Saturday, July 28, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . . 

Louisa and the Missing Heiress (Louisa May Alcott Mysteries 1) by Anna McLean -- Historical Mystery

In 1854 Louisa May Alcott is just another poor wannabe writer. By day she teaches school but by night she sits in the attic and writes "blood and thunder" tales hoping to become published. When her old friend Dorothy returns home from a honeymoon in Europe, Louisa is anxious to see her friend. When Dorothy turns up to her tea party late and distracted, Louisa becomes worried about her friend and promises to come have a private chat with Dorothy. Then Dorothy turns dead up in the river and appears to have been murdered. Louisa can not rest until she solves the mystery for her friend. Going off alone to investigate, only sometimes by accompanies by her friend Sylvia, Louisa's search for answers takes her to the wharves, a home for unwed mothers and to one of the best homes on Beacon Hill before she puts together the clues and solves the mystery. I expected the mystery to be a real life version of one of Louisa's blood and thunder tales but fortunately it was not. It isn't a "cozy" mystery either. The mystery gripped me until the very end even though I figured it all out long before Louisa did. The clues were there, Louisa just had to put them together. While I know a lot about Louisa, I'm not certain this portrait of her as a sleuth is accurate to her personality but certainly she was very energetic and clever and I suppose she could have solved mysteries if she wanted to. I'm not sure she would be instructing unwed mothers how not to be in that position in the future (I think that task would have been left to her mother or another married woman) or attending a birth. Those were the only major problems that stuck out for me. There are also some parts of the mystery that stretch credibility but I suppose it could happen. If you are interested in the seamy side of Victorian Boston, this novel is for you. The details are amazing and I really felt like I was right there in 1850s Boston instead of near 21st century Boston. The book also did a good job of describing life in the Alcott household with a vegetarian philosopher father absentminded and barely aware of what is going on and a loving, patient mother struggling to care for her children. I would recommend this series to fans of Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen Mysteries, Kate Ross's Julian Kestral mysteries and Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily mysteries. If you're curious to know more about Louisa and what could have been, this book is for you too. I think I liked it well enough to read the second book in the series from the library but possibly not enough to buy the third book.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal --  Historical Fantasy

Newly married Jane Vincent is enjoying the life of an itinerant artist painting murals for wealthy patrons, who now include the Prince Regent himself. What Jane doesn't like is how her husband gets all the credit because he's a man and she's assumed to be incapable of thinking of anything of importance. Then the Vincents head off to Belgium for a honeymoon and to see M. Chastain, a famed glamourist who has invented a new way to weave the folds of glamour. In Belgium, Jane's opinions are more valued and she enjoys, though is not entirely comfortable with, the easy manners of the Belgians. While in Belgium, Jane is inspired to create a process for recording glamour in glass. Vincent is excited and proud of Jane's skill but it may not be feasible given the properties of glassmaking. Still, it doesn't hurt to try and try Jane does until she's exhausted. While Jane is recuperating, her husband takes a commission in Brussels. It sounds boring but Jane longs to be by her husband's side. When he abruptly pushes her away, she begins to suspect him of having secrets and fears he no longer loves her. Then Napoleon escapes from Elba and Jane soon discovers just how important she really is. This sequel to Shades of Milk and Honey is less Jane Austen and more Georgette Heyer but more realistic. Aside from the magic, Jane and Vincent's marriage seems to be portrayed very realistically. I loved that Jane and Vincent worked together as true partners. Jane is still extremely insecure which causes a bit of a misunderstanding (thankfully they have avoided the traditional BIG misunderstanding). Then they actually talk about their problems and her insecurities and he reveals his true feelings. The plot about glamour in glass gripped me from the very beginning and I couldn't wait to see how Jane's experiments turned out. Then the plot turned to a different direction and then in another directions. I wanted more about glamour and the experimentation with it and less domestic problems and less adventure. What I loved about the first book is that the didn't have to save the world with magic. Some parts of the plot were cliched and predictable. I guessed Vincet's secret right away and I think as clever as Jane is, she should have figured it out. She also should have figured out sooner what I realized about a certain person whom she trusted. I also sort of expected what happened to Jane at the end but felt that it was a bit too much and I really didn't care for that plot at all. I really liked how the properties and techniques of glamour were explained.Another thing I enjoyed about this novel is that the author wrote with a Jane Austen dictionary without sounding archaic, plodding or silly. It reads very easily and a fast reader could easily finish the book in a day or two. I'm still intrigued by glamour and hoping for more of it in the next book. (Which I hope will be soon!) The cover, as beautiful as it is, is all wrong. The woman on the cover is too pretty to be Jane and the bubbles look more like soap than glass.

