Sunday, April 28, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco --Middle Grades Paranormal Historical Fiction

Beatrice Rose Hockenberry lives in a traveling carnival in the 1940s, but she is NOT one of the attractions, despite the fact that she has a large red diamond-shaped birthmark on her face. If not for the love and care of Pauline, the hot dog cat lady, Bee would be all alone and at the mercy of Ellis, the cruel carnival owner who wants to put Bee on display. Bee endures endless bullying and curious staring, always trying to become invisible. On some days, when life is unbearable, a lady in an orange flappy hat appears to comfort Bee. Bee also loves to snuggle her (formerly stray) dog Peabody and the tiny piglet Cordelia, who has her own special needs. Then Bee's safety net is broken and she runs off with her dog and Cordelia to find a new home. She comes across the house of her dreams and is taken in by two eccentric elderly ladies, one of whom is the lady in the flappy hat. Bee's "aunts," as she calls them, don't know how to cook on a stove, barely eat anything except Bee's cake, want her to wear frocks 100 years out of style and disappear whenever anyone comes around. Soon Bee begins to realize that no one else can see her aunts. She just accepts the fact that no one believes her and goes on trying to survive. When her aunts insist she attend school, Bee finds herself in a "special" classroom where the kids are separated from "normal" kids and forgotten about. There she meets Ruth Ellen, a girl with a leg brace, who welcomes Bee into her family. Gradually, Bee learns about love and courage and standing up for herself. 

This is another wonderful, poignant, touching story by Kimberly Newton Fusco. Bee is such a fabulous character. She's plucky but very emotionally fragile. My heart went out to her and I was rooting for her to survive her hardships with her head held high. She learns some wonderful lessons, delivered in the form of character dialogue, that everyone should learn. I couldn't put the book down. I had to know how Bee turned out and the story of the mysterious aunts. The author tells the story in the first person from Bee's point of view. I don't know how she does it, but she makes it believable and interesting. Bee is wise beyond her years without being precocious. The language sounds like a 12 year old but a 12 year old who has experienced things most kids her age haven't. I really got inside Bee's head and felt like I was following beside her, helping her to be strong. I adored Bee's animal companions and the sweet, humorous touch they added to the story. When I was Bee's age, my terrier was my best friend so I could relate. I had fun guessing which real life figures the aunts were modeled after. I guessed one but not the other. The prose is beautifully written and accessible for the target audience yet difficult enough for adults. (Mrs. Swift constantly has Bee look up words in the dictionary.) I admire the way the author can share the moral of her story without beating the kids over the head with it. However, I didn't quite connect with Bee the way I did with Charlie Anne. I suppose it's because Charlie Anne's disability was something that people couldn't see so it was, in a way, more difficult for her than Bee's physical issue. Bee could have stood up for herself more easily. I also felt that this story was a variation on the same theme as the author's previous two books so that knocked it down a notch in my opinion. Everyone who has ever felt different and or been bullied, should read this book.

Dear America : A City Tossed and Broken, San Francisco 1906 by Judy Blundell -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Minette Bonner loves the tavern her family owns in Philadelphia and can't imagine any other life. When her father disappears Minnie's whole life changes. A wealthy businessman called in a loan with the tavern as collateral and now Minnie is being sent to Mr. Sump's house to be a lady's maid. Mrs. Sump is a social climber and being excluded from Philadelphia Society, the family is headed to San Francisco. It's not easy being a maid to the demanding Mrs. Sump and her sullen daughter. Mr. Sump may not be the kind-hearted helping man she thought he was and Lilly seems to have a secret burden. Two days after arriving, the earth buckles and shakes and Minnie's life is forever changed once again. Because of the chaos in the aftermath of the earthquake, she has a chance to start fresh and live the life she's always dreamed of. Can she live with herself if she does? This is an interesting story about the great San Francisco earthquake and fire. The earthquake and fire are described in such incredible detail that you will feel you are Minnie and living through it. I liked that the story didn't get complicated by romance like the other books on this subject I've read. I also liked that it showed different class levels and the attitudes towards particular people. My only complaint is that the Chinese were left out but that would be difficult in a book for this age group. Minnie is not a very appealing character. She's angry and jealous and her jealously causes her to make poor decisions. She grows up a lot in the days following the earthquake though and finally redeems herself at the end. I really liked this newest entry in the Dear America series and recommend it girls and boys ages 11+.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . . 

