Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week free e-book edition . . . 

Susanna and the Spy by Anna Elliott -- Traditional Regency Romance

Miss Susanna Ward was left penniless when her father died. She has been making her own way in the world as a governess. Unfortunately she was forced out of her last for pushing an overly amorous gentleman into a fountain. On her way to London to seek a new position, she's recognized in the coach by an employee of her estranged family. He reveals that her grandfather recently died under mysterious circumstances and urges her to investigate. Being curious, Susanna puts up for a night at the local inn where a young man enters her room at night bleeding from his shoulder. She conspires to hide him from the Revenue men who believe he's a notorious smuggler and murderer and then he disappears into the night. Thus begins Susanna's incredible adventure. When she is reunited with the family she never knew, she uncovers dark secrets and motivations for murder. She also learns of a local smuggling ring led by the mysterious Captain Clark. Could there be some connection? Susanna is determined to solve the mysteries. This story is a good, clean, fun romp. There are a few historical inaccuracies such as Susanna staying at an inn all by herself, riding a horse astride with no mention of hiking up her skirts indecently, etc. However, if you can suspend your disbelief and lose yourself in the story, you will enjoy it. I got sucked into the mystery and couldn't put it down even though halfway through I figured out who the villain was. Susanna should have known because the villain tipped his/her hand. The ending is wrapped up a bit too quickly and neatly. It's very unlikely as well. Spoiler: highlight to read A true aristocratic villain would either commit suicide first or be declared mad, not taken away to be hanged. I love Susanna. She's very modern so she's not a simpering miss. She's forthright, adventurous, daring, brave and reckless. Some of her actions are really stupid but she has a high level of self-confidence. I also loved the hero. I can't say too much without spoiling the story, though I am sure clever readers will figure it out. There's good chemistry between the pair, even though it's quiet. This is a romance a la Georgette Heyer's mystery/traditional Regency books so don't expect lots of passion or moonlight kisses. The ending leaves room for a sequel, which I can't wait to read. The author doesn't attempt to mimic Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer, or even use period correct language, so this book is excellent for beginners and YA readers. I would recommend it to historical mystery fans ages 12+. There's nothing at all that would be uncomfortable for younger readers, just a bit of violence. 

Lucky in Love by Cari Hislop -- Regency Romance (free e-book)

This novel can be downloaded from the author's website or from Smashwoods. 
The hero, twenty-seven year old Edmund, Earl of Warenne, is lucky at everything he does. He's very thorough too. He loves to count things and make sure the numbers work out to his satisfaction. (He seems to have OCD or autism) The only thing he's never been lucky at is love, but that is became he's never tried. His latest mistress having left him for being too thorough a lover, he decides it's time to take a wife and make heirs. When his friend Doodles bets that no man can court and win the hand of his old maid cousin, Edmund decides to take a chance. At worst he'll end up with an ugly countess, at best he'll find true love. When Miss Priscilla Stanley meets the earl, she wants to run far far away. This latest piece of bad luck, in a never ending string of bad luck, couldn't have come at a worse time. Priscilla is a poor relation dependent upon uncaring relatives and lecherous men. Her aunt is pressuring her to marry now, even though the Earl of Warenne is thoroughly disgusting. He's crude and rude and yet, kind and caring. He dares Priscilla to make a wish on a penny and toss it into a wishing well. Priscilla doubts her dreams will ever come true, but Edmund is certain they will because he's fallen for the spinster. Alas, the course of true love ne'er did run true and Edmund may not be so lucky this time. This story is absolutely dreadful. At first it reads like a parody of a romance novel with a few amusing moments. Then the author resorts to crude sophomoric humor.. There's no relationship between the hero and heroine. Their attraction is based solely on physical attraction and there are a lot of sentences describing just how they feel when they touch, especially Edmund. The secondary characters are mostly so over-the-top stereotypical. New characters are introduced halfway through and another set of characters at the very end, which is very confusing. The villain is the one character who has any sort of depth and he's despicable. I wouldn't recommend this novel to anyone, even though it is free. 