A Broken Vessel (Julian Krestrel #2) by Kate Ross -- Historical Mystery

 One evening in Haymarket, Sally plying her trade, picks up three men whom she nicknames Bristles, Blue Eyes and Blinkers. Bristles is timid and hasn't been with a woman in a long time, Blue Eyes is rich, as good looking as sin and is considerate of his health. Sally takes a liking to them both. Blinkers (so named on account of his spectacles) is a tough customer who roughs Sally up and leaves her for dead but not before she got in a good whack of her own and pockets his handerchief as she did with the others. Sally picks herself up and heads back to work where the next customer she solicits turns out to be her own brother. Sally's brother is none other than Dipper, valet and friend to Julian Kestrel, the notable dandy. Dipper takes Sally home to get her patched up and when Julian arrives, he is kind and caring. Sally tries her hardest to win him over but he resists - for now anyway! Julian believes Sally should return the handkerchiefs until a mysterious note hidden inside one of them falls out. The note is from a girl who is in trouble and not all of it her own making. Julian feels they have to investigate and find the woman and help her. They must be discreet so Sally doesn't get into trouble and because Julian is acquainted with "Blue Eyes", the son of a notable peer, Julian takes an especial interest in the case. Their search leads them to a Reformatory for prostitutes, a murder and a monumental scandal that shakes Society. The mystery also reveals the true natures of each of Sally's conquests. Sally falls completely in love with Julian but can she convince him of his feelings for her? Will she survive the investigation and live long enough to make one more conquest? I liked this book much more than the first one in the series. Though it's more gritty and realistic than the stories I prefer, the historical details seemed well-researched. The mystery grabbed me from the beginning and I could not put the book down until it was solved. There were so many twists and turns that it was impossible to guess what really happened. I was completely wrong about the murderer which I'm grateful for because then the plot would have been cliched. I liked the relationship between Sally and Julian. It helped the reader learn a bit more about Julian though he's still very one-dimensional. I'd like to know more about him, who he is and why he poses as a dandy but possesses a keen mind. What does he think and feel? I was saddened to learn of the untimely death of the author. Perhaps I will never learn more about Julian Kestrel but maybe the last two books in the series reveal more depth.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott 

Louisa May Alcott has long since been one of my favorite authors and my personal hero. I admire her convictions and her courage to stand up for what she believed in and to do what she had to do to to survive. Last year, the American Library Association and National Endowment for the Humanities provided grant funding for a series of Louisa May Alcott programs at the public library. This two-month long series of events exploring Louisa's life and works through discussions, viewings, reenactments and events. To cap it all off, Louisa herself came to visit. (Or rather we traveled to the 1880s to visit with her). I was only able to attend a few events but I will do my best to recap them for you.

Living Literature Performance: Hospital Sketches

Living Literature presents a work of literature with two people reading and acting out scenes from, in this case, Hospital Sketches. The readers read from Louisa's own words written in Reminiscences of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Recollections of My Childhood, and Hospital Sketches and acted some of the scenes. It was very interesting to hear about Louisa's life in her own words. She had a lot of energy and determination and desired more out of life than to be a "little woman." Most of the scenes were from Hospital Sketches which nicely coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. It brought home the gruesome realities of war and shared some of the shocking things that Louisa must have seen as a nurse.

Walking Tour of [a city where Louisa did not live but was a major intellectual hub] in the time of Louisa May Alcott

Abba May Alcott had frequent pregnancies and miscarried in between having the four girls. During one confinement, Louisa was deemed a bit too boisterous for her mother's health and thus Louisa was sent away to friends on a farm not far from Concord and quite possibly near this major metropolitan city. Regardless of whether or not Louisa lived here, some of her intellectual contemporaries did live and work here as well as other women who refused to give in to the ideal of a meek and quiet woman. Margaret Fuller taught school here and quite probably took advantage of intellectual opportunities. We also learned of fellow transcendentalist and poet who was courted by Edgar Allen Poe at a subscription library and viewed some of Louisa's works on display. We saw the first house to be designed by a woman, the wife of a Civil War general and discovered how women fought for the right to have an education. Along the tour, the guide read from Louisa's writings to show how the experiences of local women were similar to Louisa's own fight for independence. Though I've been on walking tours of the city before, this one was extra fun because it incorporated Louisa May Alcott. There were many women here whom Louisa would have felt kinship with and perhaps even corresponded with or met. 

“Louisa May Alcott and New England Reform: Racial Equality, Liberal Education & Women’s Work."

I attended a lecture/discussion by a retired professor of women's history on “Louisa May Alcott and New England Reform: Racial Equality, Liberal Education & Women’s Work." She used Louisa's autobiographical novel Work to analyze what Louisa was thinking about the social issues of the day and how the book served as her way of sharing her opinions though she did not have the right to vote. The lecture brought up a lot of questions about Louisa's life and her feelings as a self-described "tomboy" and what they may have meant for her at the time and what it means now. I had to leave before the discussion ended but I enjoyed listening to other people who love Louisa as I do.

