Friday, June 29, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Master of Heathcrest Hall (Magicians and Mrs. Quent) by Galen Beckett -- Historical Fantasy

In the conclusion to the trilogy the situation in Altania is dire. The red planet Cerephus comes ever closer and Ivy can not seem to solve the clues her father left for her. Even so, her husband is poised on the brink of greatness but his noble nature may end up causing the Quents to lose everything. Rafferdy has come into his own as a member of a secret arcane society but the rival magnates and the government are doing all they can to destroy what Rafferdy knows to be good. Eldyn enjoys life in the theater but misses Dercy. When he learns how to make impressions (engravings) he finally discovers how to do something worthy with his life, but at great personal cost. As the planets march towards conjunction when the Ashen can enter the world, Ivy and Rafferdy race to save the world with some unexpected help. This book resembles the second one in tone. It's non-stop, heart-pounding adventure. I had to remind myself to breathe on more than one occasion. Though the action was exciting and I couldn't put the book down, I'm still left a bit confused as to the political history of the realm. The magical history is finally explained after an awkward first chapter that doesn't feature any of the existing characters. There are lots of plots twists and characters finding their allegiance that it's hard to keep up with. Eldyn's story is mostly slow and boring but less so than in the previous two books. I really didn't like Ivy in this book. She has gone from a strong, intelligent woman to a weak, scared girl. There's no denying she is under a lot of stress and what she has to go through is enough to make any woman weep, but I did not think the way she handled her problems was in line with everything else we know about her. It was not until the end that the strong Ivy returned. I also felt the ending was anti-climatic. We're told what happened after it happens without being a part of the action. That, in my opinion, is poor storytelling. Plus something happened just before the climax of the story that also made the ending a bit anti-climatic. The epilogue takes place too soon. It's nice but the beginning is slow and like Ivy, I'm curious about certain genetic traits and I was hoping the epilogue would continue long enough to answer that question. The existing epilogue should have been the last chapter with an epilogue one year after that! There's room for a spin-off if the author so chooses or to leave it as is. This book is definitely worth the read for those who read the first two.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Mayhem and Miranda by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance

Miranda Carmichael is a companion to the eccentric Lady Wiston, who hires her servants from the street and  frequently dons Cossack trousers and does yoga. Miranda loves Lady Wiston but she is not fond of her employer's Pug dog who causes her to stumble in the park wherein she trips over a man lying in the grass. Upon waking to rescue Miranda from harm, the man proceeds to kiss her! Miranda is outraged but her anger quickly turns to sympathy as Mudge the Pug bites the man. Peter Daviot is a self-proclaimed adventurer returned to London from years abroad in America. He is enchanted by the beautiful, level-headed companion and pleased to discover that she works for his aunt whom he has come to London to sponge off. As Peter sets out to put his adventures on paper he comes to rely on Miranda for feedback and advice. When Lady Wiston's late husband's nephew Lord Snell comes to stay, Peter instantly distrusts the pompous, arrogant man and is angered by the fact that Miranda seems to admire him. When Peter's instincts prove correct, he lets his pride get in the way which may spell disaster for those he holds dear. This is another excellent novel by one of the best of the Regency comedy writers. I enjoyed the main characters immensely, especially Lady Wiston whose eccentricities made me giggle. I especially liked how the relationship between the hero and heroine develops. Their romance begins with mutual respect and then friendship and love for Lady Wiston. The hero is refreshing, being neither a rake nor a Corinthian. He's very different and very charming. The plot kept me reading late. I couldn't figure out an easy and happy solution. I was satisfied by the ending, though I think it was a bit rushed and did not really make a lot of sense but it was fun anyway. I recommend this to lovers of Georgette Heyer and the Zebra and Signet paperback Regencies. I was excited to find this book in a used bookshop and though it's not a keeper, it's definitely worth reading a second time.

