Saturday, September 29, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Lydia Bennet's Story by Jane Odiwe -- Austenesque/Sequel to Pride and Prejudice

The first half of this book tells the story of how innocent, silly Lydia became infatuated with Mr. Wickham. The second half of the book picks up where Jane Austen left off. The Wickhams arrive in Newcastle as newlyweds but soon Lydia becomes disenchanted with married life. The local ladies like to gossip about Wickham; gossip Lydia refuses to believe until she is forced to face the uncomfortable truth. Poor Lydia, sobered by her experience, takes advantage of the generosity of her older sisters and their loving husbands. She learns what a true marriage should look like and knows hers is not it. Then Wickham causes another scandal - one that will cause certain social ruin for Lydia. Through it all, her close friends Isabella and Rev. Alexander Fitzalan, siblings of Harriet Forster, are there for Lydia. Lydia feels uncomfortable around the sober clergyman. He's very serious and seems to despise Lydia for her high spirited ways, but when scandal breaks, Alexander proves to be someone whom Lydia can lean on for support like a father or brother, making her regret her hasty marriage and long for a real partnership. She decides to help her friends along the path of true love with some very unexpected results. I picked this book up wondering if the author could possibly make Lydia a sympathetic character. In the beginning, Lydia is silly and makes a lot of really bad decisions but then she redeems herself. The author does a good job developing Lydia's character while still keeping Lydia the high spirited, fun loving young woman she really is. The timeline of events is really fast and should be longer given the kind of transformation Lydia goes through, but the author succeeds in making Lydia a character to root for. Wickham is not portrayed as being a very clever villain whereas I had always had the impression that he was clever and used his smarts for evil purposes. Here he comes across like the villain of a bad melodrama that the audience would boo and hiss at. The introduction of new secondary characters is a bit confusing. Isabella is a bit two-dimensional and Alexander isn't developed enough. I suppose he's supposed to be Mr. Darcy minus the snobbery. I would have liked the story to have begun with Lydia's marriage so there was more time to develop the later plot. It feels a bit rushed towards the end. The outcome is also rather predictable. I'm not sure that this plot is at all what Jane Austen intended. She does pretty much tell us what  happens to the characters but I like this re-imagining anyway. I do not think this book warrants buying. I do not think it merited publishing either but it's a bit of fun, fluffy fan fiction that Janeites might enjoy as a bit of fun reading.

Princess Academy Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy

The prince has chosen Britta to be his princess and soon they will wed. Britta wants all her friends from the Princess Academy to be her ladies in waiting and she has arranged for Miri to study at the Queen's Palace. Miri can't wait to see her best friend again and learn all their is to know from books. Miri's classmate Katar, now a delegate to the King, sends word that she needs Miri's help. When the traders bring the girls down from the mountain, the girls can't believe the size of the capital city Asland. Miri is a bit frightened, especially when someone tries to assassinate the king on her very first day in the palace. The Queen's Palace also turns out to be more daunting that Miri realized with lessons in ethics and rhetoric. Miri will soon have to learn to apply her lessons to real life when she discovers that the "shoeless" peasants and working class are rising up to protest the king's unfair tributes. When Miri becomes unwittingly involved, her friend Britta's life may be in danger. It's up to Miri to discover how to use the powers of the palace of linder stone to help save her friend. Can she manage to save her friend and stop the unfair tributes? She's only one small insignificant girl. This book reads more like a Middle Grades novel than Young Adult. I did not find it as compelling as I did Princess Academy when I first read that book. This one gets rather preachy at times with events that mirror the French and Russian Revolutions inserting Miri as the heroine. The outcome is rather obvious since it's a story for children but getting there is not too bad. The story gets a bit preachy with lessons in ethics forcing the reader, along with Miri, to make a choice. The story presents issues in black and white for most of the book which really bothered me. It wasn't until the last half of the book that events begin to develop but they don't develop fully to create a convincing backstory. Even so, I appreciated the attempt at making sure the issues were a bit more complicated. I was a bit confused by the fantasy element of the story in the end. It wasn't quite as developed as I would have liked and seemingly came out of nowhere. It was certainly very exciting though! I liked how this story paralleled going off to college or leaving home for the first time. The message is a little heavy handed but it's good for kids to realize what will happen when they leave home. The characters are likeable enough. Miri is sweet as always, as is Britta. They were mostly the only two rounded characters. The others were pretty much two-dimensional and could have used more development. There's a sweet romance plot with some kissing which may push the age level up a bit, otherwise I'd recommend this book to 9-12 year olds. As it stands, I'd recommend it to kids 10+ but probably not to adults. I loved the original Princess Academy and now I need to reread it to see whether I still love it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Naughty in Nice by Rhys Bowen (Her Royal Spyness Mystery 5) -- Historical Mystery

