Saturday, March 30, 2013

What I Read This Week

What I Read This Week . . .

Do Not Disturb (Pennyfoot Hotel Mystery #2) by Kate Kinsgbury -- Historical Mystery

Autumn 1906 : Mr. Bickley, a worker on the new lighthouse project, steps outside to answer a knock on his door one evening and promptly dies. At first the local police think he suffered a fatal heart attack, but the postmortem results come back as poison! When Madeline Pengrath, an eccentric herbalist is taken in for questioning, Mrs. Cecily Sinclair, steps in to solve the mystery before her friend can be wrongly accused. Cecily is a widow and owner of the Pennyfoot hotel. She misses her husband but enjoys the freedom the new century and the Queen's death have brought, much to the dismay of her manager, Baxter. A mysterious, black veil-wearing guest has checked into the hotel. She claims to be a widow but her behavior is a bit suspicious. Cecily knows better than to ask questions though, for she allows her patrons to engage in behavior the authorities wouldn't quite like. Her reticence doesn't stop housemaid Gertie from voicing her opinions below stairs. Gertie has her own personal problems to deal with though, so her fears must be overcome if she's to stay in a job. Only Mrs. Chubb, the housekeeper, knows Gertie's secret and is determined to help. 

This is the second book in the series. I haven't read the first and I don't feel that it's necessary to read the first book first. This story has it's own self-contained mystery and introduces the characters to the reader. I feel indifferent towards this book. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. The mystery is interesting and kept me guessing all the way until the end. Cecily figured it out before I did! There was a large red herring and I was convinced I was right until I was proven wrong. The ending is too rushed and I would have liked a little bit more conclusion. There is a little bit of violence in the form of tavern brawling, but no hardboiled crime. This is very much a cozy mystery. There are some period details relating to the changing roles of women and commerce which I liked. The characters are quirky and colorful. Cecily is the most fleshed out and interesting in this story. I liked her and could relate to her desire to be something more than what was expected of her, but she's quite a bit older than me and I couldn't fully relate to her. Also, there's a lot of repetitive telling. The other characters were a little underdeveloped. There are hints at some unusual relationships in the story that may develop as the series progresses. I liked the little hint at romance. The language didn't sound very period though so that really turned me off. Some of the scenes were repetitive and others lacked momentum. I was expecting more Downton Abbey, I suppose, and failing to live up to my expectations, I just couldn't love the book. I may read more in the series later on though. This is a short, quick read that would be perfect for the beach or a lazy day.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What I Read Last Weekend

What I Read Last Weekend . . .

Regency Christmas Spirits by Nancy Butler, Emma Jensen, Edith Layton, Barbara Metzger, Andrea Pickens

Nancy Butler takes the spirit theme literally in A Merry Wanderer. A mischievous spirit is sent to earth to ensure the safety of a rare and precious book that has the means to destroy the faerey world. His attempts to find the book bring him in contact with the beautiful Julia, Lady of Islay. An impoverished spinster caring for her younger brother, Julia has little time or inclination for preserving the treasures of her father's vault. The mania for rare books and manuscripts led to her father's death and bankrupted the family, so naturally Julia feels animosity towards the vault. At first she dislikes and mistrusts Robin, but when her obnoxious relative comes to call with dire news on Christmas, Robin helps her battle her cousin and maintain the holiday spirit. A wicked villain is trying to destroy the faery realm and Robin has to choose between his love for his home and his growing love for Julia.
I'm not really into the whole paranormal romance thing, but Robin Goodfellow is my favorite sprite so I got over my disinterest quickly. The romance develops nicely from friendship with some sensuality. There's one major kissing scene that I didn't like, otherwise the romance is fine. I liked Robin a lot. He's charming and funny and a bit naughty at times. Julia is harder to like. She's prickly but she's frustrated because she loves her home and her brother and doesn't want to lose it. She learns to relax a bit and let love in. I especially loved the vault. As a special collections librarian, a place like that is a dream come true!

The Wexford Carol by Emma Jensen is another story about an impoverished spinster trying to save her family home. Miss Elizabeth Fitzhollis is working desperately hard to save her family home and the loyal servants still at her disposal. When her horrible cousin brings Yuletide tidings that Hollymore has been sold to a Duke who plans to raze the old manor house, Elizabeth is dismayed. Yet, she refuses to give up. When the new owner's land manager, Lawrence Jones, shows up, Elizabeth is determined to make him see the beauty in the place. Captain Lord Rhys Edward-Jones is just home from many years in the Navy. He can't believe his brother wants him to stay in this crumbling ruin with a sharp-tongued spinster even though that lady has lovely curves. Rhys's nephew tags along and quite enjoys himself. He's determined to bring Christmas spirits to Elizabeth and his uncle. It won't be easy because of their respective prejudices and Rhys's hardened heart, but those closest to them can see what's happening and work hard to ensure there's love under the mistletoe this holiday season.
 The plot is interesting and at times, funny. I loved Elizabeth. She's a very tough heroine and her devotion to her family home is touching, but even I had to admit that it was time to let go. Rhys is an interesting hero if you like the brooding type. I would have liked more of his back story. This story follows The Irish Rogue so there may be more about Rhys in other books. More back story would help me to understand why Rhys has such a hard heart and why he's very unpleasant at first. I liked this story the best of them all.

