Thursday, August 29, 2013

Austen in August : Giveaway

Austen in August : Giveaway

This month the blogosphere has been celebrate the incomparable Jane Austen. I love Jane Austen for her wit and humor, her beautiful language and plots that resonate even 200 years later. Haven't you ever found yourself in a situation similar to that of the characters in her novels? I know I have on many occasions. To celebrate Austen in August, I have a special giveaway just for you.

I have these lovely notecards illustrated with scenes of the novels. Aren't they beautiful? Would you like to own one?

"All the eagerness compatible with anxious elegance."

"To examine their own indifferent imitations"

"Whenever she received a letter, they always looked the other way."

"Showing your picture to his mother and sisters."

To win a notecard either
identify the quotes without Google  (I am embarrassed to admit, I couldn't do it). Each quote is from a different novel.
tell me what Jane Austen means to you!

If more than four people comment, winners will be chosen at random.

Monday, August 26, 2013

What I Read Last Week

What I Read Last Week . . .

The Moon Was Low (Mariana) by Monica Dickens -- Historical Fiction

While Mary waits to learn news of her husband whose ship was sunk by Germans (WWII), she reflects on her life, the people and events that brought her to where she is today. She grew up with a close-knit family: her mother and Uncle Geoffrey, the actor in London (her father died in WWI) and the whole Shannon clan at her grandparents' estate where she spent childhood summers and holidays. There's school, Mary is an average student; watching Uncle Geoffrey in films; growing up; leaving the nest and finding herself. There really isn't any plot in this novel at all. Mary comes of age between the wars, she makes mistakes, she tries to find herself and finally she gets her happy ending and then the war breaks out. I had a hard time getting into this book. It's short but it took me three nights to finish. I didn't like Mary very much. I found her annoying and a bit self-centered. Her young adult years bothered me because I knew where she was going wrong and what she shouldn't do. The other characters can be pulled from the traditional stock characters of between the wars novels. The ending was very rushed and I wanted more to it. I wanted more Bingo the Cairn too. The message that comes at the end is very heavy handed. This would be a better book for a high school or college class than for pleasure reading. It really didn't interest me much.

The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries : A Victorian Mystery by Emily Brightwell -- Historical cozy Mystery

Mrs. Jeffries is housekeeper for Inspector Witherspoon, an Inspector Scotland Yard. Her employer is the kindest, most generous man but not the sharpest inspector around. In order to help their beloved employer, the staff combine their talents to help the Inspector solve his cases without letting on they're doing it. In this mystery, Dr. Slocum, a Knightsbridge doctor is found dead, poisoned in his study. The post-mortem reveals death by poisonous mushroom. The Inspector is quick to pin the blame on the cook but Mrs. Jeffries feels an innocent woman will hang if she doesn't get to the bottom of the case. The servants' gossip reveals a web of blackmail and treacherous deeds. Any number of people could have wanted the doctor dead, but who actually did it? This is a nice, light little mystery that can be read in one sitting. The characters are drawn from typical English stock characters and aren't really three-dimensional. The local people are quirky and amusing. I thought I had this mystery all figured out but I was completely wrong! I was surprised at the big reveal. I think others might be able to figure it out. I liked the book well enough to want to read more. I don't know how many I will read but they're fun and lighthearted and after lots of heavy reading just what I need.  

Heirs and Graces (Her Royal Spyness) by Rhys Bowen -- Historical mystery

Georgie is left high and dry again when Mummy decides to go to Switzerland with Max rather than writing her scandalous memoirs and spending time with her only daughter. Fig refuses to allow Georgie the use of the London home, Darcy is still penniless and out of the country and Belinda is searching for a sugar daddy. Georgie has no choice but to rely on the royal cousins for help. Queen Mary introduces Georgie to the Dowager Duchess of Eynsford who is looking for someone to teach her long-lost Australian sheep farmer grandson how to get along in Society. The Duke sees himself as a patron of the arts and surrounds himself with silly, effeminate young artistic chaps. Rounding out the household are the Duke's sister Lady Irene and her three children and the Dowager Duchess' eccentric sisters.  Georgie thinks she's landed on her feet, despite a nasty woman-hating Duke. The heir, Jack, is handsome, young, and totally out of place. Georgie sympathizes with him, being half aristocrat. When the Duke is found dead with Jack's hunting knife in his back, it's up to Georgie to keep a calm head and prevent the Inspector from hauling Jack off to prison. This story piggybacks on the English manor craze. It's very much in the model of Gosford Park. The Dowager Duchess could be played by (a  well padded) Maggie Smith. She's very old-fashioned and clings to the traditions of her youth. She's not an easy character to like. Unlike Lady Violet Crawley, she doesn't seem to have much heart or care about anything other than tradition. The other characters are stereotypical too. The only one I liked was Sissy and she was a bit too good. Jack comes off as a total rube. He's such a fish out of water that I couldn't help but feel bad for him, but on the other hand, he sounds like a walking advertisement for Crocodile Dundee or some other movie character. Queenie adds some amusing, light-hearted moments and I felt sorry for her because Georgiana was acting like such a snob. The period details are interesting though and I liked the contrast between Jack's life on the sheep farm and his life in England. I actually kind of sympathized with the Duke. He had the right idea but went about it all wrong. The mystery is engaging. I figured out what bothered Georgie because I had seen Gosford Park. I absolutely could never have guessed "whodunnit." I was convinced it was someone or possible someone else or two others but never ever figured out who it actually was. There are some nice romantic moments. Georgie's romance is heating up a bit but the story is still clean with only suggestive hints at what Georgie and Darcy would like to do if they were alone. This isn't the best book in the series but fans of the other books should like it. Newcomers to the series can start here and not miss too much. Fans of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey will want to read this. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Willful Impropriety : 13 Tales of Society, Scandal and Romance edited by Ekaterina Sedia -- Young Adult Historical Fiction/Historical Fantasy