Poor Georgie is being forced to endure a dreary London winter with Binky and Fig in residence. Georgie has taken to helping out in a soup kitchen just to get away from her domineering, penny-pinching sister-in-law. When Binky and Fig decide to head off to the Riviera with little Podge, they leave Georgie in the lurch. Even Belinda is headed to France and the mysterious Darcy has disappeared again. What's Georgie to do? She has a few options, none of which are appealing. Then the Queen summons Georgie for help once again. This time she wants to send Georgie to Nice to recover a valuable snuffbox that was stolen from her collection. Georgie is eager to head to the land of sun and sand but her vacation is anything but restful. Her maid Queenie can't seem to learn to be a proper maid, someone may have been snooping in her train compartment and worst of all - she has to stay with Fig's awful relatives. Then things begin to look up when Georgie meets the famous fashion designer Coco Chanel who takes an interest in Georgie wants her to model. Unfortunately, Georgie's clumsiness kicks in at the wrong moment and she falls off the catwalk and loses a priceless necklace on loan from the Queen. Now she has two valuable items to recover and no plans. On the bright side, a charming French Marquis seems to desire her. If everyone else can have fun in Nice why can't Georgie? In between searching for the Queen's valuables that is. Then someone ends up dead and Georgie is the #1 suspect. She needs all the allies she can get if she's ever going to get the Queen's valuables back and get home to Britain. This book follows the typical pattern of the last few novels where Georgie bumbles along until she solves a mystery. The mystery kept me reading far too late into the night. I had a possible suspect for the robbery but she was a real person so that eliminated her. Among the fictional characters there was one I did not trust at all and my instincts proved correct though I never guessed who the murderer was. I did wonder but there didn't seem to be a motive and the person had an alibi so I dismissed them. There were some mysteries left unanswered that really bothered me. I wish there had been more explanation. Some of the events in the story good a bit ridiculous and cliched which I didn't like. The rest of the story is fairly lighthearted, typical of the rest of the series. Belinda is hardly in this story for which I am very grateful. She gets on my nerves and I can't stand her behavior. There's a huge misunderstanding between Georgie and Darcy that I didn't like. I figured it out right away and if Georgie thought about it, she probably would have figured it out herself. The other thing I didn't like about the story was Georgie's snobbishness towards Queenie. I understand that she's a woman of the upper class in a time when such attitudes were normal but I felt that she was a bit more snobby than usual and Queenie didn't deserve it. This isn't the best of the series and I'm hoping that the author will wrap things up soon before the stories get stale and uninteresting. 

The War Against Miss Winter by Kathryn Miller Hines (Historical Mystery)

Rosie Winter is a struggling actress in 1942 New York. Her boyfriend shipped out a few months ago and Rosie hasn't heard from him since. She's feeling rather down and out and makes a quick visit to her day job, a private detective's office, hoping to make some cash, only to discover her boss hanging in the closet. Rosie knew her boss had some dealings with clients whom she wasn't allowed to know anything about. Could one of them have done this awful deed? When a potential client comes in through the fire escape offering Rosie cash to search for missing papers, she thinks there may be a connection between Jim's death and these missing papers. Rosie decides to take a chance and hopefully bring justice to her boss's killer. Her clues seem to lead nowhere except to more mysteries and one really awful political playwright. It seems everyone is searching for this mysterious missing play and whoever finds it first may end up dead. Rosie is determined to solve the mystery and stay alive all while trying to jump start her stalled career. This story is more of a typical crime novel than the "cozy" mystery I was expecting. Rosie is tough and down and out. She reads pulp fiction and talks like a character from a bad pulp fiction novel or gangster movie. I had a hard time understanding all her slang words, even in context. I really could not muster up any sympathy for her. I found her annoying and whiny and downright rude at times. She's not the type of character I usually enjoy. I was more interested in a minor character who appears in scenes only to help direct Rosie's search. There isn't a traditional romance plot either though Rosie has a sort of boyfriend and a potential romance. The mystery kept me interested and reading way too late until the big reveal. Then I was completely confused by the convoluted story. None of it made sense and it will answer the question asked in the beginning of the book: "What would shock you?" It's so bizarre and impossible that it ruined the book. I would not recommend this series to fans of cozy mysteries and I will not be reading the rest of the series.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What I Read Last Weekend