Scandalous Brides by Amanda McCabe -- Regency Romances

Scandal in Venice

Lady Elizabeth Everdean was in distress. Her stepbrother had returned home from the wars and was not himself. He's forced her into an engagement with a fat, lecherous old Duke who tried to ravish her. Elizabeth was forced to fight back with her chamber pot and was shocked to discover the Duke died as a result. Terrified, she fled to Italy to stay with her old friend Georgina Beaumont. In Italy she can be free to be herself: a spirited young lady and a very talented artists. In Italy there are parties every night during Carnavale, moonlight gondola rides, the wine flows freely and the men are so handsome. Only one man stirs Elizabeth's passions like she's never experienced before. Sir Nicholas Hollingsworth, a notorious rake, has come to Italy to find Elizabeth on her brother's orders. Nick owes Peter his life and is determined to repay the favor. He thinks it will be an easy task to bring home a spoiled, petulant young miss but when he meets Elizabeth he realizes that she's not what he expected. Inside Elizabeth is a loving heart and a spirit which longs to be free. How can he crush her by dragging her back home? He owes Peter his life but
his growing love for Elizabeth keeps getting in the way. If Elizabeth finds out Nick's task, she may never forgive him and Nick may lose the one thing in life he's finally come to value. This story is Amanda McCabe's second ever book and first Regency and it shows in the writing. The dialogue is silly and cliched in many spots and the plot is very gothic. I wasn't expecting the darker elements of the story from the depictions of the characters in Lady Rogue. I had a hard time reconciling their completely different natures in this book. Nick is a distasteful libertine. He seems to be suffering from PTSD and issues from his past. Peter has severe PTSD and grief issues and is entirely unlikeable. His motivation doesn't make much sense. I don't know why he insisted on dragging Elizabeth back home. Elizabeth is pretty scandalous. I find it hard to believe that a young miss would be allowed to behave like that, even in Italy, if she was among English companions. Georgie too is very scandalous and I was a bit shocked at her behavior. The romance happens too quickly to be believable. I really wanted to like this story because I loved the characters so much in Lady Rogue, but I just couldn't enjoy it. The story is clean but there are some sensual parts.

The Spanish Bride -- Traditional Regency Romance

Lord Peter Everdean is haunted by the memory of his Spanish bride Carmen, whom he believes betrayed the allies to the French before her death. Conde Carmen de Santiago, a beautiful Spanish widow, appears bright and gay to Continental Society, but inside she mourns the death of her English soldier husband and is worried about blackmail letters she has been receiving. She wants only to protect her young daughter Isabella and keep the child from harm. She has traced the source of the letters to England and enters English Society to find the blackmailer. At her first event, she comes face to face with the husband she believed was dead. Peter is cold and awkward and Society gossips have him linked with a young milk and water miss. Carmen's traitorous heart still beats for her husband, but what if he no longer loves her? Worse still, what if he takes Isabella away? Fiercely proud and independent, Carmen is determined not to give in her to feelings. Peter is shocked to see Carmen again after all these years. How he has suffered because of her! He can not deny the physical attraction is still there and perhaps more. What of the lady's feelings? What if she no longer loves him? This is a tender love story of two wounded souls coming together. Amanda McCabe's writing improved by leaps and bounds by the time she wrote this story. It's rather different with darker elements stemming from the war setting, but it makes for a deeper, richer love story. The characters have to find a way past their stubborn pride to come back together. They also have to search for the blackmailer before they can come together at the end. The plot kept me reading far too late in the night. I thought I knew who the blackmailer was but I had to keep reading. I was quite surprised by the conclusion to the blackmail plot. It didn't happen the way I expected. The love story went on way too long. It was repetitive and could have been concluded about halfway through but the blackmailer had not been uncovered yet. The characters are decently constructed. I liked Carmen and her wild soul but I didn't understand why she didn't try to contact either the Home Office or Peter's family. Peter is still a bit of an enigma. He suffered "ill spells" PTSD in the past and he's still angry and uses women for physical reasons. There is a good reason Carmen loves him which is revealed towards the end but I didn't quite get that impression from the plot. My friend Irish, and other readers who like more depth to their love stories will enjoy this one, especially those of you who like wounded heroes.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