Louisa May Alcott Visits the Library

To cap it all off, Louisa, as portrayed by actress Marianne Donnelly, came to speak about her life. She talked about how she was a lively child and her mother tried to give her chores to work off her energy and young Louisa tried to rebel. Her mother was forever telling her not to shout, not to run, ladies don't do those things, etc. etc. She talked about her parents, her Transcendental upbringing, what is Transcendentalism (read her father's books is her answer), her unusual life at Fruitlands (a sort of hippie commune where they attempted a sort of vegan, animal-free lifestyle and nearly froze and starved to death), her time spent as a Civil War nurse, her books, her fortune (she supported her family with "blood-and-thunder" tales), her trips to Europe, abolitionism and crushes on Emerson, Thoreau and a handsome young Polish man in Europe. She was very funny and energetic, even bringing me on stage at one point eek! I had to participate in a little skit. I sat in a chair on stage and to be a Union soldier who had a leg removed. Louisa played Sairy Gamp, a character from a Dickens novel who is a bit of a tippler and a little crazy. She asked if I wanted her to make me a leg from her umbrella or cut the other one off so I'd be even. I chose umbrella so she had to screw the umbrella into my stump and I had to hobble off stage. Even though I am horribly shy, I had a good time and it was about as close as I will ever get to meeting my idol so it was fun. 

Then following the performance, we all had tea in honor of Louisa's birthday. We all sang Happy Birthday to Louisa and enjoyed   Apple Slump, apple tarts, apple bread, tea and scones. An Irish band played period music and Louisa circulated visiting with her guests.

These programs were wonderful and I wish I had had the time to participate in more of them. Did anyone else go to their library's Louisa May Alcott events? I'd love to hear about it!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Austenesque Review

Austenesque Review

Presumption : An Entertainment by Julia Barrett (Julia Braun Kessler and Gabrielle Donnelly) -- Austenesque -- Sequel to Pride and Prejudice

It's been over a year since the happy events at the end of Pride and Prejudice and the Darcys and the Bingleys are enjoying married life in Derbyshire. Elizabeth largely ignores the gossip of the neighborhood and feels she can handle anything as long as her beloved husband is by her side. Georgiana delights in having a new sister to teach her levity and to guide her to womanhood. Mr. Darcy has hired a brilliant young architect, James Leigh-Cooper, to redevelop the landscape of Pemberley into a more natural setting. When Georgiana is finally ready to come out, her brother holds a magnificent ball where she attracts several admirers, including the gallant Captain Heywood. Then the Bennets descend on the Bingleys and Darcys with distressing news - Aunt Phillips has been arrested for allegedly stealing lace from a Meryton shop! This news fuels the local gossips with new reasons why Darcy should never have married anyone with such low connections. Holding firm to this belief as always is Lady Catherine, but there is another who will not accept Elizabeth, much to the dismay of Georgiana and her brother. Georgiana's godfather Sir Geoffrey Portland adheres to the strict preservation of rank and refuses to acknowledge Elizabeth. While Mr. Darcy heads off to London to deal with the law, he leaves Elizabeth and Georgiana behind in the capable hands of Mr. Leigh-Cook, a man Georgiana does not seem to get along with. Headstrong and romantic, Georgiana is furious over the latest slight to her beloved sister so she decides to champion the cause with her Aunt Catherine. The fact that Captain Heywood is also staying at Rosings can not but help influence her decision. Meanwhile Elizabeth is left alone to deal with the neighborhood gossip. Georgiana and Kitty Bennet learn to become adult women through their social interactions and discover that the path to true love is often the one least looked for. This book borrows heavily from the plot of Pride and Prejudice along with events from Jane Austen's own life to bring to life another chapter in the life of the beloved characters from Jane Austen's second novel. 

The authors try to capture Jane Austen's writing style and do a fairly good job of it though the style is not a good one for moving the plot forward. I found myself falling asleep in the middle of the book and having to reread passages because the language required close attention. (This does not happen when I read Jane Austen's original words). The plot is predictable right from the beginning. I judged which suitor was right for Georgiana from their first meeting. One of them I felt to be smarmy and he let off negative vibes that a silly teenage girl would not notice except that that teenage girl is Georgiana who has experience dealing with rogues. Therefore, I found the entire love story unconvincing. I also did not like how the character of Georgiana seems to have undergone a dramatic change. In two years she has gone from shy and demure to bold and outspoken. I found that change a bit too much to believe but it made her character more interesting. Lady Anne deBourgh has also changed from sickly to dutiful daughter and excellent rider with a quick temper. Elizabeth's character seems to have switched places with Georgiana and she turns into a watering pot for half the novel despite her determination to hold her head high in public. The other Bennet sisters have not changed a bit but there's a subplot about Kitty that is also hard to believe given what we're told in the conclusion of Pride and Prejudice. The conclusion to Lydia's story also does not seem accurate. The biggest thing I disliked about this novel is that Lizzie and Darcy are hardy ever together. We're told of their love for each other but hardly get to see it. We're told a lot of things we don't get to see. This story possibly suffers from the dual author syndrome because the first quarter of it is pretty good but then the story becomes radically different from how it began. I would not recommend this book for Janeites but casual fans of Jane Austen movie adaptations and books might enjoy it.