High Spirits by Edith Layton features a shy heroine, Arabella, who has no interest in the delights of the Season. All she wants to do is go home, but her stepmama won't allow it. Arabella's brother pledges his moral support and offers a bit of Dutch courage to his sister. Soon Arabella is the belle of the ton and all due to the spirits. The hero is sent by his aunt to find out Arabella's intentions towards his younger cousin. He expects a jade and instead finds a sweet, compassionate girl who inspires him to search for a wife. Rupert watches Arabella and discovers that she exhibits a different personality by night than by day. She must be playing a game with him! When he learns of her secret, he's determined to show Arabella what could be in store for her and make her see herself as he sees her.
This story is vaugely Christmas Carol-esque and rather depressing. I'd never read about an alcoholic heroine before and I'm not interested in reading about another one. Of course there's a moral to the story. The moral is very heavy handed and I just didn't like this story. As for the romance, the getting to know you stage is mentioned in passing. There's not much of a romance until the end. I would have liked more early interaction between the hero and heroine. This was my least favorite story in the collection.

The Christmas Curse by Barbara Metzger begins with an ancient curse condemning Sir Olnic and Lady Edryth to a lifetime of wandering the ether unless their heir finds her ladyship's ring and places it on the finger of his beloved. The ghosts can only become corporeal at Yultide and they are determined to make the most of it. When the ghosts frighten the carriage of two elderly ladies, the ladies are forced to stay at Worth Keep. Oliver Nicholson, Baron Worth, has returned to his ancestral home weary and battle scarred (both physically and emotionally). He doesn't believe in ghosts and is not amused that he's been saddled with two houseguests. He needs an unmarried lady to play chaperone and enlists the aid of his late best friend's cousin, the poor widow Amelia Merriot, much to the dismay of her autocratic aunt. Amelia enjoys feeling needed and she comes to know the Baron and fears she's in danger of losing her heart. Nick discovers that he likes the way his household is run with a lady in residence and begins to think of asking Amelia for a marriage of convenience. If the spirits have any say about it, the pair will not be falling in love and do all they can to prevent the match while also trying to coerce Amelia's dog into finding the cursed wedding ring.
This story isn't quite as zany as her usual. The dog only plays a secondary role and it's the ghosts who play comic relief in this story. I did not like the crude, bawdy humor exhibited by the ghosts. I also did not like how the getting to know each other stage was glossed over in summary. With it, the romance would have been more interesting and believable. I liked Amelia a lot. She's a heroine who knows her own mind and isn't afraid of anything. Nick is a brooding hero. His back story adds an extra dimension to this story which I liked. This was my second favorite story.

A Gathering of Gifts is about a spoiled brat appropriately named Emma, who injured herself and ends up on the couch of the new neighbor, Noel Trumbull, the new Lord Kirtland. Though he has a (new) title, he is not rich and Emma is certain to be bored in this modest home. She orders her cousin Charles to visit often to amuse her. Soon Emma is charmed by Noel's sweet nephew and enjoys gossiping about fashion with Noel's recently widowed sister Anne. Helping prepare the cottage for Christmas brings cheer to Emma's convalescence. If only Noel didn't think her a nuisance and despise her. Noel is not happy having such a spoiled girl on his hands. He's determined not to let any member of his household give in to her whims. He finds himself unexpectedly drawn to her beauty and spirited personality but there's no way a grand lady like her could ever come to care for an old soldier like him.
The heroine of this story, like her namesake, is hard to like. She's very much like Gwendolen in Daniel Deronda, but still wealthy. She turns into a watering pot and a stutterer around the hero which I found highly annoying. The romance develops quickly and is partly based on physical attraction. Noel has a brief back story that explains his character. He's kind and considerate but becomes grouchy with Emma. She learns a lesson and becomes more likeable by the end, but I am not truly convinced by the romance. This story is good but not great.

Friday, March 22, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . 

Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Hattie Inez Brooks has failed to make good on her homestead claim. Now she's working at a boarding house to pay her uncle's debt. She's doing exactly what she left home to avoid doing but somehow she enjoys it more knowing she tried. She's not sure what she's going to do next. Her old pal Charlie wants her to join him in Seattle and in matrimony. Hattie's not sure she's ready for that yet though she misses him and her friends the Muellers, who are also in Seattle. A traveling vaudeville troop gives Hattie the opportunity she needs to leave Montana. When Hattie and the troop arrive in San Francisco, Hattie is amazed and overwhelmed. She has decided that her calling is to be a reporter and where better to find good news stories than in San Francisco? She decides to start by solving the mystery of her uncle's past. She begins by befriending Chester's old girlfriend, Ruby Danvers. She also meets the dashing reporter, Ned, who has his own plans for Hattie. Hattie is determined never to lose sight of her goal and never to give up on her dreams. Her quest takes her places she's never dreamed and just when she is on the verge of achieving her dreams, something happens to make her question everything she thought she believed and wanted. The period details of this novel are amazing! Shout-out to my fellow research nerd Kibry Larson who spent hours combing through old newspapers to create Hattie's world. I really admired Hattie's pluck in the first book and here she has the same enthusiastic determination. She's a great character, but she's a bit naive. Certain characters' motivations were transparent to me but not Hattie and I hate being one step ahead of the character. I'm not the target age for this novel though so perhaps it's not so obvious for younger people. The plot didn't quite thrill me as much. I couldn't put it down until the mystery was solved even though I guessed something was up with a certain person. I would have liked the plot better without the big mystery. The mystery leads to the heavy-handed moral, which I didn't like. I was a bit surprised at Hattie's decision at the end and it's not the same one I would have had her make. I don't think fans of Hattie Big Sky will be disappointed in this book, though. For all those who wondered "what happens next" this book is for you. 

A Season for the Heart by Elizabeth Chater-- Regency Romance

Miss Melpomene Rand is a virtual unpaid servant in her family's home. Her aunt and cousins never miss a chance to abuse her. Pommy, given a classical education by her grandfather, retreats into fantasy to escape the boredom of her terrible life. She envisions herself as a Blighted Heroine whom everyone will regret abusing in the end. When she discovers a plot to hold up her family's carriage on the way to London, she sees her chance to be real life heroine. Fleeing the local inn's public room for help, she literally runs into Derek Masterson, the Earl of Austell who possesses a literary and romantic mind as well. Upon hearing Pommy's tale, he's determined to help. The Earl's interest in Pommy leads him to hire her as a companion for his grieving sister-in-law. He hopes Pommy's lively nature will encourage the beautiful widow out into Society again. Along the way to London, they rescue a damsel in distress with possible disastrous consequences. Pommy hatches plan after plan to rescue her beloved benefactor from an unwanted marriage. Together with the Earl's heir, Gareth, she comes up with a perfect plan. However, Lady Masterston has her own schemes at hand, as does Derek; plans which include making Pommy a permanent fixture in his life. This is a cute romance, along the lines of a Georgette Heyer plot. I loved Pommy from the outset. Fans of Anne of Green Gables will instantly find a kindred spirit in Pommy and her vivid imagination. Derek's lively mind makes a nice change for a hero. He isn't brooding, just bored, and he isn't a dandy, Corinthian or Nonesuch. He's just a gentleman. At times though, he acts a little too forceful for my liking. The secondary characters are not as well drawn. They provide a few chuckles but nothing more. The plot doesn't quite reach the level of Georgette Heyer or Barbara Metzger. It starts off well enough but then the author relies on too many familiar tropes to make it truly outrageous. The story is largely built on misunderstandings, which I hate. It's my pet peeve that characters don't just talk to each other. The ending is a tiny bit rushed. I would have preferred a more drawn out romantic scene out of one of Pommy's novels, but it's sweet. This book is totally clean- not even any kisses and definitely nothing that would put Georgette Heyer to the blush. I'm not sure Jane Austen would have found it witty enough for her tastes and Miss Heyer may have rankled at the copying of her genre, but fans of both those ladies will enjoy this one for sure.

What I've Listened to Recently

What I've Listened to Recently . . .

Who Could That Be At This Hour? (All the Wrong Questions) by Lemony Snicket, Read by Liam Aiken -- Middle Grades Fiction

This story is a prequel to The Series of Unfortunate Events. It explains in more detail who Lemony Snicket is and how he came to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It fills in more details than the Unauthorized Autobiography. At 13, young Lemony Snicket has just completed his schooling. He's about to catch a train to meet his new chaperone and embark on his first assignment when a note drops into his lap in the Hemlock Tea Room urging him to sneak out the bathroom window. Lemony's chaperone, S. Theodora Markson, has other plans in mind for Lemony. They've been called to the mysterious ghost town, Stained By the Sea to steal back a statue that was stolen from one of the town's oldest residents. When they begin to investigate, Lemony learns that all may not be what it seems. His investigation is hindered by his chaperone, who is ranked dead last. He's desperately trying to help an associate back in the city and avoid being arrested by the town's two bumbling cops. I enjoyed this story nearly as much as the original A Series of Unfortunate Events. It's told with the same trademark dry humor and wit as ASUE and contains a lot of high vocabulary that even I didn't know, and as you know, I'm a librarian! It also contains a lot of literary allusions which I enjoyed, and as with the vocabulary, I couldn't identify them all. This story is more of a mystery than the previous series and ends in a cliffhanger. As with ASUE, the adults are portrayed as idiots who betray the kids at every turn. There's a moral here somewhere about growing up and adults not having all the answers. There are probably more morals.  I did not like the reader. Liam Aiken played Klaus in the movie, but I don't see him as Lemony Snicket. His voice is soporific, a word which here means, boring. He didn't vary his tone much or attempt different voices. He engaged me enough to follow the story without falling asleep but he's not Tim Curry. This audio production is disappointing because it lacks the morose music of Snicket's later ASUE audio books. This book is a must-read for fans of the original series and new readers alike. Being a huge fan of ASUE, I really enjoyed this book. I can't wait to read the rest of the series.