In the Steps of Jane Austen

In the Steps of Jane Austen: Walking Tours of Austen's England

by Anne-Marie Edwards with photographs by Michael Edwards 


Each chapter of this book features directions for a walking tour of one of the places Jane Austen lived or visited. The author also provides some of the history of Jane Austen's life and tries to connect real life people to the characters in the books. I liked being able to visualize Jane Austen walking around the country or town depending on the location and seeing the sites on a more modern map. I also enjoyed the quotes from Jane Austen's letters that tied in to the travel information. I didn't like the way the author tried to assume that characters were based on real people. Because this book was published in 1991 and updated several years later, the directions may not be current, so if you use this guidebook, you'll want to make sure the directions are still correct. The walks do not seem feasible for the modern person so go prepared to stay awhile and break up the walks into shorter distances.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

What I Read Last Weekend

What I Read Last Weekend . . .

The Two Mrs. Abbotts (Miss Buncle) by D.E. Stevenson -- Historical Fiction 

Barbara Abbott nee Buncle is back in this third volume. World War II is raging but Wandlebury hasn't changed much. The young men are off to war, except for Archie Chevis-Cobbe who is running a farm single-handedly. Barbara has settled into domestic life with Arthur, their two young children and of course, Dorcas. Barbara is still as honest and trusting as ever, making everyone want to confide in her. Her latest, and most unwanted, confidant is Lancreste Marvell. Barbara dislikes the Marvells and doesn't know how to deal with Lancreste's relationship issues. Arthur's nephew Sam has joined up, leaving his bride Jerry behind. Sam is never far from Jerry's thoughts as she tries to run her horse farm, deal with horrible tenants and the regiment camped on her property. She has company in her old companion Markie and new friends come to stay. Jerry decides to play match maker for her still unmarried brother, though he has plans of his own. Most of the story takes place in and around Wandlebury, but we do get to catch up on the inhabitants of Silverstream, thanks to a surprise visitor. I was unsure about reading this book since sequels are never good as the original, but I was delighted to discover that this book holds all the sweet charm of the first two books. Though it's not as funny as Miss Buncle's book, it's still charming. Most of the book is dedicated to Jerry and her sphere with Barbara making only occasional appearances. There's mystery, adventure and romance aplenty, sure to please any reader. I was sorry to see it end and want to know what happened next! The paperback reprint of this book will be available in January or you can get the original from your local library as I did.

Picture Miss Seeton by Heron Carvic -- Historical Mystery

Miss Seeton, spinster and art teacher, is walking home from the opera one evening when she witnesses a young man threatening a young woman in a doorway in a dark alley. Miss Seeton pokes the young man with her umbrella and causes a chain of events she never could have imagined. Miss Seeton takes a holiday in the peaceful village of Plummergen where she has recently inherited property. The village proves to be anything but peaceful what with gossipmongers spreading malicious lies, reclusive authors, chicken thieves and a mysterious club. Miss Seeton bumbles from one mishap to another and the police suspect the incidents are related but only Miss Seeton holds the clue with psychic drawings. This story is not what I expected. I picture a quaint old English village and some sort of local crime but instead, the story takes place in the 1960s and the case involves drug manufacture, abuse and murder. I didn't care for that sort of thing at all. Some of the story is told from the point-of-view of the villains, but the leader of the operation is never revealed. The story ends with a cliffhanger and was very unsatisfactory. The village is populated by too many people who never really become part of the story. Of more importance are the police and there are more than enough of them to keep track of. The story never really pulled me in and Miss Seeton didn't win me over. She's a clueless and foolish umbrella wielding flat character. We don't really know much about her and what's going on inside her head. There isn't really much romance in this book either. There's one very minor romantic subplot that comes out of nowhere at the end. Overall, I did not enjoy this book, would not recommend it to fans of cozy mysteries or English village novels and won't be reading the rest of the series.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