What I Read Last Weekend . . .

Wisdom's Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy

This book seems to be a companion to Princess Ben though it mostly stands alone.

Fortitude, called Trudy, is the orphaned daughter of a barroom maid. Her best friend Tomas aka Tips, the miller's son, is a young rascal who is always getting into mischief, endearing himself only to Trudy. Only Tips knows Trudy's deepest secret: that she has the gift of Sight. Others suspect the girl can see the future but only Tips knows what Trudy sees. When the children are 12 and 13, a strange man comes and hires Tips to apprentice as a soldier. Trudy is comforted by the boy's letters and gifts from faraway lands and longs for his return. Dizzy, a princess and second in line to the throne of Montagne, is bored. She longs for adventure and excitement. When Duke Roger of Farina rejects her boring older sister, Queen Temperance, and proposes to her, she accepts. Dizzy looks forward to the excitement traveling to Farina will bring while her beloved Nonna Ben (from Princess Ben) has her hands full with wedding preparations and keeping Dizzy in line. Nonna Ben tries and tries to get Dizzy to act like a lady but to no avail. By her side is her faithful cat Escofier who may or may not be magical. Duke Roger's mother is furious with him for easily giving up the throne of Montagne. She is ambitious and ruthless and won't rest until she has control of Montagne. When the characters' lives intersect, little do they know what the fateful meeting will bring. Only Trudy has some inkling and she doesn't like it one bit. The story is told through the letters and memoirs of Trudy, Ben, Tips, the Duchess, Felis el Gato aka The Booted Maestro (Tips' master), Dizzy's diary, encyclopedia entries and even a play. I found this method of story telling to be ineffective. Switching from format to format, character to character was very jarring and the story telling felt detached. The encyclopedia entries gave too much away. I liked the story once it got going, though it was predictable but The story alludes to events that happened in Princess Ben and other events that happened before this story which is very confusing. The only character I really liked and cared about was Trudy. I wanted to like Dizzy for her spunk and unconventionality but she was annoying and bratty. Nonna Ben, who used to be spunky and adventurous as a girl, is now rather stuffy and proper for the most part. I can't say whether I'd recommend this book or not, just that it really wasn't my favorite. If it had been told in a more engaging manner perhaps I would have liked it more. 

Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen (Her Royal Spyness Mystery 3) -- Historical Mystery

Lady Georgiana is stuck in a miserable rut. Her house cleaning business has fallen off since the Season ended. Belinda is busy with her smooth-talking, fast-driving Italian lover and even Darcy has disappeared. Then Georgie hits upon an inspiration which in typical Georgie fashion goes terribly awry. Then Scotland Yard hears about her latest scheme and banishes her back to Scotland to keep an eye on her royal cousins who are in the neighborhood for a Grose Hunting Party. It seems that someone has been causing dangerous accidents and that someone is an insider! Upon arriving in Scotland, Georgie is greeting with the news that "that American woman" and a party of friends have been foisted on Binky and Fig and Binky has invited two Scottish cousins to stay. An accident has laid up Binky leaving Fig alone to deal with a party of vulgar guests. Georgie is certain that her brother's accident was no accident but how can she prove it? She's supposed to have a contact on the inside but she doesn't know who. She has her hands full trying to avoid a sleazy stranger, Prince Seigfriend and a a house full of vulgar guests while trying to stay alive and keep her family safe. This book is my favorite in the series so far. I especially loved all the details of the Grouse hunting party and all the little things about upper class British life at that time. It was interesting to see their conceptions of Americans and the differences between them and us. The mystery was difficult to figure out. I suspected the who but the motive and means really weren't there until Georgie uncovered some facts. The quirky secondary characters made me giggle a lot. My favorite character is Granddad. He's so warm and kind; exactly what Georgie needs. Georgie is growing up and learning to fend for herself and speak up for herself when necessary. Her romance begins to heat up but still keeps an aura of mystery and excitement while remaining perfectly clean. This story will appeal to fans of Gosford Park and those who adore the details of upper class English life. I loved it and look forward to more!