Lady Ambleforth's Afternoon Adventure by Ann Lethbridge, Barbara Monajem, Annie Burrows, Elaine Golden, Julia Justiss and Louise Allen --Regency Romance novella

This book can be downloaded for free from Smashwords.
Lady Araminta Ambleforth is a very young, very rich widow. Her husband was always determined to protect her and Araminta felt smothered. Now she has decided to exercise her independence at last. Alas, her phaeton breaks and she decides to walk home. First one handsome gentleman comes along offering his escort, and then another, and soon Araminta has more suitors than she knows what to do with. All of them are pleasing to look at (except the vicar) and make Araminta's blood stir, however unwanted are their attentions. What happens next is a great surprise so I will not spoil it. This story seems to have been written round-robin style with one author leaving off and another beginning without any real plan. As such, it reads as a parody. So many zany things happen that the plot is quite unbelievable. The final reveal had me vastly confused. I'm not certain it was even possible. Araminta is a feather wit and every one of her internal monologues is about how handsome the gentlemen are and her physical feelings for them. I really couldn't like this story at all and wouldn't recommend it. Note to self: stay away from free Regency stories.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey, illustrated by Ruth Gannett -- Children's Classic (1946)

Miss Hickory is a doll, no a real living person, made up of an applewood twig and a hickory nut head. She has always lived in the corn cob house under the lilac bushes or on the windowsill of an old farm house. Now the family has gone to live in Boston. Winter is approaching and Miss Hickory finds herself homeless. What is a she going to do? With the help of an unexpected friend, she not only finds a new home, but learns how not to have a hard head and appreciate her surroundings more. This Newberry Award winner for 1946 is a very sweet story with talking animals and a human-like doll. It takes the reader through the four seasons with Miss Hickory and the woodland creatures and teaches subtle lessons about nature and life as it goes along. I liked Miss Hickory. I could relate to her hard headed personality and it was nice to have a character not be so perky and preachy. I loved her creative use of materials to make shelter and clothing. I learned a bit about the habits of woodland animals in New England too. My only problem with this story is the end! It was entirely unexpected and a bit disturbing. I wouldn't recommend it to children under 7 for that reason. My only other complaint is that I wish the illustrations were in color for color plays an important role in the book. Otherwise the illustrations are charming and do a great job showing Miss Hickory's world.

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Mr. Darcy Forever by Victoria Connelly -- Austenesque/ Contemporary Romance/Women's Fiction

Sarah and Mia Castle are sisters and the best of friends. They are complete opposites. Little sister Mia is messy, impulsive, romantic and dreams of being an actress. Older sister Sarah is neat, cautious and worries about everything. She uses her OCD to control her surroundings when things don't go her way. She springs for a magical dream vacation to celebrate Mia's 21st birthday at Barton Cottage, the Dashwoods cottage in the Emma Thompson/Ang Lee version of Sense and Sensibility. It's supposed to be a girls' week away from men and everything else wrong with their lives, but when handsome neighbor Alec rescues Mia from a fall, all their plans are forgotten. Three years later, the sisters are not speaking to each other. They haven't seen each other since not long after their vacation to Barton Cottage. Something happened that drove them apart. Sarah can't help but worry about her little sister so she decides to head to Bath for the Jane Austen Festival in hopes of reuniting with her sister. She's worried her sister won't want to see her, but with some encouragement from a new friend, she proceeds with her plan. Mia's life isn't going so well. Her dream of becoming an actress is becoming harder and harder to achieve. She's looking forward to this weekend in Bath with her good friend Shelley. Shelley fears Mia has changed and she's determined to get to the reason why. She also wants to play matchmaker for her handsome yet, older neighbor Gabe.  Mia fears she'll never find her Mr. Darcy. Has fiction ruined her for life? This story is a modern retelling of Sense and Sensibility without the social etiquette of the original. Thus, it's an incredibly predictable, boring story about two obnoxious grown women acting like teenagers. I could easily figure out what was going to happen based on the plot of Sense and Sensibility and waiting for it to happen was like waiting for a disaster. None of the main characters are redeemable. Sarah's OCD is out of control and she doesn't even consider trying to get help. The only time she's not obsessive compulsive is when it's convenient to the plot, which I thought wasn't very accurate. . Her OCD keeps her from functioning like a normal human and it's both tragic and annoying to read about her quirks and obsessing over every possible thing that could go wrong. If she's really so OCD, I doubt she'd ever want to get married. Mia is even more silly and impulsive than Marianne and she behaves very very badly. I didn't like her behavior or anything else about her except she's a Janeite. The leading men are too perfect. They don't resemble the flawed Austen heroes at all, except for the obvious parallel to a character in Sense and Sensibility. The best part of this book was the descriptions of the festival and Bath. The festival sounds like a lot of fun and I wish more time had been spent on the activities rather than flashing back to past events just when the fun was about to start. This book is the weakest in the trilogy. You don't necessarily have to read the first two but if you plan to, read those first because this one contains spoilers. 