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently . . .

 The Jungle Book Vol. 1 by Rudyard Kipling, Illustrated by Aldren Watson -- Children's Classic

This series of interconnected stories is a familiar tale to many who have seen the Disney movie. As usual, Disney changed the story beyond recognition. The real Jungle Book stories are about a pack of wolves in the Indian jungle who have their own code of honor system. When a menacing, man-eating tiger Shere Khan threatens the way of life of the jungle animals, a panther named Bagheera steps in and rescues the man-cub from the tiger. Thus Mowgli is adopted into the Seonee pack and becomes one of them. He's mentored by Bagheera, Baloo the Bear and Kaa the python as well as his wolf parents. These stories relate Mowgli's struggle for survival and a place in the jungle. The description of life in an Indian jungle is wonderful. There's lots of detailed description and though the animals speak to each other, they aren't exactly anthropomorphized. They behave very much as normal animals do. I did object to the depiction of the silly, lawless monkeys though. It did help me understand the Victorian mindset of anti-Darwinism though. I found these stories very hard to get through. There are too many characters to remember and they speak in an archaic form. Some of the stories are a little violent and scary. I would not recommend this book for young children. I did not like the illustrations in this edition. They are very dark and abstract, making it difficult to know what we're supposed to be looking at.

Monday, March 18, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Counterfeit Kisses by Sandra Heath -- Regency Romance

Sir Gareth Carew, passing time at his club while awaiting orders for his next government assignment, intently watches a card game between the notorious Duke of Exton and the young Stephen Holland, a youth fresh from the country.  The men are both vying for the favors of Fleur Fitzgerald, who is currently gracing the younger man's bed - for a price. She demands the ruby tiara that has been in the Holland family for centuries, for she believes the tiara belongs to the Fitzgeralds. When a drunk Stephen loses the tiara to the Duke, he's dismayed and worried what his twin sister will think. Gareth helps Stephen home and must put up with verbal abuse from the young man and his sister for his pains. Three years later, a widowed Susannah Holland Leighton is returning to London from her home in Bengal with her Indian servant and pet monkey, Chatterjee. She's determined to find the tiara and get it back before Exton sells it. A chance meeting with Jane, Duchess of Exton, reunites her with Gareth. Susannah is thrilled to be able to enact revenge on both the perpetrators of her brother's destruction. Before she can bring down Carew, however, she must pretend to be his long lost childhood sweetheart, a job which gets easier with every kiss. An invitation to the Duke of Exton's country home provides Susannah with the excuse she needs to retrieve the tiara, but not everything goes as planned and a series of adventures will bring her closer to what she really wants.

I do not know what possessed me to read this book. It must have been the promise of an amusing animal companion. Even with Chatterjee, I really couldn't like this book very much. First, the hero and heroine have no basis for a romance other than physical attraction. She's a lonely widow, I understand why an attractive, fit, male with a whiff of danger would be appealing, but I did not find him an interesting hero. The story is told from the third person omniscient, making it difficult to know what the characters are thinking and feeling without being told. This makes for a difficult time understanding the characters. The secondary romantic pairing are so juvenile and ridiculous that I had a hard time being convinced to believe in them. The plot premise has potential to be a screwball comedy like Georgette Heyer or Barbara Metzger, but for me, it never really got there. It was very silly and unbelievable. In the first place, I gather than gentlemen took cheating at cards as a serious offense, so why didn't Carew say something, especially after the tiara was lost? I am certain he could won a duel easily and he was leaving soon for St. Petersburg anyway so he would have been able to flee the country quickly. Was it that he was worried he would loose his government post if he fought a duel? We don't know. The plot gets crazier and more unbelievable as it goes on. I figured out quickly who the man in the woods was. Yet I couldn't put the book down. I stayed up far too late. I did not even like Chatterjee, whom I found annoying and spoiled. He should have been left free in India where he belongs and never made into a pet. The best part of this novel is the descriptions of life in India and Indian customs. The other best part is the descriptions of the clothes worn. It's obvious the author did research, though I can't say as to whether her description of life in India at the beginning of the 19th century is correct. I would not recommend this story to those who appreciate a well-written, believable story. 