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge

Hosted by In the Bookcase

2012 Summer reading challenge hosted at

Louisa May Alcott is one of my favorite authors and my hero. I only just found out about the challenge so I am going to challenge myself to read a few books that I've never read before.

The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly : an adult novel
Louisa and the Missing Heiress : A Louisa May Alcott Mystery by Anna Maclean : Adult novel
Louisa and the Country Bachelor (Louisa May Alcott Mystery 2) by Anna Mclean
Becoming Little Women : A Novel of Louisa May Alcott at Fruitlands by Jeannine Atkins : a Middle Grades novel
Little Women Letters from the House of Alcott by Jesse Bonstelle :  non-fiction
We Alcotts : the story of Louisa M. Alcott's family as seen through the eyes of "Marmee," mother of Little women by Aileen Fisher & Olive Rabe : children's

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Aunt Celia by Jane Gillespie -- Austenesque Regency Romance 

Eighteen years after the conclusion of Emma finds Mr. Weston a widower once again. Mr. Weston and his only daughter Celia feel the loss of this most beloved mother and wife keenly. Feeling that Celia is in need of female companionship, Mr. Weston brings in a Mrs. Petteril to keep Celia company. Celia doesn't much like Mrs. Petteril and they do not spend much time in each other's company. Mrs. Petteril tries to be as subservient as possible to the Westons but has plans of her own. Her plans include securing the future for herself and her scheming son Henry, who is forced to retire to Surrey after some misadventures. When Frank Churchill decides to bring his family to Highbury, it's cause for much joy at Randalls. The Churchill clan includes eldest daughter Stella, 16; several younger children; Miss Bates and the boys' tutor, Mr. James Aske. Celia and Stella are delighted to see each other again and Frank hopes that Celia will exert a more sober influence over the silly, spoiled Stella. Celia spends much time at Donwell Abbey, where the Churchills are staying. Henry Petteril also spends a lot of time at Donwell and is delightful company. The young people find Mr. Aske a bit quiet and mysterious. When his secret comes out, only Celia is sympathetic. More secrets about the mysterious tutor are revealed, Stella inadvertently makes mischief and true love is revealed in this sequel to Emma. The plot of this story is very slow moving. It didn't capture my attention at all and I had to force myself to finish it. There are some surprises and twists that I didn't expect before it settles down into predictability. The characters do not really come to life and they are not very memorable. Frank Churchill has become a severe, authoritarian father and employer which seems a bit out of character. Jane Fairfax is a smiling, loving, somewhat mysterious mother and does not play a large role in the story. Only Miss Bates remains her same garrulous self and the author does a wonderful job recreating her speech patterns and the subjects she fixates on. She is quite my favorite character in the whole novel. I didn't quite like the romantic pairings. I found Celia's romance boring and Stella's too sudden. This book isn't exactly a must read for Janeites but if you loved Emma and want to know more about the minor characters, then I would suggest reading this book. If you're looking for passion or adventure, look elsewhere. 

Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell -- Historical Fiction 

This is a fictionalized biography of one of the world's greatest painters and his great love, Camille. Young Oscar, as Claude's family called him, was a hothead who wanted nothing to do with his father's nautical supply business. He wanted to make art. At first his dream was to be the most successful caricaturist in France until a challenge from a local man has Monet taking up a brush and paints to capture color and light. It's difficult for Monet to capture what he sees as the light is always changing, but he enjoys the challenge and defies his family to move to Paris in order to pursue his art. In art school he meets a bunch of other young rebels: Frederic Bastille, Camille Pissaro, Jean Renoir, and others who feel about painting as he does. Frederic is torn between duty and desire but if he complies, his family money will keep them all painting until they achieve success. Monet has an eye for beauty, especially pretty girls. A chance encounter at a train station of a lovely young girl longing to be free leads later to a love affair that defied the odds. The love young Camille Doncieux is a good girl from a good home. She's been to convent school and is supposed to marry a middle-aged man she doesn't love and follow in her older sister's footsteps. When Camille meets Monet in her uncle's bookshop, she is intrigued and agrees to model for the young painter. By their next meeting, they've fallen passionately in love and Camille is prepared to risk everything to be with Monet. Living with a poor, temperate artist isn't easy and sometimes Camille longs for the finer things in life. As Monet and the others struggle, Camille believes in them and encourages her beloved Claude. Camille, too, has dark hours and the couple are left wondering if they made the right choices. Claude, obsessed with painting, doesn't always seem to see his pretty wife or understand her needs until their darkest hours.