Ransome's Honor by Kaye Dacus -- Inspirational Regency Romance

Julia Witherington, daughter of a naval officer and newly minted baronet, has had a crush on her father's lieutenant William Ransome since she was 10. She's now seventeen and ready to marry, but when William doesn't propose, Julia is heartbroken. William refuses to take advantage of his patron's generosity and take Julia's dowry for his own. He's determined to make his own way in the world. Julia returns to her family's home in Jamaica, where she runs the plantation with precision. Thirteen years later, Julia is in England once more. Her life has changed dramatically in the passing years with the deaths of her twin brother and her mother and the subsequent move to England. Julia enjoys getting to know her father better but can't help but be jealous of his devotion to the Navy. She also does not like her chaperone, her aunt, Lady Pembroke, who doesn't approve of mere sailors. William Ransome, now a Captain, has returned to England now peace has come. While he waits for his ship to be refitted, her stays with family at the home his closest friend Collin, Captain Yates. Collin's wife Susan is Julia's dearest friend, and thus they are thrown together once again.  

If Julia doesn't marry by her 30th birthday next month, she'll receive her inheritance in full. Julia is determined to return to Jamaica and live her life freely, as she chooses. Julia's aunt has other ideas about Julia's fortune. She hatches a plan that is utterly disagreeable to Julia and threatens the honor of the Witherington name if Julia doesn't comply. With her father away on business, Julia turns to the only person she knows can help, William Ransome. Julia proposes a business arrangement marriage of convenience to her former love. He's not so sure he wants to be married. His devotion is to the Navy and nothing else, but yet, he can't help wanting to protect Julia. Julia is determined not to fall in love with William all over again. She feels he used her only to get close to her father, but she can't help but begin to feel the stirrings of her heart once again.

This story is a rewrite of Persuasion, my favorite Austen novel, so I couldn't wait to read it. Unfortunately, it didn't meet my expectations. The plot was full of gaping holes that didn't make much sense. Honor is overemphasized in the plot to a ridiculous degree. I didn't believe any of the reasons characters invoked honor to do something stupid. Julia is also of age and no one can force her to do anything. Even if rumors are spread, it's pretty obvious that soon everyone will know Julia was the wronged party so her actions are not justified. The romance was a bit hollow too. It's supposed to be a slow burn but never fully develops and is rushed at the end. It leaves room for development in the sequels, I suppose, but it wasn't the ending I hoped for. The characters are all pretty bland. Not one of them is memorable. Julia is whiny and easily persuadable. William is too stiff and they're both too proud. The villains are typical stock villains of this sort of novel. The only character I found interesting is Charlotte Ransome, William's headstrong sister. I didn't like her enough to want to read her book (#2 in the trilogy). It's pretty obvious what is going to happen. This is supposed to be an inspirational novel, but it's pretty tame on the religious end of things. The characters pray for guidance one in awhile but they take responsibility for their own actions, which pleased me. If you like this sort of novel, try Regina Scott's Everard Legacy and other inspirational novels instead.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend  . . .