The Irish Rogue by Emma Jensen -- Regency Romance

Ailis O'Neill is perfectly happy living life as a Dublin spinster. She's more at home in the country than in the drawing rooms but Dublin provides her lively mind with something to do. She's passionate about the Irish cause and teaches English to Irish peasants and paints pictures of Irish wildlife. Her dreams are filled with the mysterious romantic An Cu, an Irish Robin Hood figure. When her brother, Eammon, decides to run for parliament, some London gentlemen come calling to consider him. Ailis loathes these pompous, arrogant English Tories and worries they'll turn her brother into one of them. Christor Moore, Lord Clane has returned to Dublin in search of An Cu, but not the real An Cu, an impostor who is making a mess of things and angering the local nobility and gentry. Only Christor knows that he is the true An Cu. He's instantly attracted to the well-endowed, shrewish Ailis. He longs to have her and can't understand her hatred of him. He's never been rejected by a lady before. What can he do to make her his?

This book had great promise but failed to live up to it's potential. I loved the heroine. She is fiercely independent, smart, witty and passionate. I could easily identify with her and I think if I were a 19th century Irish gentry woman, I would be a lot like her. The hero has potential to be great. Like the heroine, he's deeply passionate and caring. He starts to bear his soul to her and I can see why they would love each other, but then the book derails from there. Christor acts like a gorilla around Ailis. He's driven by lust not love and his realization that he is in love comes way too late and too sudden to make up for his lustful urges. The book would have been much much better if the author had been able to develop the romance instead of the physical urgings of her characters. This story is not exactly clean as Christor frequently thinks about what he wants to do with Ailis and there's a make-out scene that has no business being in the book. It doesn't serve to move the story along and can be skipped easily. The plot about An Cu was very interesting. I liked the idea of an Irish Robin Hood a lot and I kept trying to guess who the impostor was. I guessed completely wrong. The reveal was a bit shocking and it was also lacking in a real motive and resolution. The conclusion of the novel feels rushed because too much time was spent on Christor's urges. The mystery kept me interested but not interested enough to devour this book in one night. It took me three nights because I couldn't get over the lack of plot. The secondary characters also have potential to be great but lack any real sort of characterization. Anne is way too an indulgent mother and her children, especially Ailis, do not act within the acceptable bounds of proproiety. I liked the local color of Dublin and the inclusion of the importance of Gaelic into the plot, but the book needs a glossary because I don't speak Gaelic and found many of the phrases impossible to pronounce. I know enough to know the heroine's name is said Aylish and that's about it. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook

The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook : From Lady Mary's Crab Canapes to Mrs. Patmore's Christmas Pudding - More Than 150 Recipes from Upstairs and Downstairs 

by Emily Ansara Baines

This cookbook features recipes for fine dining in the manner of the Crawleys and their servants. There are sections for each course and each meal both upstairs and down. Each recipe is accompanied by either a pairing for wine, cheese or other dishes; an etiquette lesson or a brief history lesson. The recipes are adapted for modern cooks using measurements and modern kitchen appliances. The recipes for the upstairs family are so fancy, most people are unlikely ever to make them. The only practical meal they eat is tea, which features lovely recipes for scones, clotted cream, tea sandwiches and more. The food eaten below stairs is more typical of British pub food today: Bangers and Mash; Toad in a Hole; Bubbles and Squeak; Treacle Tart, etc. I don't see modern American cooks making any of those dishes in their kitchen either. Some of the more working class foods are slightly more practical. Some of the recipes didn't become popular until after World War I or during World War II, so I'm not sure what they're doing in a Downton Abbey cookbook since the show will end before the Second World War. Many of the recipes are named after characters on the show but really have nothing to do with those characters. The descriptions lean towards cute comments about the characters' personalities and why they would or wouldn't like that dish or why that dish should be served. I personally didn't care for this. It made the cookbook seem to juvenile and far fetched to really be a Downton Abbey cookbook.

There are no photos of the dishes so you have to cook according to the directions and hope your version turned out all right. This book would have been much better for visual learners accompanied by photographs.  I also would have liked to have seen a period recipe followed by the modern adaption.

My favorite part were the etiquette tips and the historical facts.  I noticed a few editing errors that should have been corrected. Those sorts of things really bother me. 

I don't feel this book is worth buying but if you can get it from the library, it's worth a look. 