Lydia or Love in Town by Clare Darcy -- Regency Romance

Kit, Viscount Northover returns to England after the war to take up his title and his country seat Great Hayland only to discover his house is occupied by people unknown to him! Lydia Leyland, her brother and her grandmother have come to Grandmama's native England from their home in New Orleans to try to repair the family fortunes. Lydia declares to Northover that she's going to marry a fortune no matter who or what tries to stand in her way. She'll do whatever it takes to rescue her family from ruin. Northover, amused by the outspoken young American, introduces the Leylands to the ton where Lydia quickly finds herself the object of attention. Her brother hopes to inherit his great-aunt's husband's fortune but Sir Basil's first wife's nephew, Mr. Pentony, also has designs on the fortune and he will stop at nothing to get it. Lydia has her hands full trying to keep her relatives out of trouble and avoid the nasty Mr. Pentony and the odiously rude Northover. Desperate to prove to Northover she can and will marry a fortune, she sets about to find more suitors causing mayhem and mischief wherever she goes. This is a traditional Clare Darcy novel written in the tradition of Georgette Heyer. It does not copy one of Heyer's plots though Lydia is a bit reminiscent of Sophy in The Grand Sophy. I really liked Lydia though at times she was a bit cold and unlikeable and other times was completely crazy. I felt bad for her that she was the only sensible member of the family. Her antics made me giggle. The romance hardly develops at all. Most of the interactions between the hero and heroine consist of arguments which conclude in Lydia running off. We're supposed to assume they fall in love based on mutual admiration of spirited personalities. The middle drags out a lot before picking up with a hackneyed plot towards the end and culminating in a slightly rushed romantic scene. Even though it is not the best Clare Darcy novel I enjoyed it.

An Object of Charity by Carla Kelly (in Homespun Regency Christmas) -- Regency Romance

Captain Michael Lynch returns to shore after the devastating loss of his first mate and his beloved ship. He's at shore emotionally, not knowing what will happen to him. When the orphaned niece and nephew of his first mate come seeking news of their uncle, Captain Lynch abruptly turns them away. Then realizing they have nowhere to go, he invites them home to his mother's house for Christmas - a place he has not been in 22 years. With the help of the lovely, spirited Sally Partlow, Captain Lynch learns to open his heart. This story is low on plot and big on dialogue which makes it a tad bit slow. The characters are a bit hard to relate to. Captain Lynch is a hard man and Sally is too beautiful, too kind and too selfless. The message is extremely heavy handed and very moral in tone. I know it's a Christmas story but it was a bit much for me. I did not have time to read the other stories in the anthology.

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Union Quilters: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel by Jennifer Chiaverini -- Historical Fiction

This novel is a companion to The Runaway Quilt and The Sugar Camp Quilt. The residents of Water's Ford, Pennsylvania remain fiercely loyal to the Union as the first shots of the Civil War are fired. When Lincoln calls for volunteers to fight the rebels, the men answer the call. Quiet, scholarly Thomas Nelson leaves his beloved wife Dorothea and baby Abigail to march off to fight the rebels, taking along one of his wife's famous quilts. His brother-in-law, Dr. Jonathan Granger enlists as a surgeon while Abel Wright desperately wants to fight to free the slaves but is denied because of the color of his skin. Abel refuses to give up and vows to find a way to save his country. Hans Bergstrom refuses to march off to war. He doesn't believe violence is ever an answer. He is form in his convictions, causing strife between himself and his outspoken sister and adoring wife.The women left behind must deal with the agonizing loss of their loved ones, especially Gerda Bergstrom who isn't allowed to publicly share her feelings for Jonathan. She channels all her anger and frustration at being left behind into scathing newspaper editorials while Dorothea decides to turn the quilting circle's efforts into raising funds for the soldiers from Water's Ford. While the men fight on the front, the women on the homefront struggle to find their voices and do their duty to save the Union. Though this book is a companion, enough of past events are referenced so the book stands alone. The plot is not quite as compelling as The Runaway Quilt. The story jumps between the heads of Gerda, Dorothea and Constance Wright as well as the heads of the three men. The changes are a bit jarring. The story would have been better told in straight omniscient point-of-view. Also, the middle of the book is taken up with summarizing the battles and telling a little of how the characters were involved. I skimmed these sections as I have read extensively about the Civil War both primary and secondary sources. I was compelled to read on to learn who survived and how the women back in Water's Ford dealt with the devastating effects of the war. I liked the concept of exploring how women found their voices. It's a subject I've read about and written on quite a lot. However, I feel that the author wrote from a contemporary perspective giving the characters issues to think about and discuss when they probably would not have thought about. It's difficult to really know what women at the time were thinking, outside of the handful of well-known women who wrote and spoke publicly. I liked the characters and learning about what happened to them since I read and enjoyed the previous two novels. I empathized with Gerda the most. I liked her outspokenness but felt sometimes she was a bit too harsh, especially towards Charlotte. I also really enjoyed and related to Dorothea. Of all of the women, she sounds the most realistic. Constance isn't as prominent as the other ladies so the reader doesn't get to know her as well. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy studying women's history, the Civil War and those who have read the previous two historical novels dealing with the 19th century Bergstroms and their friends.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer -- Historical Fiction