Sisters of Glass by Stephanie Hemphill -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

This novel in verse tells the story of Maria Barovier, the daughter of Angelo Barovier, the inventor of  cristallo (crystal). For nearly two-hundred years, since 1291, glass has been made on the island of Murano in Venice, Italy. Maria's father trained her to work in the fornica, the hot furnace where glass is made. She loves everything about the art of glass making and would love to take over the family business some day, but Maria's family has a different fate in mind for her. Maria was born the day her Papa invented cristallo and he felt she was so lucky she should marry a nobleman. Traditionally, it should be the eldest daughter who marries into nobility not the youngest. Maria doesn't understand the implications of the reversal of tradition at first, but then her Papa dies, and when Maria's Mama finally takes an interest in Maria and Maria's whole world changes. Now she is locked up in her room and not allowed to visit the furnace, sketch or do anything that isn't befitting the future wife of a nobleman. Even worse, her brothers and uncle introduce her to a string of undesirable suitors. Maria's older sister Giovanna, has changed too. She's no longer a kind and loving confidante. In order to restore the family fortune and reputation, Maria's family hires a new, young glassmaker. At first Maria finds the orphaned young man rude and crude but she soon discovers he shares her passion for glass as an art and Maria's heart is torn in two. She can not go against her father's wishes, even though Vanna is the one who deserves to marry a nobleman not Maria. With so much at stake, could she defy her family and risk ruining the family name and business? This is a new story that I haven't heard, though my parents have been to Murano! I liked Maria because she's passionate about glass and she loves her family. Though she's a rebel at heart and sometimes a real pain, she values tradition. Being (half) Italian, I can empathize with her dilemma. Maria's mother comes across as unfeeling and other times she's sympathetic. I liked that she is not a stereotypical wicked mother, but someone who is in a tight spot and understands her daughter's unhappiness but there's nothing she can do about it. The romance is sweet though the solution to the problem is very highly unlikely! The plot kept me reading and wondering what would happen. The verse is beautiful. It's blank verse, like most novels in verse, and I'm not sure why the author chose to tell her story that way. The descriptions of Venice and Murano are amazing even though they are described in only a few words. I've been to Venice but not Murano. There's a handy glossary in the back of the book that explains glassblowing terms, Italian laws, government, architecture and other unfamiliar things that appear in the novel.

Friday, February 15, 2013

What I Read Last Week

What I Read This Week . . .

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

In 1852, a young lady of no fortune has very little options in life. Seventeen-year-old Katharine Tulman knows she will never marry. She is indebted to her aunt and greedy little cousin for her room and board. In return, she keeps the books for her aunt, something that gives her a comfortable, if unwelcome position in the household. Katharine is told to travel to Yorkshire to commit her uncle to a madhouse for spending the family fortune on who knows what. At first Katharine discovers a creepy, old, decaying mansion with an unfriendly housekeeper and a mute boy for company. She isn't allowed to see her uncle right away, not until "playtime." Katharine soon discovers that her uncle is a genius inventor of clockwork figures and toys. Her uncle, capricious and childlike trusts very few people; only Lane, his trusted keeper and sometimes Ben Aldridge, a handsome man who lives in the village and has an interest in the workshop. The locals are suspicious of Katharine, and rightly so, for if she sends her uncle away, hundreds of people will be sent back to the workhouse. Katharine feels badly about betraying her uncle and his workers and ruining her budding friendship with a certain young man, but she feels she has to look out for herself. As the days turn into weeks, Katharine becomes more and more torn about her decision. When mysterious events happen to Katharine, she begins to doubt her own sanity. She doesn't know who to trust or who to turn to. Only the portrait of her late grandmother outside her bedroom provides any sort of comfort. How can she do what is right if she doesn't know what right is or what is happening to her? 

This dark, Gothic suspense story in tradition of Jane Eyre grabbed me right away and I had a very difficult time putting it down. The description on Amazon is misleading - this book is Victorian Gothic and not steampunk, but it does contain detailed descriptions about the making of clockwork figures. The plot takes so many twists and turns that even though I suspected WHAT and WHO, my opinion changed over and over and I never expected WHY or HOW or the direction the story takes after that mystery is solved. Some of the resolution is predictable but otherwise, the story will keep you reading until the last page is done. The romance plot left me unsatisfied though I felt it was a little bit predictable. There's room for a sequel/companion novel too. The descriptions of the estate were so detailed, I felt like I could see everything Katharine was doing. The technical descriptions of the clockwork mechanisms and mathematical equations are a bit much for me. The characters are very interesting and unique. Katharine is a bit unlikeable at first. She's selfish and can seem cruel at times, yet she's also compassionate and passionate. She's a math whiz, like her uncle, and I hate to sound like a stereotypical girl, but I can not abide math so I couldn't like that about her. I felt she was a bit too naive at times and could have prevented a lot of the gothic plot by being more aware. Her suitors are very different from each other. One is a bit surly and I wondered if he was supposed to be a Heathcliff type and the other is a typical gentleman. I liked Katharine's relationship with the brooding type character but not with the other gentleman. My favorite characters were sweet Davy and his hare Bertram and Mary. Mary provides the comic relief in the story. If you like Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden, gothic  romances, and The Adventures of Hugo Cabret, you will undoubtedly like this one. See also Magic Under Glass.