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Masked Ball at Broxley Manner (Her Royal Spyness) by Rhys Bowen -- Historical Mystery

This special e-book story is a prequel to the popular series. Georgie has just finished her first Season and realized that Fig doesn't want her around. She's delighted to accept an invitation to visit her royal relatives at "Buck House," but dismayed to discover the real reason for the invitation is so she can meet her distant Prussian cousin, Prince Otto. Prince Otto is AWOL so Georgie successfully dodges that bullet. She is also invited to a Halloween masked ball at Broxley Manner, hosted by the American born Lady Merriman. It's to be a grand to-do with full costumes and guests from America. (Can you guess who Lady Merriman's good friend is?) Georgie realizes that once again, she's invited to meet Prince Otto. Georgie refuses to marry for less than true love. Mysterious happenings interrupt what could be the beginning of a romance. This book is not worth the price. Nothing much happens that we don't already know. It would serve as a good introduction for someone who is new to the series but for readers who have read them all, it's not worth it. Spoiler alert (Highlight the following text): In this story Georgie and Darcy meet and fall in love for the first time but since he is in costume, standing in for the prince, she doesn't know who he is. She thinks he's the prince at first until she meets the real prince. Darcy may or may not be there on Whitehall business so Georgie gets her first taste of intrigue. Since Darcy has nothing to offer Georgie, he lets her go. 

Perfect Scoundrels (Heist Society) by Ally Carter -- Young Adult Contemporary

Kat Bishop and her gang are fresh off their triumph at the Henley and it seems that Hale is finally ready to become her boyfriend. During a seemingly routine heist, Hale dashes off and when Kat seems him again, he seems to have been sucked into the soulless world of his parents. Hale's grandmother, Hazel, died and left their family business to Hale in trust. The business will be overseen by a trustee, Garrett, the family lawyer. Kat's heart aches for the boy she loves and she feels him slipping away from her. Should she steal him back? If so, how? When Marcus comes to her for help, Kat gets involved in something beyond her scope of experience.  Kat, being a good thief, has to at least try, but she could lose Hale possibly forever. The first few chapters are really slow. The story is very different from the usual Heist Society plot that I had a hard time getting into it. Then the story picks up when Kat reunites with the rest of the gang.  Even so, I still found the plot a bit awkward. Having Kat so involved in a case involving one of her own is tricky and causes a lot of problems. This story is more character driven than the previous novels and deals a lot with Kat's insecurities, Hale's loneliness and their feelings for each other. The last few chapters really kicked it up and left me on the edge of my bed reading as fast as I could to find out what happened next. Just when I thought it was over, it wasn't. That was a bit of a problem. The plot twists left me a little confused. I had to go back and reread it to see if I had missed something. I guess I was conned! Some plot points from the previous books seem to have been dropped. The villain in the story is very cartoonish and even someone who is not a trained thief or spy could figure it out. I always enjoy the secondary characters in Kat's gang and though they all play very minor roles here, they provide a lot of comic relief. There's too much relationship drama and I hope there are more books in the series about Vasily Romani. If you liked the first two in the series, you might like this one. For me, it just wasn't as good as the previous two. I still long for more though.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Jayna, nicknamed Gingersnap, finally has a home with her beloved older brother now that he's aged out of the foster care system. Jayna loves watching her brother cook and learning to make soup; soon they plan to open a restaurant. First though, Rob has to go off to the Pacific to be a cook on a Navy destroyer. The war (WWII) is still going on and Jayna worries about Rob. She doesn't like living with her fussy neighbor who wants her life back. When a devastating telegram arrives, Jayna aided by a ghostly presence, discovers evidence suggesting she has family in Brooklyn. Taking her beloved turtle Theresa, a suitcase of clothes and a faded old recipe book written in French, Jayna heads off to Brooklyn to find the family she desperately wants and needs. Patricia Reilly Giff has been one of my favorite authors since I was in elementary school  a long long time ago. She has a wonderful ability to write a poignant story with humor and gentleness. Gingersnap is no exception. Jayna is a likeable character. She's tough but not prickly like most preteen protagonists in middle grades fiction these days. She wants to be loved and let people love her. She discovers new things about herself and the meaning of family. The plot moves fairly quickly at first but stalls a bit in the middle. I couldn't put it down until the very end though. The story is sweet and touching. I don't really understand the ghost girl though. The inclusion of her into the plot doesn't make a lot of sense and something that is revealed at the end threw me for a loop. I think readers ages 10+ will enjoy this book and learn a lot about World War II history. Has anyone who read this tried any of the soup recipes? Some of them sound delicious! 