Harry Smith, Brigade Major on the Duke of Wellington's staff is a lucky devil. He's survived more than any one man has a right to despite his hot head. He's a "come on!" officer, leading the men fearlessly into battle. After the seize of Badajos, the French have destroyed the town leaving a wake of rapine. Harry is disgusted, especially when two Spanish ladies ask for help from English officers. The ladies have nothing except the clothes on their backs. The older lady fears for the safety of her young sister who has just left the convent. When Harry takes one look at Juana, it's love at first sight. Juana is pretty, young and vivacious. All the men adore her but she has eyes only for Harry. Harry decides that the best thing to do is marry Juana and the young lady readily agrees. She isn't content to be sent back to England with the other officers' wives nor does she wish to FOLLOW the drum - no - Juana insists on riding right alongside Harry wherever he marches and she'll be there waiting when he returns. Sparks often fly between the hot headed young married couple, especially when Juana becomes jealous, but through it all, she's by his side with her faithful horse Tiny and a menagerie of other pets, officers and staff. This book is more of a history than a novel. Much of it is taken from Harry Smith's autobiography. Both Harry and Juana were real people and this is their story. The story, if you can call it that, moves very very slowly. There isn't really much of a traditional plot. Much of this book describes the endless marches and battles with the French and other matters of war. It's basically a summary of Harry's war activities. What stands out is the dialogue, as witty as usual and some of it real. Harry and Juana's relationship provides the comic relief in this war story. I skimmed a lot of the graphic battle scenes, especially with Waterloo. Heyer doesn't spare her reader any of the bloody details. I would recommend this one for the most dedicated military history buffs and those who are determined to read every Georgette Heyer novel.

Miss Prestwick's Crusade by Anne Barbour -- Regency Romance

Miss Helen Prestwick has journeyed from her home in Portugal to England to crusade for her newborn nephew William to take his rightful place as the Earl of Camberwell. She is convinced that William's father's cousin will not want to give up the title and wealth he has inherited. When she, along with the baby and her duenna, show up at Camberwell Castle, they are welcomed by Edward if not his aunt and cousin. Edward Beresford is a quiet, scholarly gentleman who never wished to become Earl. When he sees the beautiful Helen, he is instantly smitten and invites her to stay while he investigates baby William's claim to the title. When he learns that Helen is an art expert and her father is a noted art dealer, he invites Helen to stay and catalog the family's collection of art and objects d'art. Helen is suspicious of the faux Earl's motives. Surely he can't be as nice as he seems. Edward's Aunt Emily (William's grandmother) and cousin Artemis are kind if a bit silly but Aunt Emily's brother Stamford Welladay positively loathes Helen and mistrusts her every move. As Helen and Edward become close friends, the friendship threatens to turn into something deeper. Helen feels she must put a stop to that before her dark secrets become known and Edward turns from her forever. meanwhile, come of the treasures seem to have gone missing and Helen is certain she'll take the blame. Can she trust Edward to do what is right and fair or will he turn Helen, Miss Barnstaple and baby William out onto the street? The plot of this book is fairly simplistic and very predictable. It moves along very slowly since the hero and heroine pretty much fall in love and first sight and become friends quickly. The plot actually gets a lot better AFTER the kiss/misunderstanding plot point. (This is not a spoiler). I liked that the hero and heroine became friends based on mutual scholarly interests and respect. I liked Helen because she is mature and responsible. I also liked how she is flawed and has issues that prevent her from achieving happiness. I did not like how long it takes her to get over those issues because it made the story repetitive and a bit boring. I wanted to love her but by the end of the story I felt she was too self-sacrificing and a bit annoying because of it. I did like how the hero comes to broaden his thinking and realize what he has done wrong. The quiet hero makes a change from the usual rakes but personally I love to read about rakes and spirited heroines because it makes for a better story. My biggest pet peeve about this book is the dialogue. The characters often utter "um" and "uh" which is realistic but difficult to read. The romance is clean but a bit more sensual than chaste kisses. The hero dwells a bit on how the heroine looks and how she makes him feel. This story would have made a better short story or novella. If you like improbable stories, clean slightly sensual romances, quiet heroes and art, I highly recommend this book. I found this book a bit too slow and repetitive for my enjoyment. I didn't love it but I didn't hate it. I bought it for 50 cents at a library book sale and it was worth the price but this one will not be staying on my bookshelf.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter

Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter 
by Susan Witting Albert
Historical Cozy Mystery Series

The Tale of Briar Bank (Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter 5)