Visit Sharon Camerson's website to see the estate that inspired the novel.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What I Read Recently UPDATED

What I Read Recently . . .

Lord Yates and the Yankee by Joy Reed -- Regency Romance

Lord Vincent Yates is bored. He's infamous for his exploits but they've become boring. His Mama is after him to marry and secure the secession but Vincent can't bring himself to marry any of the simpering misses of the ton. He came close to marriage once, with the lovely Desdemona who is now married to one of Vincent's closest friends. Mona seems to want to resume their old flirtation and Vincent is tempted. To alleviate boredom, he decides to pop in on his sister's literary salon for the famous American author Samuel Locke. Vincent finds himself enjoying the lively novels and looks forward to meeting Mr. Locke. Vincent then makes the acquaintance of Miss Constance Locke, daughter of the author, and she takes him to task merely for being an Earl. Vincent has never been so shocked in his life but realizes that her argument is valid and enjoys a lively debate with the young lady. He's soon interested in seeing more of her to show her that not all Earls are dissipated wastrels. Constance is a pragmatic Yankee bluestocking who despises the wastefulness of the aristocracy. She's surprised and pleased when she meets Vincent and eager to spend more time in his company. She tells herself she must not fall in love for Vincent can not be serious and he stands for all she hates, plus there's the little matter of her fiance Will back home in Boston. This story is a take on Pride and Prejudice. Constance even has "very fine" dark eyes. I couldn't resist this novel about a Yankee bluestocking, being one myself (with dark eyes), but the story didn't quite live up to my expectations. I really liked Constance. I could easily see myself saying some of the things she says, just not in public! Once her motivation for speaking out was revealed, I conceded that I probably WOULD have behaved exactly the same. I admired her outspokenness and her ability to revise her opinion. (Unlike someone who's good opinion once lost is gone forever.). My problem was with Lord Yates. He's 35 and acts more like 25 or younger. Vincent is known as a dandy, a tulip, a pink of the ton and his speech is peppered with "What?," 'Pon rep!" and "By Jove!" I kept hoping that as he matured, he would drop the silly dandy speech  but he never did. His ridiculous speech pattern was cute as first but grew annoying after awhile. Georgette Heyer knew how to use it sparingly for her sidekick characters so it remained funny and fresh. I did like that Vincent wanted to change for Constance, but his transformation happened quickly and we were mostly told about it and didn't see much of him on his estate. The story stalled and dragged on after that. It's not long in terms of Zebra Regency novels but feels long and repetitive. I disliked that Constance was engaged to someone else already. That's the primary factor that kept the hero and heroine apart. As a result, there's not much courtship or many really sweet moments.The story would have been better without the fiance. This could have been a cute novella instead of a mediocre novel. I would recommend it but it's not one for the keeper shelf. 