Royal Blood by Rhys Bowen (Her Royal Spyness Mystery 4) -- Historical Mystery

Georgie is despondent once again. With no hopes of money or matrimony (except Prince Siegfried ewww) and alone in London, Georgie doesn't know what to do. Darcy remains mysterious and a bit elusive and Georgie finds herself longing for him. Binky and Fig show up unexpectedly with big news which causes Georgie to think home is anywhere but sweet home. She's commanded by Her Majesty to attend a royal wedding in Transylvania. The bride is a former school mate of Georgie's who has requested Georgie has a bridesmaid. Though Georgie barely remembers Maria Teresa aka Fatty Matty, she jumps at the chance to get away. HM requires Georgie to travel with a chaperone and a maid but where to find a maid who will be willing to go to Romania for no pay? Enter Queenie, the moon-faced Cockney maid who provides the comic relief. Once in Transylvania, Georgie begins to think staying home with her family would have been a wiser choice. It's cold and snowy, the locals are superstitious and suspicious and the castle is creepy. Then a party guest drops dead at the dinner table and nearly causes an international incident. It means that one of the guests is a killer. Georgie swears a vampire entered her room at night and was about to bite her and even her maid has seen a strange man in her room. Since there's no way in or out of the castle, it must be a vampire, right? The clues seem to point that way to Georgie though no one else believes her. She's determined not to get bitten and to solve the mystery once and for all. This is my least favorite of the series. It's not quite as dreadful as I feared it would be; more Northanger Abbey than Twilight; but since I am not into gothic stories I just found this one completely over the top. Georgie reacts like a silly, scared young girl and lets her imagination run wild (a tribute to Northanger Abbey?). The royals are all two-dimensional and don't add much to the story. I can't stand Belinda who seems to have no morals at all and is on the fast track to becoming Georgie's mother or worse. The new characters provide many giggles though, especially Queenie who is my new favorite character.  I also liked Darcy in this book as we get to know him a bit better but he's still maddeningly mysterious. Georgie's romance heats up again but is left unfulfilled as unusual circumstances get in the way. The mystery kept me guessing and the clues are not difficult to connect but the motive seems lacking and completely random. The plot just isn't as tightly written as some of the others. Still, I hope there are more to come. I'm enjoying the series despite this volume.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Once Upon a Waltz by Carola Dunn, Karla Hocker, Judith A. Landsdowne -- Regency Romances

The three novellas in this compilation are fairy tales. I can only identify one as a direct retelling. The stories contain all the elements of traditional fairy tales but are set in Regency England. 

In "The Firebird" by Carola Dunn, Reynata, a young werefox, is secretly in love with her neighbor, Aldwin, Lord Drake. One stolen waltz and a dashing rescue leaves Aldwin feeling the same. However, he can not marry the girl because she is a nobody. Nursing a wounded heart, Aldwin decides to join the army. Reynata fears Aldwin won't make it to Spain if his evil younger brothers have anything to do with it so she asks her foster mother, a wise woman, to cast a protection spell on Aldwin to keep him safe from harm until he is safely away. The spell goes wrong and Aldwin turns into a beautiful golden bird. It seems everyone wants the beautiful firebird not knowing his true identity. Reynata feels guilty and vows to rescue the one she loves from his cruel fate.This story is very unusual. It's very much a traditional fairy tale with unexplained magic and danger lurking everywhere. The final chapter contains some very random moments that I wish were explained a bit more. I found the lack of explanation very frustrating. Even so, I liked the story though not so much as a normal Regency story.

