beautiful and inspiring. Hibernia is a brat and I didn't like her very much. She doesn't really grow up or learn anything in the course of the novel but she provides comic relief. The author did an excellent job with Hibernia's voice and I could heaaaarrr her in my heaaaddd as she talked and saaaannngg. The boys were less vivid and distinguishable. The slightly less than perfect characterizations are made up for by a plot that made me cry, smile, hope and cheer right alongside the characters, though I already knew who Joe Louis was. I did not think this book was as good as her recent Dear America novel, but it was a good effort and I think it's a good read for young people and will inspire hope in those who may feel like they have none.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

What I've Read This Week Part 2

What I've Read This Week Part 2 . . .

The Wild Rose: Meg's Tale by Daisy Vivian -- Georgian Romance

It's four years after the events of Rose White, Rose Red and Meg is still devoted to Lady Sabella. Meg, now a young adult, knows how to use her street smarts and her newly developed Quality skills to ferret out information for the Jacobite cause. The cause is failing fast and danger lurks everywhere. Meg discovers two gentlemen who may be friends or enemies. One, Jared Allmonses is the younger son of an Earl come to London to become an actor. The other, Robert Dellanoy is more mysterious but believed to be the writer of treasonous pamphlets. Meg sets out to spy on the men while Dellanoy thinks he can use Meg as an experiment. Dellanoy teaches her to speak and act like a lady with Meg never letting on that she's already accomplished that task. She quickly develops a passion for acting and thinks about going into the theater. When Lady Sabella is forced to flee the country, Meg chooses to stay in London at Dellanoy's place which he has fled with his dragon of a housekeeper Phoenix keeping an eye on her. Meg becomes a star actress and catches the attention of an older gentleman known as Peregrine. Meg senses that Peregrine is up to no good and tries to be wary around him. he claims to be a Jacobite sympathizer but seems to have many enemies including Dellanoy.  The innocent Jared tries his hand at writing and like everyone else falls in love with the beautiful Meg Angelus, Meg's stage name. Can he win her heart and convince her that he's the perfect husband for her? When Dellanoy returns Meg realizes she has developed an infatuation for him. Will she give up everything to be with him? One night of passion could have consequences that affect not only Meg but everyone around her. This book is a highly unconventional romance. It starts like My Fair Lady (Pygmallion) but then changes quickly into something else. It features grand sweeping passion, danger and marriage of true minds. Young Georgette Heyer probably would have enjoyed it but it just wasn't to my liking. I didn't care too much for any of the characters. They were boring and some of them made bad choices that I don't think they should have made. I missed the sparkling characters of the first novel and was hoping to learn more about Blanche and Rosanna. (They are briefly mentioned). My favorite character is Phoenix who has secrets and a big, kind heart.