The Duke and Miss Denny by Joy Reed -- Regency Romance

Miss Judith Denny has come to keep her older sister company in London. She senses something is not quite right with her sister's marriage and she might be able to mediate and fix things. Judith's sister stages a big come out for Judith, something which the practical vicar's daughter does not want. Lady Fanny Spicer offers all sorts of advice for her little sister and when Judy takes that advice a bit too much to heart, she ends up accidentally snubbing a Duke! The Duke of Ashland is astonished at being snubbed by a nobody when he was merely trying to be helpful. He's determined to meet this girl and find out why she snubbed him. When Judith realizes her mistake, she apologizes in her plain spoken manner and quickly endears herself to Ashland. He loses his heart to his new friend and he is determined to make her his wife. That is, if their meddling relatives don't interfere! Judith has doubts about becoming a Countess and makes up her mind to refuse Ashland, should he offer, though it will break her heart. She hadn't counted on the depths of his feeling or his determination, however. What should she do? This is a nice, quiet little romance. Nothing much happens except a lot of talking. It gets bogged down a bit with Judy's self-sacrificing act which goes on a bit long. What happens after that is exactly what I would have suggested. I liked the details in that part of the book more than the beginning and I felt that part should have come earlier and ended sooner. It dragged on a bit too long because it got weighted down with details and Fanny's subplot. The story won't keep you guessing but it will please lovers of sweet romances. I really liked Judy. She's very kind and caring but not obnoxiously good. I like the way she speaks her mind and makes her own decisions. Ashland is an average hero. He's bored with Society, tired of being hunted by matchmaking Mamas and their daughters and enjoys the fresh breath of air Miss Denny breathes into his life. 

Desperate Measures by Candice Hern -- Regency Short Story (free E-book)

Miss Lydia Bettride is desperate. Her Mama is after her to choose a husband but the man she loves doesn't love her back. Geoffrey Danforth is one of her brother's friends and treats her like a sister. What's a lovesick maiden to do? Enlist the aid of another friend of her brother's to play the suitor to make Geoffrey jealous. When Philip cries off and lets Geoffrey take his place, Lydia doesn't know what to do. She comes up with a brilliant solution that will hopefully have Goeffrey in her arms in no time. Her plan seems to be working too well when Geoffrey awakens her budding sensuality. Will they or won't they get together in the end? This story is dreadful. It could have worked as a longer story but the length makes the action happy too quickly. The backstory comes a little too late after characters are mentioned but not explained who they are. The romance heats up quickly and is more sensual than I expected. The sensual scene is plopped in the story without really exploring what it means to the characters. They very briefly talk after that and then the story ends. It's all a bit too quick for me.  There's no time for character development or a slowly developing relationship. The hero and heroine already know each other so that the story can proceed right to romance. I prefer a more slow burn type relationship that begins in friendship and ends in a proposal. This author has gotten rave reviews from clean Regency fans and I hope her non-free, full length novels are better.

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently . . . 

Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter -- Young Adult Classic

This follow-up to Freckles is about Elnora Comstock, a girl who lives on the edge of the dwindling Limberlost. Her father died the day she was born and her mother is lost to bitterness and grief so Elnora has been left to her own devices to study at the school of hard knocks. She desires learning above all else and has inherited Freckles' room and books. She loves the trees and the wind and the beautiful moths of the swap, but what she really wants is to go to school. Having finished grammar school, she decides to attend high school in Onabasha. She encounters many difficulties and is able to overcome prejudice through her natural good grace and humor. Money troubles are always on the horizon but help comes in the form of Elnora's specimens. The Bird Woman and others are willing to pay Elnora to collect rare moths and ferns and other flora and fauna of the Limberlost. As the years go on, Elnora has to fight through her mother's neglect, more financial difficulties and matters of the heart. With the help of some allies (some unexpected, others not) she finds she can hold her head high and deal with anything that comes her way and she may just have a happily ever after after all. 

This story is very similar to Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea with the extra added component of nature. The descriptions of the moths and the Limberlost are incredibly detailed. I learned a lot about the flora and fauna of the lower Great Lakes region and I wished I could see it for myself. The plot is interesting and engaging. It captured my attention from the beginning and I had a hard time putting it down. There are some of the usual plot devices as seen in Anne, but the way they come about is more realistic and the characters more fleshed out. There is one plot point mentioned early on (the gang) that never fully made it into the book that left me confused as to why it was introduced. I especially liked the character of Elnora's mother because she is so fully described, has a back story and undergoes a lot of change and growth throughout the story. I liked Elnora but she's a bit too good to be true. She doesn't have the charm of Anne. She's just too perfect and good. My favorite character is Billy. He would be good friends with Davy in Anne of Avonlea. His scenes always made me laugh even when they were tragic. (That was intended by the author). The Library of Indiana Classics edition has wood cut illustrations in black and white which don't fully do the story justice. I would have liked to have seen full color illustrations and illustrations of the moths. If you love Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, The Secret Garden, and A Little Princess, you will be sure to enjoy this classic as well.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