As a huge fan of the Impressionists, I was eager to read this book. I adored Susan Vreeland's Luncheon of the Boating Party and an endorsement from her on the cover made me want to read this book too. The story fell a little short of expectations. It's defined as a love story for the ages but it ends up being about two very selfish people who never really get to know each other. We're told early on that Camille had dark secrets and her sister accuses Monet of killing Camille by making her a part of his bohemian life. I kept turning the pages until the secrets were revealed and I felt a bit let down. Some of the secrets are not very shocking and it's fairly obvious to the modern reader what Camille's biggest secret is but it's not something that would have been understood at that time so I suppose it would have been shocking at the time to realize  SPOILER in white text : one's wife was mentally ill. The big shock for me was that SPOILER ALERT (in white text follows) Frederic and Camille slept together and that Monet slept with Alice. Actually I sort of suspected something like that would happen with him given the Bohemian lifestyle but it marred the love story for me. Camille's death was also a bit of a let down given all the previous hints. What also marred the story was Monet's constant moodiness and stubbornness. I admire him for sticking to his passion because if not, the world would have have seen some of the most famous and well-loved paintings of all time. However, I felt Monet's stubbornness was at times really frustrating, especially from the point-of-view of a woman. I am not a wife or a mother but I can empathize with Camille and felt angry at Monet at times for not compromising! At least Renoir was painting portraits of children for money. The tone of the voice of this novel is very modern and the writing is somewhat simplistic and mostly uninspiring except for a few passages here and there. I would have preferred a more nineteenth century voice. I also disliked the semi-graphic love scenes. You may skip them if you wish. Only the first time with Camille was necessary to describe their feelings and one other time later in the novel. What I did love about this novel is getting to know Monet and learning some of the creative process that went into his most famous paintings and the interactions between the artists. I would have preferred more of that. This book is OK but not great. I would recommend Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland instead. She is better able to get inside the heads of the characters and make the come alive to capture an important moment in time.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Austenesque Reviews

Austenesque Reviews

Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy by Barbara Tiller Cole -- Pride and Prejudice variation

While Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley are the happiest couple in the world, Mr. Darcy is utterly wretched. He thinks that Elizabeth is too embarrassed by his knowledge of Lydia's elopement that she will never speak to him again. Mr. Darcy has turned to drinking to drown out his sorrows and some heavenly spirits are terribly worried so they pay a call to show Mr. Darcy his choices and the outcomes of the choices he has made or could make. I could not resist this mash-up of two of my favorite books. I was sadly disappointed that this novella (141 pages of large print) did not live up to my expectations. The Christmas Carol story doesn't work very well. Mr. Darcy is shown how his actions affect himself and the people closest to him but it lacks the overall big picture that makes the original so compelling. Mr. Darcy realizes his mistakes early on, making the rest tedious. There's lots of crying and melodrama and none of it seems like Mr. Darcy. I do not think he's the type of man to drown his sorrows. Also the dialogue sounds too modern and casual for the19th century. This story is supposed to be family friendly but there's some veiled comments about certain feelings and activities that may cause curious young readers to ask questions or turn off other readers. I like the idea of this story and think that it would have worked better as It's a Wonderful Life

The Journals of Thomas Bennet by Lynne Robson -- Pride and Prejudice variation

Mr. Thomas Bennet recounts his life's adventures from the birth of his second and favorite daughter to one and half years after Pride and Prejudice ends. If you really want to know what Mr. Bennet is thinking and feeling and what happens to all the characters from the stories, then this book is for you. If you want a well-written, detailed historical novel (or novella) then do not read this book. The writing is not great. he book needed an editor. There are frequent misspellings or different spellings of the characters' names, family relationships are confused and one passage is repeated. I also found the spelling of God "G-d" distracting. It's not a convention that was used frequently in the nineteenth century. The story from Mr. Bennet's point-of-view is interrupted by footnotes explaining things the author learned in her research which is really distracting. I'd rather have it saved for an author's note at the end. I found the characters very flat and uninteresting. Nowhere is Jane Austen's witty dialogue and sparkling characters who leap off the page. Things happen in this novel that were never intended by Jane Austen who basically tells us how she wants her characters to end up. There are some really unbelievable plot twists in this novel that are even more unlikely than Mr. Darcy marrying Elizabeth Bennet. The author seems to have a cursory knowledge of Jane Austen and the Regency era based on a little research but doesn't seem to be a dedicated scholar. She is also aware of other fan fiction and incorporates some of the facts from other stories into her own. This really shows in the way Mr. Bennet writes and the word choices used. It doesn't sound nineteenth century nor does it sound like a real diary. I really plodded through this book and it's only 86 pages.  This is mediocre fan fiction not to be read by ardent Janeites or Regency fanatics. Neophytes, especially younger readers, might enjoy this quick, simple sequel to learn what happens next. 