If Only to Deceive (Lady Emily) by Tasha Alexander -- Victorian Mystery/Romance

Lady Emily Ashton is newly wed and newly widowed. Only a few months after her marriage to Lord Phillip Ashton, he has died on safari in Africa. Emily doesn't grieve for her husband for she barely knew him. She only married him to get away from her controlling mother. Emily had no interest in marriage and is enjoying her new found freedom though she's bored by the conventions of mourning. Her husbands friends come to call and pay their respects and tell Emily what a wonderful man Phillip was. The handsome Colin Hargreavs, Phillip's best friend, reveals that Phillip was actually in love with Emily and called her Kallista, the Greek name meaning "most beautiful." The elderly Lord Palmer shares news that Phillip was an collector of antiquities and passionate about the Greeks. Curious about this man she never knew, Emily sets out to learn more about him through the Ancient Greeks. She begins on a course of self-study reading Homer and learning Greek. She visits the British Museum, makes the acquaintance of a man who copies antiques for private patrons and develops her own passion for the Greeks. She heads off to Paris where she makes the acquaintance of some people her mother would consider most scandalous including Renoir. She's courted by Lord Palmer's eldest and most unconventional son Arthur and spars with Colin who tries to warn her from associating with certain people. Her interest in antiques leads her to discover that her husband was involved with a forgery ring. Exactly how involved she isn't sure but she's determined to solve the mystery of missing antiques. With the help of her best friend Ivy and new friends Cecile and Margaret, Emily hunts for clues. Emily knows she must learn the truth before she can decide what she wants out of life and find her happily ever after. Nothing much happens in the first half of the mystery. It's very slow moving and there's much quoting from translations of the Iliad and many discussions about antiques and Ancient Greeks. I enjoyed the Odyssey when I read in it grade school but haven't given Homer the intense amount of thought this novel requires. I skimmed over some of the discussion and most of the quotes. This novel also deals with Emily's awareness of the stifling Victorian conventions and her breaking the rules. She's very forward thinking for a woman in 1890 and her awareness seems forced. It doesn't seem believable for a woman raised in a strict Victorian household to want to defy convention. I liked the way Deanna Raybourn handles Lady Julia Grey's unconventionality better.  By the end of the novel I had hoped to care for the characters but I just could not. I found Emily very cold and detached and a little creepy for falling in love with her dead husband. We're told constantly what a nice person Phillip was (by his friends) but his journal entries make him sound like a creep. He was a hunter and enjoyed the hunt and I got the impression he was infatuated with Emily because she refused all her other suitors. It was a game to him. He didn't know her at all and was in love with her beauty and an image he had built up in his head. If he stayed in London with Emily, they would have grown tired of each other quickly and Emily would have chafed under the conventional rules for aristocratic wives.  The first person narration makes it difficult to know what other characters are thinking and feeling. The romance is not developed very well. The heroine and hero do not have any chemistry and I could care less if they get together or not. The plot also leaves a lot to be desired. Halfway through this novel something happens that made me exclaim "This is the stupidest novel ever if this is true!" I couldn't put the book down until I found out the truth. Fortunately the plot didn't head in an extraordinarily unrealistic direction. The ending is a bit anti-climatic. I expected more danger and less summarizing of events. I enjoyed Deanna Raybourn's Silent in the Grave much more, at least as far as romances go. I say skip this one despite numerous positive reviews on Amazon!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I Read This Week  . . .

Silent in the Sanctuary (Lady Julia Grey Mysteries 2) by Deanna Raybourn -- Historical Mystery/Romance