A Weekend With Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly -- Austenesque/ Contemporary Romance/Women's Fiction

Dr. Katherine Roberts is looking forward to a fun weekend away at a Jane Austen conference in Hampshire. She's a busy  career woman, a lecturer at Oxford who would be laughed at if her secret obsession with Jane Austen's novels was known.  She adores not just Austen's novels, but the numerous sequels, spin-offs and Regency novels, especially those steamy romances by bestseller Lorna Warwick. Katherine has had more than her share of man troubles and dreams of finding a true love like Mr. Darcy. She wishes she could write to Jane Austen about how the novels make her feel but instead, she's become pen-pals with Lorna Warwick, sharing thoughts on the novels, Jane Austen, life, love and everything else. She hopes Lorna Warwick will come to the conference so they can finally meet. Lorna Warwick has a dilemma. Lorna would love to meet Katherine in person. They have so much in common and have formed such a deep connection - the only problem is, Lorna is actually a man. Warwick Lawton was brought up with an appreciation for good literature and he loves Jane Austen as much as any woman and even dreams of finding his own Elizabeth Bennet or one of his heroines. He thinks he's found that soul mate in Katherine, but how to convince her? He decides to attend the conference incognito so Katherine will get to know him as himself. At first, like Elizabeth and Darcy, they don't get along, but Warwick is determined to woo Katherine and win her over. The only problem is, what will happen if she finds out he lied? Katherine is no stranger to heartache and can't stand liars! Robyn Love is also attending the Jane Austen weekend conference. She loves Jane Austen novels and watching the movies and sighing over the romances. Her real life romance bears little resemblance to one in the novels. Her long-time boyfriend Jace Collins, loathes Jane Austen and doesn't understand Robyn's interest. He's immature and perpetually drunk and Robyn hopes the weekend away will give them space to begin a permanent separation. Jace has trouble letting go, however, and tags along to Hampshire only to cause trouble. Robyn finds a sympathetic listener in Dan, a stable worker on the estate where the conference is being held. Dan is everything an Austen fan would want in a hero but Robyn isn't free. Will she have the courage to break up with Jace? This is a sweet romantic story that vaguely resembles Pride and Prejudice. Katherine is outspoken and witty, like Elizabeth and I liked and admired her. I loved that she's an independent career woman and she's also a romantic. Warwick isn't really anything like Darcy except that he makes a fool out of himself when he first meets Katharine. I think he would be a great hero but I couldn't forgive him for lying to Katharine and using his knowledge of her to win her over. Robyn is sweet and lovely like Jane Bennet and I felt sorry for her and rooted for her to find herself. Dan is the perfect romantic hero. He's a bit too perfect to be true but like Bingley, his needs are simple and he has a big heart. I think many women could easily fall in love with him. I liked Robyn's story a bit more than Katherine's. It was more sincere and realistic. She had real problems to overcome and challenges to face before she can think about happily ever after and I appreciated the realistic aspects of her plot. Katherine's plot dragged too long in the middle and was rushed at the end. I would have done the ending a bit differently, but it works fine the way it is. The Jane Austen conference sounds amazing and I would love to attend! Janeites who like the old sweet style romances will enjoy this one. There is one bedroom scene but it fades to black after a lot of kissing.