"The Dancing Shoes" by Karla Hocker is a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses without the evil. Minna Elfinstone is a teacher at Miss Forster's seminary for young ladies where young ladies of the middle class are brought to be refined and hopefully meet gentlemen from the best families. Miss Forster runs her school with an iron fist and the girls never get the dances they are promised. When the senior girls' dancing slippers are discovered worn out, Miss Forster leaves Minna in charge of discovering the mystery. Minna discovers a mysterious passage and secret midnight dances at the Brighton Pavillion. Minna finds it all a bit disconcerting because she has the feeling she's been here before in her dreams. Most unnerving of all is the handsome, sardonic chaperone. Will real life end like one of Minna's dreams? Could she leave the girls to marry? This story is very simple and sweet. It's a realistic sort of fairy tale with some unexplained magic. I object to the story taking place in three nights because I don't believe in love at first sight, but I enjoyed the period details and the sweet story.

"King Thrusbeard" is a fable featuring the charming Earl of Lanningsdale who has come to London to be reunited with his childhood friend Missy. Lady Artemis is now in her third Season without a husband. She has driven away all her suitors with her sharp tongue and the Dowager Countess fears her beloved only son will have his heart broken. Disappointed, but not brokenhearted, the Earl decides to woo his Missy with his tongue. Lady Artemis has returned from boarding school with radical ideas about men wanting to enslave women. Artemis refuses to marry. She wants only to have her own establishment in London. Unfortunately, her father is bankrupt and is unable to provide for his daughter. He drags her off back to the country, hoping that it will make his daughter more humble. The Earl fears Lady Artemis may be under an evil spell and he wishes to undo it. The Earl is terrible at magic and his mother begs him to leave well enough alone. His valet is firmly convinced that Elias should stay far away from magic after an unfortunate experience. Elias refuses to listen and his magic backfires. What happens next will show Artemis both humility and true love. I liked this story best of all. The heroine was unappealing and bratty at first and then there is real development in her character before her about face. She has to go though some rough times first and I liked that though the cause was magical, the effect was very real. There are some great details about being poor in the period as well as beautiful descriptions of the land. Even better is the valet who provides comic relief. The fairy tale ending is worthy of a sigh.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Her Royal Spyness (A Royal Spyness Mystery) by Rhys Bowen -- Historical Mystery

Lady Georgiana Rannoch is the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria and thirty-fourth in line for the throne. Of course that means next to nothing when the world is gripped by Depression and one's father inconveniently gambled away the last of the family fortune. Now 21 and finished with her Season, Georgie's brother has cut off her allowance, claiming poverty. Georgie's only other options are to a) marry some Romanian prince with lips like a cod or b) go be a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria's only surviving daughter deep in the country. What would any self-respecting young lady do? Georgie decides to bunk to London where she discovers that living life on her own is not so easy as it seems. She has to muddle through on her own with some help from her very un-Royal commoner grandfather,  her school friend Belinda and a charming Irish rogue named Darcy O'Mara. Then Georgie finds a dead man in the bathtub -  a man who claimed ownership of her family's remaining property. The family motto is "Death before dishonor" so Georgie charges in to keep the family name from being dishonored. In addition to all her problems, the Queen wants Georgie to spy on the Prince of Wales to see how strong a hold that vulgar American Mrs. Simpson has on him. Georgie sets out to solve the mystery, clear her family's name and please the Queen all at the same time. Accident prone Georgie meets with any number of mishaps but when the mishaps become more serious, she's sure someone is out to end her life. Why her? Can't she trust anyone anymore? With sheer pluck and resourcefulness, Georgie will hopefully save the day before it's too late. This story is part Comedy of Manners and part mystery. It's similar in tone to a Regency novel with less romance and more mystery. Georgie is a very lovable character in spite of her occasional bouts of selfishness and pettiness. She's a bit foolish, a bit stubborn and a lot independent. She goes bumbling along in a charming manner. She reminds me of a less juvenile Stephanie Plum back when Stephanie Plum was funny. The mystery is pretty easy to solve but there are plenty of surprises in store for Georgie, even a little romance. I'm not a huge fan of the 1930s. I don't like their casual way of speaking and sometimes the characters share TMI but the elements of upper class society that I know and love from the Regency novels are still there. Also, some of the phrases were used over and over again unnecessarily. Even with a few minor flaws, this novel is frothy and fun. I plan to continue reading the series.