December 1909: snow is falling softly over the village of Sawrey and Beatrix Potter longs with all her heart to be there to experience the peaceful snowfall, supervise renovations at her newly purchased second  farm and experience the Christmas celebrations in the twin villages. Defying her cantankerous mother, Beatrix heads off to the Land Between the Lakes with her guinea pig companions Nutmeg (an excitable young female) and Thackeray (a grouchy old gentleman who loves books and hates travel). Upon arriving at Hill Top Farm, Miss Potter discovers she is snowed in and there's no way of communicating with or returning to London. That suits her just fine for the moment. There's some excitement in Sawrey though, a local gentleman, Mr. Wickstead was found dead and there are rumors of a curse caused by his digging up a buried treasure. Mr. Wickstead was a collector of antiquities and a friend of Mr. Potter's. Beatrix is saddened by his death and surprised to discover Mr. Wickstead's long-lost sister Jane is the sole beneficiary of his estate. Mr. Wickstead's Fox Terrier Pickles knows the truth about his owner's death but no one will listen to him, not even the other village animals. There's another who knows the truth, Bailey Badger, a solitary creature who has an extraordinary story to tell his friends at The Brockery. Meanwhile Caroline Longford is blossoming under her new governess but still under the iron rule of her dragon of a grandmother. Miss Potter hopes the addition of two new guinea pigs to Caroline's family will help cheer the girl. Alas, Thackeray has other ideas. Also the Sutton family home is about to be foreclosed on and young Deidre Malone is determined not to lose her new home. Since Mr. and Mrs. Sutton are not very practical people, though very kind, Deidre takes it upon herself to save the day. This is the most unusual of the Cottage Tales thus far. Not only does it contain the usual mystery plot and the talking animal plot, there's a new creature introduced to the story that really stretches the credibility of the plot. The book cover illustration gives it away so readers won't be too surprised to discover the big secret. The secret of buried treasure would have been better without this new addition. There's another mystery that Miss Potter figures out that I felt was predictable. Having past experiences, I would think the villagers would be wary and aware of off-comers. As in the previous book, the narrator speaks directly to the audience, guiding the reader to and from various scenes. I found this very off-putting. I prefer to be a silent witness to events, not a silent witness being told what scenes to witness and where I am during the action. I think the author is attempting to mimic Beatrix Potter, E. Nesbitt and other children's writers of the period. It doesn't work in a modern, adult novel. Aside from a death scene, the book is family friendly. It's a nice, simple read that lacks action. I did not feel particularly compelled to find out what happens next. As usual, the descriptions and period detail are excellent but the story is weak. The series seems to be quickly losing momentum.

The Tale of Applebeck Orchard

When Miss Potter arrives in Sawrey in the late summer of 1910 she is surprised to hear the village has been shocked with the news that Mr. Harmsworth, a local farmer, has blocked the footpath that runs through his property. He claims it is in retaliation for someone burning his haystack. He's convinced it was The Ramblers and determined to punish them by blocking access to the path. The villagers, human and animal alike are stunned and determined that the path shall reopen. Captain Woodcock and Constable Braithwaite try their best but they're missing a few key witnesses who would tell them they saw a ghost just before the haystack burned. Caroline Langford, now 16, dreams of becoming a famous composer but as usual her grandmother has difficulty with the idea of letting go. Can Miss Potter help? Mr. Harmsworth's niece Gilly, an unpaid servant in his dairy, is searching for a better life. When Miss Potter hears about Gilly she is of course determined to help the sad girl. Romance is also in the air for the Big Folk. Poor Beatrix must do something about Mr. Heelis and his feelings for her. Bosworth Badger has a dilemma of a different kind. He's growing older and more forgetful. He needs an heir to inherit the Badger Badge of Honor but his top choice, Thorn, has gone roaming and hasn't been heard from since. He'd like to wait for Thorn but there's a possibility the boy will never return. Who else can he choose? The answer seems obvious to you and me but the book deals with issues about gender roles at the time and the capabilities of women. I found this book rather boring. I figured out who the arsonist was right away and didn't care any more after that. I also realized the solution to Bosworth's problem. That plot ended neatly and exactly how I thought it would. I was mostly interested to find out what had happened to Thorn. I also did not enjoy the author's inserted comments about what happens to Beatrix Potter and recapping of past events. She could have included a forward and afterward for that purpose. The narrator's addressing of the audience also bothered me a lot. I've read many Victorian novels and I don't like the style. I did enjoy the sweet romances in this book and I felt sorry for Beatrix being torn in three different directions. I hope (I know) she will find her happiness in a future book. Overall though, this book is the slowest and weakest of the series. 