A Change of Heart by Candice Hern -- Regency Romance

Jack "Black Jack" Raeburn has unexpectedly inherited the title of Marquess of Pemworth after the deaths of his father, two older brothers and young nephew. The estate was left heavily in debt and if Jack doesn't find money soon, he will be in serious trouble. He may even have to leave off his mistress! Jack decides to look for an heiress to wed and has his sites set on some young ladies on the ton when he is surprised by a lady offering veiled hints as to which lady he should choose to dance with. Lady Mary Haviland, a 29 year old spinster, is enjoying herself watching the ladies and gentlemen flirt. Too old and plain to be of interest herself, she is content to watch from a distance. She decides to befriend Jack and help him choose a bride. He omits to tell her the real reason he needs to marry and when he discovers that his good friend Mary is in possession of a an enormous fortune of her own, he thinks she may be the perfect bride after all. Mary has inner demons she doesn't let anyone see. Only her companion, Olivia, knows the truth about Mary's fragile state. Mary longs to be loved but she isn't sure Jack can ever be the one who will give her the love she needs. Jack doesn't intend to hurt Mary or let her know he's a fortune hunter but he can not give her his heart for it was broken many years ago. A visit to his childhood home may bring about the romance they both desire if only they would open up to each other. This story has great potential. I like the idea of two wounded souls coming together. Elements of the story are very good in isolation but together, the plot did not thrill me. The story took an unexpected direction that I would not have taken and if I had chosen that path, I would have avoided the cliche and done something more meaningful to bring the characters together. As it stands, the plot is very slow moving and a lot of the relationship between Jack and Mary is told as they observe each other but do not interact. The story takes too long to get to the point. I loved Mary. She's intelligent, self-assured and outspoken but she's also psychological scarred from years of living with an abusive father. However, I think her back story is a bit far fetched. Surely the solicitor should have done something! Jack, on the other hand, is not at all to my liking. He's disgusting, despicable, likely diseased, proud, stupid and selfish. Mary doesn't deserve him. I was starting to like him in the middle, but then he went and made me despise him. This story is technically kisses only but it's not what I would call sweet. Regina Scott's early books for Zebra have similar plots and I enjoyed those much more. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently . . .

Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen -- Children's Classic

This month's pick for the pre-1960 Children's Classic Challenge is the 1957 Newberry winner Miracles on Maple Hill. Marly's Daddy has recently returned home from the war where he was a prisoner. He is tired and sick and not the same Daddy he used to be. Mother suggests that Daddy should go live on her grandmother's old farm in the country to recover. Mother and the children will join him on weekends and school vacations. Marly and her older brother Joe love the beautiful, hilly countryside immediately. They love learning how to make maple syrup with their neighbor Chris and learning about the flora and fauna of their new home. Marly wishes that Daddy will get better. Marly counts her miracles one by one as the seasons change on Maple Hill. 

This is a sweet, simple story with a powerful message. It's rare to find a children's book that deals gently with the issue of PTSD, especially from a period when it wasn't well known. The story is told from the perspective of a child who doesn't understand what her father has been through and doesn't dwell much on the past. She looks forward to the future, which is a good message for all of us. She believes that miracles do happen and that Maple Hill is the best place for miracles. The plot is interesting enough to have held my attention and kept me reading longer than I had intended. The description of Maple Hill is amazingly detailed. Though I've been to a sugar shack and lived in New England almost my whole life, I could easily imagine Maple Hill (which is in Pennsylvania) and everything Marly was experiencing. It was fun to view the world through an eager, innocent child's eyes. Marly can be a bit annoying in her eagerness and abundance of energy but it's precisely her eagerness and innocence that makes her appealing. The Chrises are wonderful people, larger than life and I can see them popping off the page. The hermit also leaps to life. The rest of the cast of characters are fairly bland. It's easy to see why this charming book won the Newberry. It's a good read-aloud for beginning readers and read alone for younger middle grade readers and great nostalgia for those who may have grown up in a more simple time and place.