A Royal Pain (A Royal Spyness Mystery) by Rhys Bowen -- Historical Mystery

Lady Georgiana is still in London, trying to make her own way in the world. Another summons from the Queen decides that Georgie is going to play host to Princess Hannelore of Bavaria. The idea is to get Princess Hannelore together with the Prince of Wales in a casual setting and he will be instantly smitten and forget about that Mrs. Simpson woman. Georgie isn't in a position to host visiting royalty but she can't say no to the Queen. She enlists financial support from her brother (read: blackmail) and help from her beloved Grandad and his neighbor to play servants. Piece of cake, right? Wrong. The princess is 18, fresh out of a convent and addicted to American gangster movies. Most of the English she knows is highly inappropriate for royalty! The princess is eager to get out and meet boys while Georgie is nursing a broken heart over the disappearance of Darcy. Their fun is slightly hampered by the princess's chaperone - a stuffy old baroness, but they manage to find a way to evade her.  Georgie has her hands full keeping track of the flirtatious princess and trying to keep the young woman far away from Darcy who has suddenly turned up in London and seems t be enjoying Hanni's company. Hanni also strikes up a friendship with Sidney Roberts, a young member of the Communist party. A series of tragedies could lead to an international incident, and when the Queen asks Georgie to investigate, once again Georgie can not say no. After all, she doesn't want to be responsible for starting another English-German war. This sequel has more tragedy and more mystery than the first book. I couldn't put it down until I knew how it turned out. I guessed at who but was wrong about why. My why would have made more sense but I enjoyed the mystery just the same. The story is still marked by the fun and frivolity of the first. There are many more funny parts, especially most of Hanni's dialogue. Georgie makes some stupid mistakes than she learns from and her feelings for the very unsuitable Darcy become more realized. I absolutely enjoyed this second entry in the series. It reminded me a lot of a period film. I'm not sure that many more would be wise though. I will read on to see how Georgie grows and develops. Fans of the Stephanie Plum series will love this series as well.

Friday, September 7, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . . 

Lord Borin's Secret Love by Regina Scott -- Regency Romance

Alexander Westcott, Viscount Borin is bored with his typical Corinthian lifestyle. He is tired of being a rake and can't possibly keep up with the exploits of his friend Chas Prestwick (hero of The Unflappable Miss Fairchild). Alex decides he should become a spy for the Marquis of Hastings (father of Leslie Petersborough from The Irredeemable Miss Renfield). The Marquis refuses Alex's request and sends the young man packing. When Alex notices a small boy trailing him, he decides to track the boy in hopes that the boy is connected to the French spy Lord Hastings is after. Imagine Alex's surprise when he tracks the boy to Mayfair and a spirited young lady answers his knock at the door. It doesn't take long for Alex to become intrigued with this sprite, whoever she is. Katherine Collins, spinster, is desperate. Her Uncle Collins, guardian to herself and younger siblings, is too troubled by a war wound to do anything except drink himself into a frenzy and make dire threats against anyone who speaks negatively about Wellington. Katherine's beautiful younger stepsister Constance has a fortune waiting for her if only she will wed by the time she turns 21. Constance is weeks away from her birthday and hasn't settled on anyone in particular. Katherine decides to take matters into her own hands lest Constance's odious cousin, the new Lord Templeman inherits her fortune and sends Katherine to the workhouse. Katherine decides that Lord Borin would make a good husband for her sister and results to subterfuge to learn more about it. When the handsome Viscount shows up at her door and pays her more attention that Constance, Katherine doesn't know what to do. Will that man ever offer for her sister or could he really be in love with Katherine? This story is not one of Regina Scott's best. The plot is pretty transparent. It drags in places and there's an extra added complication of a French spy running around the ton that ties into the plot. The story would have been better without the French spy plot. There's a Christian message at the end, apparently. It went over my head and I don't like being preached to. This story wasn't labeled Christian so I did not appreciate the random Bible quoting from one of the characters. Alex is self-centered and falls in love quickly and assumes that the lady returns his affections and will gladly be swept off her feet. He learns a bit along the path to happily ever after but not much and not until the very end. Katherine is also difficult to like. She's a "managing female" which I do not have a problem with. I probably would do the same thing in her position. What I dislike about her is that she refuses to see her management skills as a good thing and automatically assumes that everyone hates her because of her managing. She was a bit too insecure and self-sacrificing for me to really love her. If you've read the others in the series and want to see cameos from the other characters you know and love, then pick up this book. I prefer some of the other books in the series.

Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer -- Historical Mystery

Joseph Herriard decides to hold an old-fashioned Christmas house party - in his brother's house. Joseph has been a bit of a rolling stone and consequently has no home or family of his own, except a devoted wife. Joseph's brother Nat hates Christmas, parties, their young adult niece and nephew and the young peoples' significant others and refuses to be an amiable host. The family get on each other's nerves, constantly bickering. Nephew Stephen brings along his fluffly-headed fiance, whom Nat assumes is a gold digger. In the gold digging category is Stephen's sister Paula who wants 2 thousand pounds to produce her boyfriend's scandalous new play. Rounding out the house party are Nat's business partner Edgar Mottisfont and a distant relative, Mathilda Clare. The only one who seems to be having a good time is Joseph. Joseph's wife Maud has no interest in playing hostess; she only wants to read and discuss the book she is reading on the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. This manages to get on everyone's nerves. Tensions run high and then Nat is discovered dead in his locked room; apparently stabbed to death. Nerves unravel further as Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard becomes more and more determined to blame one of them for the murder. They all had a motive but what was the means? This mystery is a true crime novel unlike Miss Heyer's Regency mysteries which are light and painfully obvious. This one keeps the reader guessing as to "whodunnit." I couldn't figure it out at all but I guessed that a certain something that was missing was a clue. The mystery is compelling enough to want to solve but the story lacks everything else. Not one of the characters/suspects is remotely likeable. They are all petty and nasty to each other. Joseph is the only one who is kind and he gets on everyone's nerves by always putting his foot in, which makes the reader not like him. The non family members are mostly flat and two-dimensional.I found the story difficult to get into because of all the whiny, annoying characters. They all sound alike and it's hard to remember who is who and who was where and what happened. They do not come alive and leap off the pages as the Regency characters do. The story lacks the witty dialogue and interesting characters that Heyer developed in her Regency novels. The very best character is the butler! Fans of Downton Abbey's Carson will like this butler almost as much. Fans of Gosford Park will probably like this novel. I will stick to Miss Heyer's Regencies.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What I've Read This Wee

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

In 1293 Cecile is tired of living with her father, uncle, aunt and teasing cousins in Coventry. She longs to return home to her family's estate Edgeley. Then her father announces that he and Cecily are moving to Caernarvon in Wales where Papa can become a Burgess and not owe military service to the king. He sees this as a great opportunity with the ability to own his own estate as opposed to being steward to his brother at Edgely. Cecily thinks her father is ruining her life. Life inside the walls of Caernarvon isn't physically much different from England but socially they are worlds apart. The Welsh boys stare at Cecily, the servants are lazy and insolent and the Burgesses and their women look down on Cecily and her father. Cecily is determined to keep her head held high in accordance with her role as chatelaine. She faces opposition from her surly servant Gwinny and vows to serve justice to the wicked. Gwenhwyfar was once the daughter of a Welsh land owner. Then her father marched off with the rebels against the English which resulted in his execution and his land being taken away. Her Mam is sick and her brother struggles to find work while her sweetheart continually petitions the king for the rights he deserves as a Welshman. Times are tough and Gwenhwyfar struggles just to survive. She's determined to keep her dignity in spite of all the abuse from the English and most especially the brat she must work for. When a famine and sickness bring an all time low to the Anglo-Welsh relations, the characters face a new and different world. They must find their places and learn to adapt to the new world that is coming. At first this novel is funny and reads a lot like a Karen Cushman book. Then the plot takes a dark and difficult turn towards the end and the story is filled with violence and bloodshed. Medieval period is very gritty and coarse to begin with. I vastly prefer the more genteel nineteenth century but those who like the period will love the details in this novel. Though the writing style sounds very modern, the author infuses slang into the dialogue to make it sound period. The history behind the story seems well-researched and is wonderfully described. There's an excellent historical note at the end that explains the background of the time period and what's happening around the characters. The problem with this novel is the main characters. Neither of them are very likeable. Cecily is amusing at first but she's a typical teen and a spoiled brat. She's rude and wicked and doesn't learn her lessons until it's too late. The story alternates from Gwenhwyfar's point of view but she isn't very likeable either. She's tough. She's had to be tough but she holds a lot of hatred and anger in her heart and doesn't want to let go. Both girls are mostly unsympathetic towards each other. Teens who are interested in the Medieval period would probably like this novel. I'm not certain adults would enjoy it because of the bratty teenage protagonist. 