The Tale of Oat Cake Crag

Miss Potter has returned to Sawrey to escape her cantankerous parents, leaving her brother Bertram to care for them. The peace she seeks is quite cut up by the appearance of a new flying machine over Lake Windemere. This machine, known as a hydroplane, is supposed to be the latest thing in military weaponry but the villagers HATE it. The pilot flies all day disturbing everyone and driving everyone crazy, even the animals. The Professor is determined to find out what manner of animal this creature is and try to stop it. Thorvald thinks it may be the mysterious sea serpent or dragon that was supposedly spotted in the lake many years ago. The villagers are angry when the project's financial backer does not turn up at a community meeting. When the animals find out why they wonder whether someone meant him harm and if the humans can figure it out without help. Beatrix Potter soon gets caught up with her friends and village gossip. Her friend Grace Lythecoe is planning to marry the vicar soon but she confides in her friend Beatrix that she has been receiving threatening notes that may impede the marriage. Grace asks Beatrix to investigate and get to the bottom of it. Meanwhile the young people have turned their attentions to grown-up matters. Deidre Malone has a happy secret she can't wait to tell Miss Potter and Caroline Longford dreams of becoming a composer and a happy wife and mother while Jeremy Crossfield seems content to teach at Sawrey School and draw. As usual the village gossips have discovered Miss Potter's secret romance. She worries about the news getting back to her parents and what she will do about it if it does. Finally, there are some real mysteries in this book. I very much enjoyed this book because the mysteries kept me interested and engaged in the book until the end. I also really liked the secret engagement plot and how Beatrix handled it. She was such an incredible woman and I really admire her. The animals take a back seat to the humans this time and their adventures are minimal. The narrator continues to talk to the audience and step out of her story to explain facts. There's less direct speaking this time but several paragraphs of information on the hydroplane that should have just been included in the author's note. This book is definitely one of the best in the series.

The Tale of Castle Cottage

Beatrix Potter arrives in Sawrey in July 1913 for a much needed rest and to finish her newest book. She's been sick and tired and is feeling unmotivated. She dearly wants to marry her beloved Will but her parents still object and their new home, Castle Cottage, is being renovated. To add to her stress, her friend Sarah Barwick suspects Miss Potter's contractor of stealing from her. When Miss Potter inspects the work site, she finds a bunch of lazy workmen and discovers her contractor has been spending most of his time at the pub flirting with the pretty new bar maid. Beatrix asks Will for help but he seems distracted. Perhaps she had better call off the engagement and allow him to go free. Will Heelis loves Beatrix Potter with all his heart and can't stand to see her so drained. His family doesn't much approve of the match either. He wonders whether he should just break off the engagement to relieve some of her burdens. How ever can they live happily ever after? He doesn't have much time to spend with her for he is busy investigating a series of thefts from some of his clients. Lady Longford is also missing something - a very rare and valuable 1000 year old book that belonged to her late husband. It would be worth a fortune, if she could find it! Then when Mr. Adcock, the only honest carpenter, is found dead, the village is rife with gossip. The doctor's investigation reveals that all isn't what it seems to be and Mr. Adcock's death and the mysterious thefts may be related. The animals discover the village has been infested with rats - large, nasty brutes who are stealing from the Big People. Tabitha Twitchett has resigned her presidency of the Village Cat Council and left Crumpet to deal with the matter. Poor Crumpet just doesn't know what to do! Not all is gloomy, however, a young couple welcomes the birth of their first child and Bosworth Badger is enjoying his retirement knowing that his successor is more than worthy. In this book, the humans carry most of the plot with Beatrix Potter being the primary character. The other characters, even the animals, are all secondary. The secret to some of the mystery is revealed and some the reader can guess but the story is interesting and engaging. All loose ends are tied up and we learn how all our favorite minor characters have ended up. The ending is sweet, at least until the readers learns the true facts which were more bittersweet than fiction. The narrator doesn't spend too much time addressing the reader and there are only two passages that step out of the story. It's not too cutesy or maybe I finally got used to the style or am in the right frame of mind. I loved the rare book subplot, having recently studied rare books and done a report on Anglo-Saxon literature. My only complaint abut this novel is that I hoped Will Heelis would be man enough to stand up to the Potters but I understand the author wanted to be true to his real-life personality. Anyway, I really enjoyed this final volume in the series. I'm a little sad to see the series end.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Dark Inquiry (Lady Julia Grey) by Deanna Raybourn -- Historical Mystery

Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane are adjusting to married life in Town. It is still difficult for these strong willed individuals to come together. To add to the tension, Brisbane has hired Julia's brother Plum to help out on small cases. Julia is learning all she can so that Brisbane will allow her to investigate with him as well. She also has a new hobby suited to her curious nature. Then Julia discovers that her eldest brother Lord Bellmont (Monty) consulted with Brisbane and Brisbane kept the meeting a secret. Julia is worried that Brisbane is in trouble, so while Plum is off investigating the mysterious disappearance of Lord Mortlake's emeralds, Julia dresses in gentleman's clothing and trails Brisbane to the Spirit Club. Brisbane is nowhere to be seen but Julia attends Madame Seraphine's seance anyway. She's intrigued but intellectually knows the lady is a fake. Julia finally finds Brisbane and the pair witness the tragic, untimely death of Madame Seraphine. Brisbane reveals the reason for Bellmont's visit and the intrigue is tied to Madame Seraphine. Julia and Brisbane have to find something important before the family name and the British government are ruined forever. Julia heads off in her reckless fashion while Brisbane grudgingly admires her for discovering information he did not know. The investigation will reveal an espionage plot and show Julia that she isn't prepared for the frightening reality of private inquiry. Most of this book is relationship-driven which I like best about the series. I really enjoyed the first half of the book. There were many light-heated moments that made me laugh out loud. It also finally seemed that Julia and Brisbane talked about their issues and came to an understanding. That really pleased me. Halfway through the mystery picks up and we're back in familiar territory with Julia not having learned anything at all. I was ready to kill Julia myself towards the end for being reckless. By the end of the book Brisbane reveals his true nature and some secrets he's been keeping. He is very much like Heathcliff and Julia admits she was always rather fond of Heathcliff. The mystery is very slow and the big reveal is very random and didn't seem to fit with the rest of the book. I was wrong about the murderer but I did know that a certain person was the key to the story. I think Brisbane, as an experienced inquiry agent would have though of that and known everything already. The mystery's conclusion was heart-stopping and very somber which I did not like. I was not so thrilled with the dark tone of the plot took made me less enthused about this novel than I was at the beginning. Silent on the Moor remains my favorite.

Regency Charade by Margaret Mayhew -- Regency Romance

Katherine Spenser's family has lived at Kielder Castle for 300 years and she's determined that Spensers will live there for 300 more, despite the fact that the old castle is crumbling down around her ears. When a handsome, rakish stranger, Mr. Drew, arrives he brings shocking news. Katherine's recently deceased brother Harry gambled away Kielder and now Mr. Drew is the new owner! Mr. Drew is handsome and charming and has everyone on his side, even Kate's younger brother and her best friend Letty. Katherine is determined to keep Kielder in the family even if it means resorting to dirty tricks.. Her persistent sometimes suitor Vernon disapproves of Kate's methods but the stubborn young woman is a force to be reckoned with. Only Mr. Drew seems to be a match for Kate's wits. This is a comedy of manners in the tradition of Georgette Heyer. The plot moves along at a decent pace, it's a little plodding towards the middle but the humor makes up for it. I really liked Kate and could identify with her loyalty. Her behavior is rather childish but I can't say that if I were her, I wouldn't do the same thing. I felt bad for her because she was a woman in a man's world and was able to use her brain to get what she wanted instead of having hysterics. At first I didn't care for the hero, especially not in the first chapter, but the longer he stayed in Northumberland, the more I liked him. He's a typical Regency sporting hero and a bit underdeveloped but in a book this length he's just fine. The relationship between the main characters develops nicely and ends in a VERY Georgette Heyer manner. The last page could have been written by Miss Heyer. I love the meeting of minds relationships that Miss Heyer was known for so I was happy to come across this novel that I hadn't yet read. It's definitely one of the better copycats and well worth the read. If you can find it, it may even be one for the keeper shelf. 