Lady Julia Grey has spent the last few months in Italy visiting with her brothers Lysander and Plum. When Lord March sends a summons to his children to return home for Christmas, Julia knows they must obey. She's worried that their father is upset over Lysander's marriage to the beautiful, hot-tempered Napolitana woman Violante. To soften the blow, Plum invites their friend, Alessandro, Count Fornacci to come to England for Christmas. Alessandro is delighted to spend more time in Lady Julia's company. Julia isn't sure how she feels about the younger man. Upon returning home they find not only the March family in residence but also Julia's poor relations elderly Aunt Dorcas and cousins Emma and Lucy, Lucy's betrothed Sir Cedric and his cousin/employee Henry Ludlow, the roguish new curate Lucian Snow. Also among the house guests are Nicholas Brisbane, newly elevated to the title of Viscount Wargrave and his beautiful, empty-headed fiance, Mrs. Charlotte King. Julia is stunned and hurt to see Brisbane again. He hasn't contacted her in months and now he's in her home. Julia leaves the hostessing to her sister Portia but turns to sleuthing again once she discovers the presence of an eerie ghost. Then, a house guest is murdered in the Sanctuary of Belmont Abbey and cousin Lucy confesses to the crime. Everyone is shocked, none more than Sir Cedric. Lord March commands Julia and Brisbane to work together to solve the mystery and acquit Lucy. A wicked villain tries to kill Lucy, Aunt Dorcas goes missing and Emma and a jewel thief is on the loose inside the Abbey. As Julia tries to find the clues that lead to the truth, she also uncovers evidence that her father and Brisbane have secrets they won't share. It angers her to be left out. She also believes that Brisbane's engagement is a sham since she's busy kissing Plum and Brisbane is prone to kissing Julia in dark corridors at night! Julia is determined not to let any man control her ever again. She figures out what she wants and how she has to get it and this includes Brisbane. The house guests are snowed in and Julia and Brisbane have until the snow melts before Scotland Yard steps in to solve the mystery or the March family will be disgraced and someone else may end up dead. This book is loaded with plots and subplots. The relationships are primary with the mystery coming second. I really didn't like Julia in this book. She was rude to her maid, cruel to her dog, unsympathetic to her poor cousins. Brisbane is still swoony and a bit brooding but less so than in the first book. He tries to keep his gothic secret at bay with hashish and there are some scenes of drug use. Brisbane's stubborn pride is starting to wear thin and I think he needs to just tell Julia how he feels because it's very obvious he cares. Julia too is annoyingly stubborn at times. She goes around collecting clues but in spite of her father's orders, her anger at Brisbane for keeping her out of his life propels her to search for answers without sharing information with him. A lot of disaster could have been avoided if they had confided in each other. The mysteries kept my attention for most of the book. The solving of the murder lacks action and suspense. It was rather a let down. The motive was really lame. The other mysteries are concluded too neatly and quickly. The real heart of the story is Julia's self-awareness but even that is told to the reader at the end. It is not as developed as in the first book. I mostly enjoyed the chemistry between Julia and Brisbane and her stubborn refusal to allow him to wallow in self-pity. I can't wait to find out what they get up to next. 

The Forgetful Lady : A Romance of Regency England by Jacqueline Diamond 

Lady Elizabeth Fairchild is a shy country bluestocking at heart. When her first Season was a disaster, she decided to adopt a new personality: bold, daring and witty. The gentlemen seem to like her new self but mostly as a friend. The one gentleman she loves, Lord Meridan, however, does not have any interest in her at all. At Meridan's fox hunt, Beth tries to impress him by riding a spirited horse. The event ends in disaster when Beth has a dangerous fall and loses her memory. At first Meridan is kind and caring but as Beth begins to recover, he quickly changes to cold and distant. Beth feels that Lord Meridan knows something about her which she can not remember. Beth is dragged off to London for her sister's first season where she becomes intimate with Mrs. Ariadne Sinclaire, a dashing widow who wants Lord Meridan for herself. As Ariadne becomes desperate to find a rich, young husband, she becomes more ruthless and Beth is the target of her anger. Only Sir Percy, a country neighbor remains faithful but his heart belongs to another who scorns him because he is without a fortune. Beth's heart is breaking over Lord Meridan's apparent refusal to believe the truth. Beth's family is furious with her for ruining their reputations. There doesn't seem to be any easy solution. This novel is too full of misunderstandings to appeal to me. The ending is rushed and unrealistic. I really liked Beth and could relate to being a shy bluestocking. I felt so sorry for her. However, I do not know what she ever saw in Lord Meridan in the first place. He's haughty and cruel and what Ariadne says to him about Beth in the end is true. There's no way this story could end happily. There are some mistakes in titles and styles that will make high sticklers not want to pick this one up. 