A Man of Few Words by Katherine Woodbury  -- Pride and Prejudice variation

Mr. Darcy is the man of few words and as promised he provides a brief addendum to Pride and Prejudice sharing with the reader what was going through his head at the time. Mr. Darcy is a bit socially awkward and dislikes large gatherings of any type so when at the Meryton Assembly, his friend Charles suggests Darcy dance, Darcy rejects the idea without realizing who he is rejecting. Soon he's captivated by Miss Elizabeth's wit, intelligence and fine eyes but he refuses to admit he's infatuated but well... you know the rest. This is a very enjoyable story despite it's briefness.   The story is not as fleshed out as Pamela Aidan's Fiztwilliam Darcy, Gentleman chronicles (Mr. Darcy doesn't really tell us what he was up to when he wasn't with Elizabeth) but it hardly matters. The writing is good, especially the foreward which sounds nineteenth century. The dialogue is mostly taken from Pride and Prejudice and summarized with the rest of the text being Mr. Darcy's private thoughts. It's very sweet when he falls in love and especially once he fears he has lost his chance. I like the way he sees Elizabeth and how he comes to value her friendship above all else. Another thing I especially liked about this book was that we get to see Mr. Darcy interact with his servants and tenants. That makes this book very different from the usual variations and Regency novels. It shows the reader what kind of man he is and makes me love him even more. It also makes the plot more realistic than any of the other Regency set novels or Jane Austen variations I've ever read and even more realistic than the original. There are a few misspellings and typos which really bothered me and prevent me from giving the book 4 stars on Amazon. I'd say this is a 3 3/4 star book and a must-read for Mr. Darcy lovers. (Except those who only love Colin Firth in the pond .... there's no pond in this book). Overall, an enjoyable quick read.

Cooking With Jane Austen & Friends : Period recipes used in the Austen Household, updated for modern kitchens by Laura Boyle -- Historical Cookbook

 This little book from the Jane Austen Centre is part cookbook and part entertaining history lesson. The author explains the history behind the meals taken in Jane Austen's day, quotes from Jane Austen's writings and includes period recipes alongside modern adaptations.
 The cookbook is divided into sections by meals and each page contains a period illustration, an historical recipe, the context behind the recipe, a modern recipe and a beautiful photo. There are also photos of objects used in food production in Georgian times. Some of the recipes come from the cookbook of Jane Austen's friend Martha Lloyd who lived with Mrs. Austen, Cassandra and Jane. Other recipes are named after Jane Austen's fictional characters. The section on beverages is especially delicious-sounding with recipes for Arthur Parker's Fortifying Cocoa, Elizabeth Bennet's Light, Bright and Sparking Lemonade, Netherfield Negus and Mrs. Bennet's Perfect Cup of Tea. I haven't yet attempted to make any of the recipes but the modern directions seem easy enough to follow. Ingredient measurements are given both in metric and U.S. This is a beautiful and charming little cookbook - the perfect gift for any Janeite!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Wedding Day Kittens by Jo Ann Ferguson, Alice Holden, Melinda Beth Skinner -- Regency Romances

In "Something Old, Something New," the scapegrace Lord Milbury returns to his childhood home for his younger sister's wedding. He never expects to run into his childhood friend Charlotte Longmuir but when he rescues a small kitten, he is forced to notice his old friend has grown up. Miss Charlotte Longmuir lives with her children on a small farm outside the village. Because she chooses to raise three children without a husband, she has become the source of village gossip and scorn. The children are a part of her and her whole world. Lord Milbury remembers Charlotte as always being kind, caring and proper. He's certain those children are children of the heart rather than the body. He understands Charlotte in a way that no one else can but can she trust him? Lord Milbury sets out to show Charlotte just how much she and the children mean to him in order to win her trust and her heart. This story is very different from the usual Regency romance plots. The plot is rather unbelievable, especially given the short length but it's sweet. I liked the unconventional plot and the characters, especially Charlotte. I do not usually like children in romance novels but these three children are mostly in the background and not too sickly sweet. There's good chemistry between the heroine and hero. This story contains a little bit of sensuality but nothing more than looks and kisses.

"The Perfect Bride" by Alice Holden is more conventional. Viscount Glynden is an only child and promises his father he'll marry before his 27th birthday in June. He decides to find a demure young bride who will be content to do his bidding while he continues carousing in London. He decides that he will also take a mistress and has in mind the newest sensation upon the stage, Yvette LaRoche. When she sings, he feels she's singing just to him. However, he can't get near the girl. Yvette has a secret - she's really Lady Brianna Mansfield, a talented young debutante who is appearing on the stage for fun while her parents are away. She doesn't wish to scandalize her beloved grandparents or be the subject of ton gossip so she plans to quit her career as soon as her parents return. When she encounters Simon for the first time, she feels an instant connection. He's charming but she knows that he can only offer her, as Yvette, an improper proposal. Simon is determined to have her and nothing will stand in his way. Yvette is a very sweet sort of heroine. She's not impoverished, she's not a hoyden but she's not meek either. She's kind and caring, especially towards animals. I can't help but like her. I loathe Simon. He is a typical rake but his determination and his methods really made me angry and I do not feel the story is long enough for him to redeem himself. I recommend this story to those who love rakes no matter what.