Monday, April 15, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

 The Spy Princess by Sherwood Smith -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Twelve-year-old Lilah Selenna is bored being a noblewoman. Her father scarcely pays any attention to her and her older brother Peiter has taken to creating more questions than answering them. When Lilah wonders why the villagers are shouting and throwing stones at her family, she disguises herself as a boy and heads out into the village to investigate. She discovers that the people are angry with her father, the prince, and her uncle, the King and are eager for change. Lilah feels the people are justified in their anger but is quite surprised to discover that not only does Peiter feel the same way, he's also a leader in a revolutionary movement. Peiter's friend Derek is a firebrand ready to strike, but Peiter urges caution and careful discussion. On a visit to the Palace, Lilah discovers an unexpected ally but makes a terrible mistake that results in rebellion and chaos. Amidst the chaos of the aftermath of the revolution, Lilah and her friends must learn what they're fighting for and how to fight the right way. Can the four kids figure out how to save the nation before anyone else, especially Peiter, is killed? This book is a fun adventure story for tweens along the lines of Tamora Pierce and Shannon Hale. The plot is interesting and shows some parallels to American, French and Russian revolutions. (A character borrows phrases from the Declaration of Independence). The moral of the story is woven throughout the plot and leaves the reader to draw conclusions based on the events of the novel rather than hitting them over the head with a major point. I couldn't put this book down until the end. I had a few minor problems though. The title and dust jacket description are misleading. The spy part doesn't come until the final third of the novel. Either the beginning and middle need to be condensed or the book should have been given a different title. There's a magical land that isn't explained very well and those readers having no knowledge of Sartorias-deles are left a bit confused. However, the book can be read as a stand alone. The ending was also very abrupt and the book needs a sequel. Lilah is a spirited tomboy who is eager to escape her stuffy life but isn't quite ready to accept the responsibilities of adulthood. Her personality makes her a great heroine that tweens and young teens can relate to. Lilah hates the idea of romance and marriage so that makes this book suitable for younger readers who dislike that sort of thing. However, there is a lot of violence and people are killed so more sensitive readers should not read this book. I recommend Spy Princess to fantasy fans ages 11-14. 

I discovered after reading this book, that there is a sequel and several other books for middle grades readers about Sartorias-deles. Sherwood Smith has also written young adult and adult novels set in the same universe. (Crown Duel is one of my favorite romance novels ever written!)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Rogue Grooms by Amanda McCabe -- Regency Romances

Lady Rogue

Alexander Kenton, Duke of  Wayland has recently returned from his regiment to take up the duties of his estate after the death of his elder brother. Damian left the estate in ruins and Alex has no idea what to do. He heads to London where his friends encourage him to marry an heiress, but he can't make himself propose to any of the simple-minded young ladies of the ton. Then he spies the most beautiful woman he's ever seen and she's a damsel in distress. He rushes to his rescue and begins a friendship with Georgina Beaumont. Georgie is a fashionable, if not entirely respectable, widow. She's a painter of some renown and owns two homes in Italy. She is in London staying with her friend Elizabeth who is in delicate condition. When Alex rescues Georgie's West Highland White Terrier, Lady Kate, Georgie is instantly attracted to this paragon of a man. Alex's friends bet that the pair will be married and Georgie's friends also seem to think so, but Alex and Georgie aren't so sure. They are each hampered by pride which may prevent them from ever finding happiness. This is a sweet, straightforward romance. There are a couple of moonlight kisses that are actually a little corny, but the romance is bound to please those who enjoy a simple, straight romance. The plot is driven by internal factors rather than any sort of excitement or adventure. The back stories of the characters reveal what sort of decisions they make and why. I liked Georgie and could relate to her desire for independence. If I were her, I would probably hesitate to marry again too. Alex seems like a perfect paragon for most of the book, and to tell you the truth, he's a bit boring until his pride gets in the way. Then that paves the way for a sweet, happy ending. I quite admire his little sister, Lady Emily, who is a surprise and a welcome change from the usual young lady of her years. My favorite character is, of course, Lady Kate. The author seems to know a little bit about Westie behavior though not a whole lot. (I wouldn't let a young terrier in my Regency house! Instead of sleeping on a cushion, she should be chewing on it). Lady Kate provides the comic relief this story needs and plays a role in bringing the hero and heroine together. This book is a sequel to two previous stories but enough backstory is explained so that I didn't feel confused. I am eager to read Elizabeth and Nicholas' story now and also Carmen and Peter's story. First though, is Lady Emily's story. 