Rose White, Rose Red : A Romance of Georgian England by Daisy Vivian

The most exciting thing that ever happened to Blanche and Rosanna Montague is when a great bear of a boy came to their house injured, hungry and in need of refuge. He left before the girls got a chance to speak with him and so they dream of adventure still. Blanche is now sixteen and finished with school. She's been chosen to come to London to be a companion to her aunt Lady Sabella, an eccentric widow. Though Blanche's father is a scholar, her sees the value of giving his eldest daughter a chance to find a good husband. The husband Lady Sabella has in mind is her rakish nephew Lord Ravenspur. Blanche likes her aunt and takes to London society right away. She does not like Ravenspur. He dislikes country maidens and has an annoying tendency to tell her what to do. He brings out a bold argumentative side of Blanche she never knew existed. Meanwhile her sister Rosanna chafes at being stuck at school and so runs away wearing boys' clothing. Rosanna gets more of an adventure than she ever bargained for. Along the way she learns of the evil Earl King. The evil man has usurped the title of the MacQuahae, a Scottish lord and is hunting the man. Young Gareth McQuahae, the bear of a boy, is on the run too. He is assisted by Meg of Vinegar Yard, who wants to better herself. They become faithful friends of Lord Ravenspur who is dedicated to the Jacobite cause. Danger and adventure await all the young people when the Hanoverians close in on the Jacobites. The plot is very exciting and I couldn't put it down, however, the author assumes the reader knows English history and who and what the Jacobites are. I should know, but I didn't really remember so I would have liked more explanation. In this story characterization takes a back seat to plot though the characters are all well-drawn. I really liked and identified with Blanche. She grows and finds her true self in London and becomes a young lady who knows her own mind. Though she's young, I liked her and found her courage admirable. Rosanna is a fun character out of the Georgette Heyer canon. She seems much younger than she actually is though and her adventure seems to impossible that some may not like it. Meg is very street rat and some of her dialogue and descriptions may make some people uncomfortable. The author doesn't hold back about life in The Seven Dials but yet still manages to make the descriptions subtle enough not to be too graphic. Ravenspur is a great hero. I rather liked him and wish that his character could have been developed more. If you like Georgette Heyer's alpha heroes, you'll like Ravenspur. The romance is reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice but the ending is so rushed, the romance barely even gets off the ground. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the story and want to know what happens to the characters next.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Dark Mirror by M.J. Putney  (Dark Mirror 1) -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy/Romance

In 1803 Lady Victoria Mansfield is all that is expected of a daughter of an Earl until she turns sixteen and unexpectedly comes into forbidden magic powers. She thinks she can hide her powers from everyone but she's forced to make a decision between her comfort and another's safety and so she reveals herself as a mageling is front of all her friends and family. Tory is cut dead by most everyone, except her mother and sister. Her mother is too weak to stand up to Tory's father who demands Tory be sent away to Lackland Academy, a strict boarding school which "cures" magic. At first Tory finds life at Lackland oppressing and dull. She keeps her head down and tries to stay inconspicuous so she can return home soon. Then she discovers a group of rebel teachers and students who secretly work at practicing magic so they can protect Britain from French invasion if needs be. Tory finds her own inner strength and sense of purpose working with the Irregulars. She makes new friends, even commoners, and feels an instant connection with the handsome, mysterious Marquess of Allarde. One night Tory discovers the existence of a hidden mirror that takes her on a journey through time to 1940 where she meets Nick Rainford, a modern teenage descendant of one of the Irregulars. Though magic has all but been forgotten in 1940, Nicki believes Tory. He has to because he needs her help. Britain is at war once again and preparing for invasion. This time the invasion could be more deadly than in Tory's time and the Rainfords are desperate to learn all they can to help. Tory and her friends learn a powerful lesson about embracing their magic and must do all they can to save the day during the dangerous new war. I liked this book much more than I thought. At first it was difficult to read the snobbish attitudes towards those with magic and the beliefs about women but much of the story's action takes place outside of that world. I really admired Tory. At first I couldn't relate to her desire to return home to a cruel and stifling society that didn't accept her but I began to think differently once I realized what a difficult decision she had to make. Once she begins to study with the Irregulars she grows and learns a lot, and not just magic. Cynthia is a stereotypical snobby rich girl on the surface but she has surprising hidden depths. I really liked Elspeth who accepts who she is and embraces her magic. Allarde is a swoony sort of hero that I think teenage girls will love. The plot is engaging but starts and stops too often. I was expecting major action but instead there's lots of minor action with the major action happening in the last few chapters. Then I couldn't put the book down though I had the feeling I had read that part before... This book is a cute way to introduce teens to the Regency world and teach English history. Some of the morals are a bit heavy handed so this novel is not for every adult reader. I would recommend it mainly to 12-14 year old girls who have graduated from Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic series. I'm moving right along to the sequel because I have to know what happens next!