Princess of the Silver Woods (Twelve Dancing Princesses) by Jessica Day George

This thrilling conclusion to the Twelve Dancing Princesses trilogy takes place some nine years after the princesses were rescued from the Kingdom Under Stone. The princesses have been able to put their past behind them and some have found true love. Princess Petunia, the youngest of the sisters, loves gardening like her mother and wants nothing more than to breed a new type of rose. When the Grand Duchess Volenskaya invites Petunia to visit her estate on the outer edge of Westphalia, Petunia hates to disappoint and old friend so she agrees to the visit. Then her carriage is attacked by bandits in wolf masks. Pistol-wielding little Petunia manages to fend them off, but is then abducted by the strange young ring leader. Oliver, an Earl by birthright, lost his father and his home to the Analusian War and now he must resort to thievery to feed his family and their devoted followers. His mother immediately recognizes Petunia as the daughter of her old friend and when she learns where Petunia is headed, she feels uneasy. Oliver is sent off to spy on Petunia and what he discovers frightens him enough to decide to go to the capital and turn himself in so he can inform the palace what has happened. Petunia is plagued by strange nightmares of shadowy figures visiting her in the night. Her strange maid is always underfoot, and though the Grand Duchess and her grandson Grigori are kind, she longs for her sisters. When the sisters are finally reunited, they discover they have fallen for a carefully laid trap and their lives are in danger. Fortunately, the men in their lives are willing to sacrifice everything in order to put an end to the living nightmare. This fairy tale is part Little Red Riding Hood, Part Robin Hood, Part Twelve Dancing Princesses with a bit of Rapunzel thrown in. The story is closer to the first book in the trilogy than the second. It's a little scary but not as bad as the first. The plot moves quickly and I had a hard time putting it down. The epilogue was a bit too rushed and should have focused more on Petunia and Oliver. I liked Petunia a lot. She's plucky, but not as tomboyish as Poppy. She's fearless because she was too young to fully understand what the first King Under Stone had planned for her and her sisters. She has faith that their allies will make everything right. I admire her courage and confidence. Oliver is a good hero. He acts like a foolish boy at times, but he had to grow up fast and is very brave and strong. His scenes with Petunia are funny and sweet. The villains are very transparent. It was obvious what was happening and should have been, if not to Petunia, then to Rose or the Bishop. That is, unless the King Under Stone's magic was at work. I felt a bit sorry for Rionin and his brothers. They're not quite human and have been brought up by their evil sorcerer father to behave a certain way. I wish there had been another way to end the story. Though this book is the third in a trilogy, past events are explained enough so that it could stand on it's own. This story is so different from the usual fairy tale, I think others who like dark stories, gothic stories and fairy tale retellings will like this one too.

Monday, March 4, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

 The Duke's Undoing (Three Rogues and their Ladies  Book 1) by G.G. Vandagriff -- Regency Romance

Peter, The Duke of Ruisdell is bored and cynical. He's recently returned from the wars where he took a bullet in the knee. With his military career over, he needs something to do. His best friend George, the Marquis of Somerset, bets that the Duke's boredom will be cured by seducing the thrice engaged Miss Elsie Edwards. Peter takes the bet and promptly forgets all about it. Elsie Edwards is not destined for marriage. Her first and true love Joshua died in the wars. Her second fiance tried to kidnap her and her third seems to prefer her best friend. Though she's embarrassed to be the talk of the town, Elsie throws herself into Whig reforms such as the soup kitchen for impoverished veterans she founded. A chance encounter changes both their lives forever. When Elsie's former fiances threaten her health and happiness, she enters into a sham engagement with the Duke of Ruisdell. He promises to protect her and keep her safe for he owes it to another. What Elsie doesn't realize is that she'll need protection from her own feelings. This story has a lot going on and I don't wish to spoil it. It has more depth than the usual romance novel with lots of different characters and plot devices. However, it's all too much. The first half of the novel is excellent. The hero and heroine get to know each other and develop a relationship. Then after that the plot speeds up into sheer madness. So many things happen that the plot is simply unbelievable. Characters are dropped and never mentioned again and the story went on way too long. Yet the conclusion was super rushed and unsatisfactory. This would have been a much nicer novella without the melodrama in the last half. Also, the previously clean romance (I swooned at one point) developed  into something that Georgette Heyer would probably find smutty. Historical purists beware there are a few inaccuracies. The characters are good though. Elsie is strong, brave and kind-hearted, all traits I admire in a heroine. Peter is a wonderful hero for most of the book. He's devoted, kind, proud and flawed. His traits make him a unique and well-developed character. I especially liked the secondary characters, Elsie's aunt Clarice and her companion Lady Susannah and their pets. Their scenes add a lot of comic relief. If you're looking for a squeaky clean, sweet romance a la Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, do not read this book. If you want an interesting story with just about every crazy plot device tossed in, then I highly recommend this one. I noticed a few typos on the Kindle edition which drove me crazy. 