Song of My Heart by Kim Vogel Sawyer -- Inspirational Historical Romance

When Sadie Wagner receives news from her cousin Sid that his new hometown of Goldtree, Indiana has need of a clerk in a female-owned store and there's also an opera house in need of a singer, it seems like an answer to her prayer. Her beloved Papa is bedridden with an injury and the family needs the money. Sadie is eager to give back to her Papa who has given her so much and use her Fod-given talent for singing to make people happy. She arrives in Goldtree eager and excited to begin a new life and happy to see her old pal Sid. Sid is excited to have Sadie come to Goldtree. He dreams of a future together beyond mere friendship but doesn't know how to express himself easily. Thad McKane has recently been hired as the town sheriff to catch bootleggers. He knows first hand the evils of alcohol, for his father was a drunkard. Thad knows Jesus and knows that as soon as his job in Goldtree is done, he's off to become a preacher to atone for his father's sins. When he meets Sadie, he's instantly smitten with the beautiful, good-hearted girl who is also a friend of Jesus. Sadie enjoys working for the eccentric Baxter twins. At first she loves singing in the underground opera house, eager for the day when Mr. Baxter (brother of the twins) can build a regular opera house. Asa Baxter knows a good thing when he sees it and this young songbird is exactly where he wants her : front and center to distract anyone from anything else he might be up to. When he tells Sadie to learn some new songs for a special male-only night, she feels uncomfortable with the new repertoire. She also doesn't feel right wearing the bawdy dress Mr. Baxter picked out for her, but her family needs the money. If she quits, she'll have to leave Goldtree and leave Thad whom she has grown to love. Soon she finds herself involved in something far greater than she understands and it may jeopardize everything she's every worked for. This sappy, sentimental novel moves very slowly towards a predictable conclusion. The author lets the reader in on the villain's secret right away so there's no suspense until the end when Sadie becomes involved. I guessed the villain even before it was revealed so it made the plot extra tedious. I also guessed at Sid's feelings before they were revealed and as with the villain's plot, the author reveals Sid's feelings early on in the novel. Thad and Sadie's romance develops nicely and sweetly but I found them a bit too sickly sweet. I didn't really like either of them. They're self-righteous and think they know what's best for everyone. I did feel bad for Sadie being in a tough spot. She had a difficult decision and she was too naive to know how to deal with it. The author doesn't say that Kansas was a dry state until after the characters spout their overly moral feelings towards liquor and gambling which completely turned me off, though I am not interested in either of those things. I understand the reasons behind the Nineteenth Century Temperance movement and late in the novel I discovered that the villain is catering to men with addictive personalities so then I understood Sadie's feelings better. I think this book is best for Christians who enjoy sappy Inspirational romances. It is not good enough for someone who merely prefers clean romances. This is the second book by this publisher I have read and likely the last.

Monday, June 4, 2012

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Fair Game: A Regency Comedy of Manners by Daisy Vivian 

When Lady Augusta Maybn's brother dies leaving his two daughters virtually penniless, Lady Augusta decides to take their future into her own hands by opening a gaming spa. Her eldest niece, Lavinia, is a Countess in her own right though she prefers traipsing through the countryside with her dogs. Lavinia's younger sister is a ravishing beauty who will certainly make a splash in London if only Lady Augusta can get enough money for the girls' comeout. Her plan takes her to the fashionable town Cheyne Spa where she becomes reacquainted with her old friend, the Duke of Towans. He agrees to help Lady Augusta launch the girls, little realizing what her plan is. He's also quite busy playing the go-between with the Prince Regent and his illegal wife Maria Fitzherbert. Soon Lady Augusta is in the middle of the feud as well and it may spell the ruin of her dreams. There are several pairings in this novel but no real romance. Not much happens and much of the story is taken up with the plot of the Prince and Mrs. Fitzherbert. There are long passages of dialogue between the characters and these real-life people which really do not have much point and do not advance the plot at all. The major characters flit around on the edges of the story and do not exhibit any depth or character growth. It's impossible to care for any of them because the reader does not really get to know the character. The plot comes to an abrupt halt leaving room for the sequel. Return to Cheyne Spa should have been the basis for this novel along with the central romance and that would have been enough. This is Daisy Vivian's worst novel.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal -- Fantasy Regency Romance