The Star of India

The Star of India is Lady Emily Kenton's story. 
Lady Emily was a spirited, carefree young girl before the tragic accident that crippled her mother and the deaths of her father and eldest brother. Her best friend, and neighbor, David Huntington, is the only one who understands her. He feels that Emily is the only girl in England who will look at him, for he is half Indian. When David and his father, the Earl of Darlinghust, suddenly leave for India, Emily is bereft. Before they left, David and his father left their most precious jewels behind with the Kentons for safe keeping. Fourteen years later, Lady Emily has three seasons behind her and no husband. She vows she will never marry unless it is for love, despite the urgings of her brother and sister-in-law. They mean well, but they don't understand Emily at all. Emily is happy enough running the family estate with a stay in Town for the Season, but she carries a secret heartache; a burden that she is determined to keep hidden lest it ruin her family. David, now the Earl, and his young daughter have just returned to England where he hopes his family will find more freedom. He also has plans to purchase his family treasure, The Star of India, a sapphire taken from the shrine of a Hindu god back from the Kentons. His grandmother insists upon the jewel returning to where it belongs. When David and Emily are reunited, they feel like strangers. David is curious about the girl he left behind and why he senses some great sorrow beneath her joyful facade. Emily longs to unburden herself, but if she does, she may lose the man she has grown to love. This beautiful romance has a mystery thrown in for fun. The mystery adds some comic relief and extra depth to the love story. The mystery moves the love story along very nicely. The romance between Emily and David is so sweet, it will make you sigh. There's a lot of passion in this story but no lengthy passages of lust or even anything more than becoming emotionally close and kissing. I especially liked the way the author was able to convey the hero and heroines feelings without resorting to spelling it out. Emily is no longer the bubbly girl we met in Lady Rogue but she tries to make everyone think she is. I disliked her for being so independent, yet I can not fault her because I probably would have acted the same way. She's less unrealistic than Georgina but not quite the most realistic of Regency heroines. The details about life in India and Hindu legends really add a unique element to the story. The descriptions are so amazing that like Emily, I found myself riveted. The author lists her bibliography in the beginning of the book. Though she did extensive research, I found it difficult to believe that people were traveling back and forth from Begal whenever they felt like it because the years covered in this novel were a time of warfare, both global and within Bengal. By the time the afterward takes place, David's family would be losing their social position. (At the same time I read this novel, I was reading a scholarly text on British Bengal for school). Other than the travel issues, I loved the story. It's much better than Lady Rogue because of the added mystery and David's feeling of not belonging. I don't consider this book one for the keeper shelf but it's at the library for when I want to read it again.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson -- Historical Fiction

Miss Barbara Buncle is a poor spinster living in the English country village of Silverstream where nothing ever happens and nothing ever will. When the Depression comes to Silverstream, Miss Buncle has to do something to earn money so she takes up her pen to write a book. She pens a novel about Silverstream and the inhabitants of the town. A London publisher, Mr. Arthur Abbott, loves the book so much, he decides to publish it. He can't decide if the author is a satirical genius or a simpleton. Either way, the public will eat up the book. Well, the inhabitants of Silverstream do not take kindly to the representations of their true selves in the novel. What's more, they object strongly to the second half of the novel when a golden boy pipes an erotic tune that makes everyone behave in fits of passion. "John Smith," the author of the novel, becomes public enemy #1 in Silverstream. Not everyone finds the novel offensive, but poor Barbara lives in fear of the villagers learning she is the author and of what will happen to her when they find out. Kind, sympathetic Mr. Abbott has the perfect solution. There are so many quirky characters and plot situations in this book and in the fictional counterpart, that it would be impossible to describe them all. The quaint English village is along the lines of Cranford where everyone knows everyone else's business but pretends not to. I found the plot very charming and lots of fun. I couldn't put the book down. I had to know what happened to poor Barbara. My only real problem with this book is that the characters are all stereotypes, especially the women. The book was written in the 1930s when attitudes were different, but I had a hard time accepting the demureness of the women. Some of them have hidden depths and the younger women represent the independence and freedom of the Bright Young Things generation. I highly recommend this book to those of you bluestockings who enjoy Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, BBC period shows and English villages. You don't want to miss this one. 

Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson -- Historical Fiction

Barbara Buncle is now Barbara Abbott, living in Hamstead Heath with her beloved husband Arthur. Barbara feels stifled by the society they keep and intimidated by the servants. When she learns that Arthur feels the same way, they make immediate plans to move.  However, finding the right place to live is nearly impossible. With their social engagements called off, Arthur gets into a groove and Barbara feels him settling into a routine she isn't comfortable with. She has learned a few things about herself since publishing her first book and learns to stand up for herself. She falls in love with the village of Wandlebury which could appear in a scene from Dickens. Upon her arrival, she's met by a strange solicitor who appears to have mistaken Barbara for someone else. She becomes privy to private information and the solicitor is deeply embarrassed. He  tries to warn Barbara off the house but she falls in love with the place immediately. She sees a cozy home and Arthur sees a dump needing a lot of money pumped into it to make it work. Because he loves his wife, he agrees to buy the house for her and she pays to fix it up. Barbara quickly becomes a part of village life meeting a cast of new quirky characters who would be just perfect for a new "John Smith" book... if she were going to write one, that is... which she's not! The case of mistaken identity comes back to haunt her as her husband's young nephew falls in love with a local girl. Barbara tries to interfere with the romance with good reason and the results are unexpected and quite comical. I didn't find this story as charming as the first. It starts off really slow and I had a hard time getting into it. Once the Abbotts move to Wandlebury, the story gets more interested. The characters are really off-the-wall and this time, the stereotypes are limited to one marriage-hating miserly old lady, three very wild children and an eccentric artist. Towards the end the plot gets funnier, but the predictable and saccharine ending turned me off a bit. I was expecting something a little more funny and off the wall and less of a moral tale. I still enjoyed the book though and would recommend it to Miss Buncle fans.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Tea With Jane Austen

Tea With Jane Austen

by Kim Wilson

 Illustrated with period illustrations and peppered with quotes from the novels and other books of the period, this slim volume contains all you ever wanted to know about the social history of tea in Jane Austen's World. The book is broken down into times of day and explains why and how tea was taken with examples from Jane Austen's writings. There are also a few recipes for tea treats and you can even make them at home with the handily provided modern recipe. The recipes use both British and American measurements so hostesses on both sides of the Atlantic can serve a proper tea. The book concludes with directions on how to make the perfect cup of tea. 

I thought this book would be more of a cookbook, but I really enjoyed learning about the history of tea as a meal in 19th century Britain. The period illustrations (in color) and recipes make the book even more enjoyable. This is a good book for the reference shelf if you attend or host a lot of period teas. Most casual readers will enjoy reading this book to learn about the importance of tea, but may not want to own it. Warning! You will find yourself craving tea when you read this book.

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week  . . .

Dear America: Down the Rabbit Hole the Diary of Pringle Rose, Chicago, Illinois 1871 by Susan Campbell Bartoletti -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