The Taming of Lady Kate (Three Rogues and their Ladies  Book 1) by G.G. Vandagriff -- Regency Romance

This novel is a take on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. When Jack, Marquis of Norbrooke proposes a marriage on convenience to his neighbor, Caroline Braithwaite, she turns him down. She tells him he needs to find someone who will be his equal and whom he can love. Caro heads off to London to make her debut under the sponsorship of her aunt, Lady Susannah. Caro becomes fast friends with Lady Katherine Derramore who has come to London to spend the Season with her aunt Lady Clarice. Kate has been sent to London by her horrible cousin Freddie who inherited the estate after the death of Kate's beloved Papa.  Ideally, Kate hopes to marry someone who loved her enough to go off to Italy and allow her to paint. She thought she had found the ideal man in Francesco, a passionate young Italian count she met on her Grand Tour in Florence. Though her Papa spoiled her and was quite eccentric, he forbid Kate from marrying a Catholic at the peril of losing her inheritance. Kate would gladly give up her fortune if it weren't for her little step-brother Joey, sent off to Eton by Freddie, where the boy will surely be bullied. Kate needs to marry quickly so she can rescue her brother. When Jack first meets Kate, he falls head over heels in love, but before he can make a move, he's called out of town, angering Kate. Kate is unwilling drawn into a dangerous situation and they are forced to wed, but that doesn't mean Jack doesn't want to marry Kate, only he refuses to allow her to know it while she still loves Francesco. He resolves to make her forget quickly. Kate quickly realizes she was never in love with Francesco and it's Jack she wants, but she will not tell him if he doesn't love her. She's determined to fight him every chance she gets until he falls in love with her. They lead each other on a merry chase. Then danger returns and one or the other may pay the price for their silence. Will these two ever be happy? I have lukewarm feelings towards this novel. Neither of the lead characters are appealing. Kate acts like a shrew the whole time and never gives Jack a break. Jack's character changes abruptly after the initial introduction. When he is introduced he seems like an immature boy. We're then told he's a noted Corinthian and a rogue but I am not sure what makes him so because he's never seen doing anything that goes along with either of those personas. Then all of a sudden he has his own sub plot that really doesn't seem likely for the young man the reader is first introduced to. It confused me a lot and I had to make sure I didn't skip any pages or even a whole book. Jack and Kate never talk about their true feelings even in the rare moments they have a chance. The plot seems like it's the usual mystery involving spies and smugglers but it takes more twists and turns that I didn't expect. I liked the brief cameo appearances by characters from the first novel. Another plus is that it's more clean than the previous book in the trilogy. There are some sensual scenes but nothing smutty. Overall, this story didn't thrill me. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it. I noticed a number of errors in the Kindle edition. The third book in the series had better be the best or I will feel like I wasted my money. 

Miss Braithwite's Secret (Three Rogues and their Ladies  Book 1) by G.G. Vandagriff -- Regency Romance

Caro Braithwite left London before her Season was over, ostensibly to help her mother prepare for the village fete. Only Caro knows the real reason for her return: she's secretly nursing a broken heart. Though Caro was declared an Incomparable and had legions of suitors, only the Duke of Beverley could stir her feelings. It seemed he felt the same, but then he abruptly became engaged to another and broke Caro's heart. Unbeknowst to Caro, Lord Beverley is also nursing a broken heart for Lady Sarah has jilted him! He isn't used to not getting his own way and can't understand why the lady won't marry him. He has no knowledge of Caro's feelings or of his own for her. The two unhappy lovers are reunited at a house party given by Jack and Kate. Lord Northbrooke is holding a welcome home party for Kate, which is secretly a matchmaking party. Though the Marquis and his lady have no knowledge of Caro's feelings, they hope to unite the Dowager Marchioness with an old suitor and find a wife for George, the Marquis of Somerset. Kate thinks Elsie's friend Violet will do admirably for the idle gossiper. As Caro gets to know Beverley, she realized she never knew him at all and perhaps has had a lucky escape. He too, learns that there's more to Caro than appears in the ballrooms of London. It takes some time for these two to get over their prejudices, but just when everything seems to be going so well, Ned disappears without word and breaks Caro's heart once again. This time she is determined never to lose her heart again. She shall remain a spinster and write plays to deal with her pain. A determined young vicar is eager to change her mind and so is his reprobate older brother. Will Ned make things right before it's too late? This book containsThis book containsThis book features the characters from the previous novels so read at your own risk. It works fine as a stand-alone but it's better if you are familiar with the characters. Finally, a novel I enjoyed! G.G. Vandagriff saved the best for last! Everything about this book is a winner! There's a sweet romance that's paced nicely, despite some relatively minor sensual feelings. The characters truly get to know each other and appreciate each other's good qualities while being aware of the bad. There's much to like and admire about both of them. Caro may have been a gossip in London, but in the country she's devoted to the concept of noblese oblige, she loves helping children and making them happy. She's also a frustrated playwright but not a bluestocking. Ned has a bit of a temper, but he isn't domineering. He has a chivalrous streak that sometimes gets him into trouble. A life changing experience towards the end of the novel makes him even more perfect than he already is. One part of the book, about 3/4 in, made me swoon with happiness. There's a villain tossed in for good measure and Caro is resourceful enough to rescue herself without help from a man! The story reminds me of Regina Scott's older novels, which I adore. 

I noticed a few spacing errors on the Kindle edition. They bothered me enough to notice but didn't affect the text of the story.