"Up to Scratch" by Mary Beth Skinner is also an unusual story. When Mr. Maximilian Major and his feline companion Malachi return to England to the estate Max has inherited they are in for a huge surprise. A Miss Emmeline Rose and her cat Lady Moonbeam are occupying the glasshouse! Malachi and Moon know they are mates for life and feel that their humans are the same but humans are not as smart as cats and can not understand this. Max and Emma prepare the estate for a lavish ton wedding with intent to sell to one of the guests so Max can resume his travels and Emma can see something of the world. Emma has lived in the village as long as she can remember. It's as much a part of her and she is of it. She feels torn about leaving her only home yet this may be her last chance for adventure as she will be 30 on midwinter's day. Max feels increasingly drawn to his new home. He's never had a home before but traveling is who he is, it's in his blood. He couldn't put down roots now could he? Malachi and Moon know they have to take matters into their own paws in order for true love to persevere. This is my favorite story in the book.. I really liked and admired Emma for finding a way to be independent and for refusing to give up her rights and her plans. Max is a very unusual hero. He's not a rake, he's not a Lord, a soldier, or a penniless younger son. He's just a man without family or fortune living by his wits and his luck. Both Max and Emma have really fascinating back stories that add to their appeal. It's a bit strange reading from the cat's point-of-view at first but I liked seeing the romance unfold through the cats' eyes. There's the perfect amount of chemistry between the hero and heroine (aside from the instant cat connection) and the relationship develops at just the right pace. The romance is sweet (kisses only with one bit of insinuated touching) and just right for a fun read. There are a lot of funny moments especially towards the end that made this story even more appealing. This book was worth the $1.00 I paid for it at a used/rare bookshop.

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Incorrigible Sophia by Karla Hocker -- Regency Romance

Sophy Bancroft and Lord Northrup are back for another adventure. Sophy's guardian has not given permission for her to marry her beloved Lucian causing the happy couple to have to wait until Sophy comes of age in two months. The date of the wedding is up for debate. Sophy wishes to marry on an odd-numbered day and Lucian on an even day. They both agree that they will be married as soon as possible after Sophy's birthday. They can't wait! Yet Lucian is ever called away on business for the Foreign Office and when a messenger for the Admirality turns up dead, the Payne brothers are busier than ever. The messenger, Lieutenant Peter Marston is accused of being a spy for the French. Sophy refuses to believe the kind young man would have done such a thing and she is determined to find the true traitor. When someone close to her is accused of murder, Sophy is more insistent than ever on finding the traitor. Lucian does not want Sophy to investigate. He would prefer to wrap her up and keep her safe. Sophy feels a bit stifled by his concern and wonders whether marriage is a good idea after all. Meanwhile, her new friend Lady Jane Hawthorne, a demure young lady who was once a gap-toothed, pig-tailed hoyden, is a match for Sophy's stubbornness. She's a loyal friend to the Paynes when they need one. Sophy isn't so sure about her other new friend, the French woman Lady Veronique. Can she get Veronique to tell her the truth and solve the mystery before it's too late? The mystery is this book is more serious than in the first book yet the reader is witness to the murder and therefore can figure out "whodunnit" right away. Thus the rest of the book drags on until near the end when more clues are revealed that lead Sophy to the true villain. For those wishing for more romance, there's more of Sophy and Lucian's relationship. They're alone briefly, occasionally, and kiss when they can. There's nothing approaching the level of romance in Regency Historicals though. I identified with Sophy's fierce independent nature and her extreme stubbornness and her cleverness. I am not as brave as Sophy and I do not think I'd go around chasing murderers. I thought she was a bit crazy at times. Lucian behaves more like a typical man of his time in this book and the relationship threatens to derail if they can't come to a compromise. I didn't like that part of the book because it wasn't happily ever after, but I appreciated the realism. I liked seeing some of the secondary characters from the previous book return and getting to know Lady Jane but there wasn't enough Miss Addie or Skeet to provide comic relief. Some of the characters seem to act differently than how they were described in the first book and other characters disappear all together. This story is not as well-written and the mystery not as tight as in the first book but it is still a good read. If you wanted more of Sophy, you will enjoy this book.