When Pringle Rose's parents are killed in a tragic carriage accident, she and her little brother Gideon are left to the care of cruel relatives. Pringle's only comfort is her new friend, a scandalous young man nicknamed "Rabbit" for his ability to quote from Pringle's favorite book Alice in Wonderland. She worries about Gideon, who has Down's Syndrome. He seems to have withdrawn inside himself and Pringle doesn't know how to reach him. When their aunt and uncle decide to send Gideon away to a special school Pringle knows she has to act fast to save her brother. They flee by train to their mother's friend in Chicago. Pringle knows she's doing the right thing. Her mother never wanted to send Gideon away. Along the way they befriend a young family also traveling to Chicago. The Pritchards help Gideon and Pringle in more ways than one. When their safety net is broken, Pringle and Gideon are left to navigate Chicago alone during the Great Fire. This book is not one of the better entries in the series. The first third of the book takes place in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Rose is a wealthy coal mine owner. The middle part takes place on a train and the third part in Chicago with the last few pages dedicated to the fire. It makes for a different story than what I expected. The plot is very slow moving and not much happens and the story is wrapped up too quickly and neatly. There's also quite a lot of Christian content in the story. Pringle's mother was apparently deeply religious and there are many quotes and references to Bible verses and stories that left me clueless. The premise of the story is based on something the author read in the Bible. The Christian content was a turn-off for me and had I known, I probably wouldn't have read the book. The characters are not very likeable. Pringle comes across as prickly and snobby. She doesn't seem to have any sympathy for the coal miners but simply accepts what she's been told. This would be historically accurate, if it wasn't mentioned that her father liked to debate with her. She clearly never learned to see the other side of the issue. Aunt Adeline and Uncle Edward are stereotypical storybook villains. Uncle Edward is lazy and defers to his strong-minded wife. The only one I liked was Gideon. He wasn't a very well-rounded character, but his scenes were touching and sweet. I would recommend this book probably to Christian homeschool students for a history lesson on charity, children with special needs, labor relations, travel, and the Great Chicago Fire. I've read other, better books about the fire.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

The Heiress's Homecoming (The Everard Legacy) by Regina Scott--Regency Inspirational Romance

Now 25, Samantha Everard is faced with the possibility of losing her inheritance if she doesn't marry by the 25th, her 25th birthday. She's returned to Dallsten Manor to help plan the annual summer party and say goodbye. William Wentworth returned home from the diplomatic corps eight years ago after his older brother's murder. Shortly after, his father succumbed to influenza and died, leaving Will as the new Earl. Now he's faced with losing all he's worked hard for because times have been changing and his father couldn't keep up. He isn't sure what the Lord's plan for him is, but he knows he's been tested too many times. When he learns of his son James's intentions towards Lady Everard, he fears his son has fallen prey to the older woman. He's determined to learn Samantha's secrets and keep his son safe. He soon discovers that Samantha is lovely, bright, and vivacious. Will longs to help Samantha, if she'll let him, but he refuses to admit he's falling in love. He lost his true love and knows he'll never love again. . Samantha is so tired of everyone pressuring her and asking her plans. She knows she'll never marry and she has her reasons. She can not burden anyone with her troubles, not even if Will is kind and caring. She's determined to help herself, even in this face of danger. 

I couldn't put this book down until the end, yet it ended up as my least favorite of the series. My feelings stem largely from the fact that this book is more inspirational than the previous books in the series. Samantha and Will are both followers of Christ and pray for guidance. They plan to follow God's path for them but are so convinced that their own personal feelings are right that they ignore what is in front of them. I found both Samantha and Will's stubbornness very annoying. I understand some of Samantha's concerns, yet she has three wonderful role models. She could have talked to Adele who knew her mother. She could have also figured out that her parents married for the wrong reasons and they didn't really love each other. Maybe she could also have figured out that her mother didn't just have normal "fits of the dismals." Yet, as an independent person who leads with her head, I could relate to Samantha on some level. I probably would have had some of the same concerns if I lived at that time. I also missed the eagerness and innocence she had at sixteen. I wanted to love Will. He's a paragon and very easy to love, but as with Samantha, his pigheadedness turned me off. His fears are completely irrational and I disliked how he used his diplomatic skills to try to charm Samantha into telling him what he wanted to know. I liked the appearance of Samantha's family and wanted more. Vaughn, grown a bit less hotheaded and  without his sword was sad. He's now involved in a club of men who are prepared to do their Christian duty and protect England. Boring! Thankfully, when danger comes too close to home, he's eager to be off and fighting. The mystery doesn't really happen until the middle of the book. I knew who the villain was as soon as they were introduced and I felt that Samantha was incredibly naive. After what she had been through, I would have expected her to be more cautious. 

I think fans of the series will like knowing what happens next and those who love inspirational romances will enjoy this one. Those of us looking for good, clean fun probably won't find this as engaging as The Rake's Redemption or Regina Scott's books for Zebra.