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl -- Young Adult Regency Romance

Althea Crawford's great-grandfather built a folly castle on the edge of a cliff and left little money to keep it from falling into the sea. Now Althea, her widowed mother and small brother must survive the best they can in the crumbling castle. Althea's two horrid step-sisters have a small fortune of their own but only bother to open the purse strings when it is to their own advantage. Althea knows what she must do. She must marry and marry well. There's very little opportunity to meet eligible gentlemen on the Yorkshire moors and Althea has a tendency to speak her mind and gentlemen do not appreciate that. Then the new, young Lord Boring comes to take up his estate bringing a party of young people with him. Lord Boring is friendly and kind and shows an interest in Althea. Lord Boring's cousin and estate manager, Mr. Fredericks, occasionally joins the other young people in society. He's absentminded, rude and bumbling and Althea is constantly scolding him for his manners. Althea hopes her beauty is enough to attract and eligible suitor but is that really enough for her? Would she be happy married to a rich man no matter who he is? Maybe deep down inside, Althea would like to include love in her happily ever after. This cute story is like an introduction to Jane Austen for tween and young teen girls who are not quite ready for the language and nuances of the classic novels. There are many amusing moments in the story, especially the names of the characters. Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer fans will recognize the plot elements but there are some twists and turns that kept me guessing plus an interesting subplot that I think could yield a spin-off. Althea may not be to everyone's taste. She seems mercenary, at least at first, but she is a woman of her time and she doesn't have much choice. The step-sisters are stereotypical two-dimensional characters. Lord Boring is Mr. Bingley. Mr. Fredericks is also a difficult character to like. He has his moments of kindness but he's mostly very brusque and annoying. Althea's attitude towards him resembles that of another outspoken heroine and a rude hero we all know and love. I highly recommend this book to girls 11+ or adult newcomers to the genre. It's a great basic primer that introduces the reader to Regency Society.

Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Beverly Hemings knows he's a slave but doesn't really understand the realities of slavery because he and his siblings have always known love and kindness from their mother and benevolence from their master, Thomas Jefferson. One day Bev's mother Sally reveals that Master Jefferson is their father and one day the children will be free and white. Beverly is confused by the knowledge and torn in his feelings. He wants to stay with his mother at the home he loves but longs in his heart to be free. Madison, the middle brother, is worried that his family will go away and leave him because he's too dark to pass. He doesn't understand Beverly's reluctance and desires knowledge and freedom. Little Eston, a musical prodigy, is content with his life. Above all else, they long for their father's love and savor each scrap of attention he gives them. As the children grow older, they learn to ask difficult questions: what does it mean to be a slave? Who decides who is a slave? What does it mean to be black? What makes one white? What do the words in the Declaration of Independence really mean? Did Jefferson achieve what he set out to do? Does the fact that Jefferson owns slaves and enslaves his children make him less of a great man? As Jefferson ages, the slaves of Monticello wonder what will happen to them when Master Jefferson dies? This excellently researched book tells the true story of Thomas Jefferson's secret children from the points of view of Beverly, Madison and another enslaved child at Monticello. There isn't much plot. It all leads up to the Hemings' twenty-first birthdays when they will gain their freedom and to Jefferson's death. I've studied Sally Hemings, slavery and been to Monticello so I already knew the facts. I found it difficult to finish the book because I already knew what happened to the characters since they are all real people. I liked getting to know the boys, as I already feel I know Harriet from Ann Rinaldi's novel Wolf by the Ears. I liked reading their inner turmoil and how they felt about being the unacknowledged children of such a famous man and how they dealt with the family resemblance. I did find the questions raised in the novel interesting but very heavy for the age group. Historians and scholars are constantly debating. I think this book is designed to be read in the classroom. There's an author's note and extensive bibliography. I would recommend this to elementary school and middle school History teachers and their students but not for a child to read on their own.