Dreaming of Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly Austenesque/ Contemporary Romance/Women's Fiction

In Connelly's second book about Jane Austen lovers, the heroine, Kay secretly dreams of finding her own Mr. Darcy while toiling away at a job she hates.  She also dreams of being a painter and living by the sea, but none of that will ever happen to her, will it? When a dear friend dies and leaves Kay an inheritance, Kay decides to relocate to Lyme, the setting of Persuasion, to get back to her illustrations of Austen heroes. She opens a Bed and Breakfast Wentworth House (of course) and is surprised when the cast of a new film version of Persuasion descends on her doorstep. Kay is thrilled to have movie stars staying at her home, especially the handsome roguish Oli Wade Wilson, her celebrity crush, who is playing Captain Wentworth. The cast members are a mixed bag of personalities: besides Oli, there's Beth, the diva and Sophie the nice but gossipy one and Gemma, sweet and shy. Gemma is the daughter of a famous actress and living in her mother's shadow. She fears she can't live up to her mother's expectations or worse, she'll become her mother, vainly reliving past glories when the glory days are long gone. There's only one person who is sympathetic and it comes as a huge surprise. Meanwhile, Kay's days are spent cleaning, cooking, watching the shoot and exploring the area with Adam, the screenwriter, who lives nearby. Adam fell in love with Kay the minute he saw her, but his shyness prevented him from making a move. Adam's Nana keeps telling him to seize the moment, but how can he when when Kay's head is filled with Oli? While Kay finds Adam nice and encouraging, she's convinced he's perfect for Gemma! Will the path to true romance ever become clear or is Adam destined to be alone with his cat for the rest of his life? I liked the twist on the shy spinster plot. It's unusual to see a shy hero in literature. I found Adam very kind and charming but didn't quite fall in love with him. I liked him much better than Kay, however. Reading this novel was painful. Kay is a grown woman, a Jane Austen fan, who compares herself to Emma without realizing the moral of the story. She spends most of the book mooning over Oli like a silly school girl, despite repeated warnings from others not to lose her heart. Kay comes across as annoying and obnoxious and I couldn't stand her. She doesn't deserve Adam. Likewise, Oli is a typical rake, easy to see through and fun to crush on but not to commit to. Even his plot twist at the end was obvious to me. Kay should have seen it coming. Gemma is a likeable character, more than Kay. I would have liked more of the story from her point of view. She's sweet and her needs are simple like Jane Bennet. She's not a typical heroine or a stereotype though. Her inner turmoil is justified by the actions of her stereotypical mother. Her romance seems to come out of thin air and doesn't really develop. The focus on Kay makes the much more unconventional romance take backstage. Kay's plot drags on way too long and the romantic climax comes way too late and is too rushed. There's an epilogue which is entirely unnecessary and makes the book even longer. I didn't like this one as much as the first. This one is totally clean, with one bedroom scene fade to black before anything happens. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently  . . .

Double Crossed by Ally Carter -- Young Adult Contemporary Fiction (e-novella)

This story is a merger of Ally Carter's two worlds. It's available for free as a Kindle book or e-book. Macey McHenry (from Gallagher Girls) is bored at a society function at a high rise in New York until she meets the mysterious young man who calls himself Hale. Hale (from Heist Society) is likewise bored at the party and is amused by Macey's attempts to figure him out. Then the teens notice that something is about to go terribly wrong and only they know it. When masked men take hostages and rob priceless jewels, Macey and Hall have to trust each other enough and use their skills to save the day without blowing Macey's cover or Hale's secret identity. This is a fun novella for those who love the Ally Carter's books. I love that both sets of characters finally get a chance to meet and team up. The story is full of action and witty dialogue. I love the meeting between Macey and Hale - both so aware of each other and unsure what to make of the other. I also loved seeing Macey take action and use her skills from the Gallagher Academy. It was realistic (or as realistic given the secret spy school storyline) for her to put her skills to use in a dangerous situation and the situation made sense in the real world, unlike Cammie's super secret terrorist organization plot. Macey is a more interesting and multi-dimensional character than Cammie and breathes fresh life into the story. Hale is as handsome and mysterious as ever. He clarifies his relationship with Kat, finally, which is nice. Kat even makes an appearance as a key player in the drama and even gets a surprising offer at the end. The one thing I didn't like about the story was the whodunnit. It was obvious that a certain person would be motivated to steal something but the elaborate scheme seemed a bit over the top and that the teens figured it out seemed a bit much. Even so, I am dying for the next Heist Society novel and this was a good filler. I can't wait to see what the teen thieves get up to this time. The e-book is a bit disappointing because it tells you the book is 166 pages when in actuality, the story is only about 94 pages and the rest is just chapters from previous books I've already read, but for free, I guess I can not complain.