This book is the tale of two sisters : one extremely pretty and the other very accomplished in the womanly arts. In the world of this novel, womanly accomplishments include pulling strands of glamour from the ether and stitching and weaving them together to create artistic illusions. Jane Ellsworth loves creating beauty for she lacks all the physical beauty that attracts men to her sister Melody. Melody is much younger and far more sentimental than Jane. Melody dreams of marriage and a comfortable home, preferably with their neighbor Mr. Dunkirk. Mr. Dunkirk also dreams of a comfortable home and greatly admires Jane's accomplishments with glamour. His attentions bring out a rivalry between the two sisters, one that intensifies once their wealthy neighbor Lady FitzCameron invites her attractive nephew Captain Livingston and an itinerant artist, Mr. Vincent to stay. While Jane befriends Mr. Dunkirk's young sister Beth, she ignores her own sister possibly to the peril of  both young ladies or at least their reputations. Jane wars with insecurity and jealously versus doing the right thing. She also struggles with her relationships with the male characters and finding her passion.This is a very quiet book along the lines of Sense and Sensibility. Readers of Jane Austen's novels will recognize characters and situations, but in this book there is a much more realistic undercurrent of jealously between the two sisters. Plain Jane thinks she is ugly and will never attract a husband. She's extremely self-deprecating which made me wants to slap her at times. She is almost too good yet I cared for her and wanted her to be happy. I could relate to Jane more than Melody. Melody is young and a bit foolish but she has depth, more than Marianne Dashwood. I didn't much like her though, she reminded me too much of my own younger sister. Most of the characters in the novel are taken from Jane Austen or are typical of period novels. The male characters are better developed and more original for the most part. The lack of original characterization makes the finale of the plot predictable but also frustrating because there's little development between two characters who come together at the end. The plot is interesting though I wish the author had explained the glamour better. It's a bit murky, especially in the beginning, but more explanation is given as the novel progresses. It would be nice to know from whence the glamour comes and how exactly one pulls it out of the ether, how it is used and why women seem to have more education in glamour than men. The romance is quiet - more of a meeting of true minds than a grand sweeping passion, which I really liked. The characters share a passion which brings them together. I wish that the romance had developed a bit more and wasn't so rushed though. The author writes (and spells) in the manner of Jane Austen. I liked the writing style a lot but it does make the story slow and novices may have a hard time getting into the book because of the structure. Despite the flaws, I enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading more by this author. I would recommend this book to Janeites and those who frequently read Victorian and Edwardian novels. Those looking for high fantasy or passion will be disappointed. This book may also appeal to a young adult bluestockings and Janeites.

The House on Durrow Street by Galen Beckett -- Historical Fantasy

The Quents and the Lockwells are settling in to the old house on Durrow Street but it is a bit eerie and unsettling. Ivy is fascinated by the mysterious old house and the history behind some of the hidden wonders which have been uncovered during renovation. When she discovers her father's journal, she relishes the chance to learn more about him and his magickal studies. The days are growing shorter and the mysterious new red planet is coming ever closer. Ivy learns that her father left more clues for her to follow to unlock the secrets of the unusual astrographical events in order to prevent Altania from falling into permanent darkness. Ivy also enters Society and makes friends in high places who encourage her to think about power and position. The young Miss Lockwells look forward to their coming out and Lily hopes Eldyn Garritt will be at her party. Eldyn is busy trying to provide for himself and his sister by clerking for the church. Sashie grows ever pious but Eldyn is torn. By day he works hard tallying numbers but at night he's drawn to the glittering world of the illusionists, particularly his friend Dercy. As Dercy tries to teach Eldyn to create illusions, Eldyn discovers some surprising truths about himself. Eldyn remains determined to bring himself and his sister into the light and everyone knows the theater is full of sin and corruption, not to mention the unusual proclivities of the illusionists. Can something so beautiful be so wrong even if it makes Eldyn happy? Does it matter what the church thinks? Someone seems to think it matters for illusionists have been turning up dead and blinded. Meanwhile Rafferdy is busy avoiding his duties and avoiding Ivy. His father is gravely ill and so Mr. Rafferdy takes his father's seat in Assembly. The Magnates are divided over the issue of succession and what to do about the Wyrdword Risings. At first Rafferdy wants nothing to do with any of it but then he is befriended other frivolous young Magnates who invite him to participate in a secret magickal society. He isn't sure what to make of the society but when he uncovers dangerous secrets he doesn't understand he may have need of magick after all. The author borrows elements of 16th-19th century English history in order to create this unique world. The plot hinges on politics and power as well as the teachings of the church which strongly resembles the Catholic Church. The unusual solar system of Altania is a bit complicated and difficult to understand but I was drawn to Ivy's journey of discovery and the mysteries she has to solve. This part of the book is the most unique and the strongest plot. I saw things that Ivy didn't and I couldn't care for her as much in this novel because she had less reason to be so naive and trusting. Eldyn's plot bored me. I've heard the same debate played out endlessly in real life. It got very repetitive reading about it in fiction. I felt Eldyn was a bit too whiny and stupid to really feel sorry for. Again I figured out things he didn't and wondered why it took him so long to see what he didn't want to see all along. It also took way too long for his plot to intersect with the main magical mystery. It almost seemed like an entirely different story set in the same world. Rafferdy's plot is also interesting because it parallels British history and politics but with a magical twist. His plot is intertwined with Ivy's for most of the book and secrets are revealed and more questions raised. I also found the idea of unrequited love of a man unusual and interesting. I quite like Rafferdy and his coming-of-age story. I would recommend this book to grown-up Harry Potter fans and Lord of the Rings fans. It works OK as a stand alone but better as a sequel.