Quadrille by Margaret Mayhew -- Regency Romance

Lord Nicholas Strickland is a notorious rake and confirmed bachelor. He has no reason to marry for his Aunt Augusta will leave her estate to him after her death along with her fortune. Augusta Fairfax is tired of her nephew's behavior and demands that he marry someone suitable or lose the estate. Nicholas doesn't want to lose the only happy home he's ever known but neither does he want to marry. Aunt Augusta has in mind a bride for her nephew, Charlotte Craven, the daughter of an old friend.  Aunt Augusta believes Charlotte will be the making of Nicholas, but Nicholas thinks Charlotte will be a young, biddable bride, content to leave him to his usual behavior. He's confident his usual charms will quickly win the lady over. Nicholas sets out to woo Charlotte with shocking results. Not only is the lady not charmed by him, she positively seems to detest him. This has never happened to Lord Nicholas before but the game intrigues him and he sets out to make Charlotte love him. Charlotte knows Lord Nicholas could never love her. She's too tall, too outspoken and too content with country life to make a good wife. She's wary but perhaps there's some redeeming qualities to him after all. Meanwhile she has her hands full with her friend Amelia's romantic entanglements which include avoiding so-called proper suitors and secretly meeting Captain Young, Lord Nicholas' penniless friend. This novel has all the hallmarks of being a Pride and Prejudice type story yet it's not. Without giving too much away, I shall say that I found the story rather bittersweet. It's unconventional where I wanted convention. I really liked and identified with Charlotte. I think I should be like her were I a Regency lady. Amelia is a bit young and silly to be appealing as a heroine, but she's a nice sidekick and good foil for Charlotte. Lord Nicholas is a typical rake. His past is explored a little bit which I think could have been expanded on and really added to his character. As with the ladies, his best friend is a foil too. Aunt Augusta is a bit cruel and I could not like her very much. There are some amusing secondary characters, especially Marmeduke, Charlotte's large mutt. Mostly though the characters are typical stock characters that usually populate the light romances by Clare Darcy, Daisy Vivian, Marian Chesney and others. I would recommend this book to those who like those authors and those who might be looking for a slightly different take on the usual rake meets spirited heroine story.

Monday, July 2, 2012

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

The Impertinent Miss Bancroft by Karla Hocker -- Regency Romance

Miss Sophia Bancroft has been let go from yet another job as a governess for impertinence. She vows that this time she will hold her tongue and keep the position that allows her independence and the ability to care for her sisters. Upon her arrival at the home of Lord Northrup Sophy discovers that a valuable necklace has been stolen. Sophy springs into action and wishes to solve the mystery, especially once she meets his Lordship's kind Aunt Addie who has been accused of the theft. Lord Northrup is caught up in Sophy's enthusiasm and determined nature and reluctantly agrees to allow her to ask questions. Sophy thinks Lord Northrup will be the usual toplofty Lord she's used to but is surprised by his kindness and generosity. As more things turn up missing and the the mystery turns dangerous, Sophy is determined to solve the mystery and save her new friends, if only Lord Northrup would listen to her! Lord Northrup refuses to allow any one else to investigate, especially not Sophy. It's not until she defies his request that Sophy discovers why Lucian did not want her to rush into danger. This is a cute, light fluffy romance with the mystery as the core of the story. The romance takes more of a back seat to the mystery but develops better than a traditional Regency (mystery). I really liked Sophy's spirit. She's funny, strong and brave though she acts immature at times. Lucian is a different type of hero. He's a radical and revolutionary, a Whig with political ambitions instead of the usual rake or Corinthian hero. He's caring and charming as well but not well developed since not much of the story is from his point of view and when it is, he's trying to solve the mystery. The villain is really obvious. I was hoping that it wasn't so obvious so I kept reading until I finished. There are some great secondary characters in this book, especially Miss Addie, the kind and loving aunt and Skeet, the street urchin rescued by Miss Addie. There are so many characters in this story that the story really only touches the surface of who they are. I'd like to see a series of books featuring Sophy before this novel solving crimes and other books featuring some of the other characters. If you're looking for a bit of fun summer reading, I would recommend this book.

Sisterhood Everlasting (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) by Ann Brashares, read by Angela Goethals -- Young Adult/Adult Contemporary

Ten years after we last met them, the Septembers have grown up and grown apart. At 29 Lena teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Carmen is an actress in New York, Bee is in San Francisco with Eric and Tibby ... Tibby moved away to Australia with Brian several years ago and seems to have drifted away. When Tibby sends her friends plane tickets to Greece, the Septembers are ecstatic. They all look forward to reconnecting. They've been lost without each other and need this trip. Then the unthinkable happens and the sisterhood is broken. As they deal with devastating grief, the Septembers have to learn to navigate adulthood alone. Lena struggles with her feelings for Kostos, Carmen is trapped in an engagement to a man she doesn't love, Bee drifts around and Tibby's secrets threaten to overwhelm them all. I had a really hard time getting through this book. The secrets and devastating grief that nearly tear the sisterhood apart make this a difficult book to get through. After the initial tragedy, I wanted to put the book down but I picked it up again much later because I wanted to know what happened.There are so many plot shockers in this novel that really undermine the credibility of the story. I identified a lot with Lena as I did in the earlier books. I almost laughed because I've had some of the same conversations with my own family. Bee was my second favorite character. I think she was the only one who actually changed and learned something before the epilogue. The characters remain the same as they ever were, meaning they don't grow up. The lesson at the end is rather heavy handed and finally the characters can grow. By that time they spent so much time being whiny and annoying, I stopped caring about them.The reader of the audio book is very good.  Her voice is pleasant and not too hard to listen to. She pitches her voice differently for each character and I could usually tell who was who. If you enjoyed the rest of the series and enjoy melodramatic stories will like this one.