Dark Passage by M.J. Putney  (Dark Mirror 2) -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy/Romance

In this sequel to Dark Mirror, the story alternates points-of-view from Tory to Cynthia. Tory is madly in love with Allarde but she discovers that he has a strong magical bond to his family's ancestral estate. She has to decide whether she has the courage to push him aside for his own good or whether she can ask him to risk everything to be with her. Cynthia, alone and miserable on Christmas, is invited to a party at the Rainfords. She's reluctant to spend time with commoners but Lily Rainford has hearth magic and Cynthia is freezing. The farmhouse is warm and cozy and Cynthia is treated like a hero and a friend. Jack is as infuriating as ever, so why then does Cynthia feel sparks around him? Cynthia tries to push him away but Jack refuses to give up until he's unlocked the secrets of Cynthia's heart. When Nick Rainford suddenly appears through Merlin's Mirror, the Irregulars know that something must be dreadfully wrong in 1940. Nick has a premonition that he needs to rescue a Jewish scientist from the Nazis. Dr. Weiss is on the verge of a medical breakthrough that may save the life of one of Nick's loved ones. Tory, Allarde, Elspbeth, Jack and Cynthia reluctantly agree to help Nick find another magical mirror in France to rescue Dr. Weiss. They find themselves right in the middle of a Nazi compound and desperate to get back home. Their mission is filled with danger and they may not make it out alive. Half of this story is character-driven. I really liked the narrative from Cynthia's point-of-view. Tory and Allard are a bit boring and too noble to carry a whole story, though their romance is sweet and Allard still swoony. Cynthia's story is filled with fascinating secrets that are revealed slowly and a wonderful romantic build-up. The second half of the book is heart-in-your-throat, can't-put-it-down adventure. I stayed up way too late reading it to find out what happened next. Unlike the first book, once this adventure starts it doesn't stop until the end. It does seem a little silly that 5 kids head right into that kind of danger and mess with Nazis. I'm not sure if that's very foolish or very brave but I got caught up in the adventure so it didn't seem to ridiculous. The characters all sound and act much more mature than their ages which I will chalk up to their experiences but sometimes they sound more like adults. That's really my only criticism. Even the moral of the story wasn't as heavy as it was in the first. I'm dying to read the third volume and I may even download the short story about Allarde. This book contains a lot of violence and slightly more intense romantic feelings than the first. I'd recommend it for ages 14-16.

A Prince Among Frogs (Tales of the Frog Princess) by E.D. Baker -- Middle Grades Fantasy

In this final volume of the Tales of the Frog Princess, Princess Millie is preparing to wed her true love Audun but her mother is too busy being the Green Witch and running the kingdom to help plan the wedding. Plus, Millie's new baby brother Felix takes a lot of their mother's time and attention. Then Millie's Aunt Grassina and Uncle Heywood run off to deal with magical matters and never return, Emma and Eadric go off to look for them leaving Millie and Audun in charge. Millie isn't sure she can help anyone with magical matters not being a witch but when a wicked villain kidnaps baby Felix, Audun tries to convince Millie she can save the say. Millie learns she has strength she didn't know she possessed and with Audun by her side, she can do anything. This is a sweet, charming end to the series. It brings the story back to the roots of the original fairy tale The Frog Prince. It also brings back characters from previous novels and introduces some new quirky magical people. The mystery kept me engaged though I knew before Millie who the villain was. I couldn't put the book down until I found out how the villain was vanquished. The romance is so sweet. I love Audun. He's a perfect prince. The message is a very positive one for pre-teen girls who may need a little confidence boost. I enjoyed this series and would recommend it to kids, mostly girls, ages 11-14.