These thirteen tales take place in the changing society of the Victorian era. The world was still reeling from Darwin's shocking confessions and the Queen in mourning for her beloved Albert, social rules still mattered and one misstep was costly. The teenagers in this story openly defy convention and turn the rules upside down. Some of the teens fall in love with the wrong person for reasons of class or even gender. Some of the teens are awkward and some openly rebel against traditional gender norms by identifying with the opposite sex. They discover sensuality and sexuality and come of age in a society where people couldn't accept them for who they really were. I liked some of the stories a lot, some only a little and others I found confusing.

In At Will by Leanna Renee Hieber, a young actress becomes a star in Shakespeare's cross-dressing roles thanks to the mysterious man known only as Smith. Portia adores the freedom to play a woman one day and a man the next, until she falls in love. Then she desires to be known for her true self. She'd give it all up for love, if she could. This is an OK story. I expected some magic to appear in the story but it's straight historical fiction with elements of realism. I found the way the story was told a bit tedious. Everything is related by the main character in passing so it doesn't really engage the reader. The message is a bit heavy-handed and the ending is awkward but it's not too bad.

The Unladylike Education of Agatha Tremain by Stephanie Burgis has nothing to do with Kat or the Guardians, which is disappointing. It's a new story about a girl who was raised by an absent-minded scholarly father. Though her governess was strict, Agatha has finally found the will to dismiss the woman and begin a study of magic. Just as she reaches the age to be presented, her estranged aunt shows up to ruin Agatha's like. First, she insists on taking Agatha to London to be presented and then she reveals secrets that force Agatha to go against what she believes in. Only one other person gives her the courage to stand up to the villains. This story is a bit awkward. The beginning starts off well and sets a good story. The villains are especially nasty and I felt horrible for Agatha. I had to keep reading to see how she handled the situation. That part ended up very rushed. In the middle and at the end is a strange romance. I wasn't expecting it, I don't believe it's accurate for the period though I understand the message aimed at teens. I was really hoping for more about the Guardians so this was a bit of a let down. It's not my favorite story.

In Nussbaum's Golden Fortune, by M.K. Hobson a young man, Astor Nussbaum, has discovered a magical scroll which will make him a fortune. Anyone who knows about the scroll is after Nussbaum for their own purposes, including some thugs and his friend Peter Oesterlische. Oesterlische desires to wed an heiress and he has plans to cut out Nussbaum and gain a fortune. There are a lot of twists and turns in this story. It was entirely unpredictable until the very end. I liked the magical elements and I wish there had been more space allowed to explain more about the scroll and the magic of an alternate 1889 New York. The conclusion is a bit shocking. I didn't expect it at all but in many ways it's more realistic than the typical fairy tell ending. This is one of the better stories in the collection.

The Colonel's Daughter by Barbara Roden follows the pattern of a typical period romance story. A strong-willed, high spirited teenage girl befriends her new ladies' maid, a girl from the streets. Together, they must find a path to happiness. This story is one of my favorites in the collection. The ending is rushed so I wish it could have been longer. This is a sweet, simple story for lovers of traditional or sweet romances.

I was excited to read Mercury Retrograde by Mary Robinette Kowal. It was a bit confusing at first because I didn't understand what was happening. This story doesn't really include magic but the heroine relies on the importance of star charts and planet alignments to chart her destiny. I thought she handled her romance badly, typical of a young heroine. Her hero is quite worthy though and I liked this sweet little romance. It's predictable but again, for those who like sweet, traditional style romances, this one is a good one.

False Colors by Marie Brennan is for anyone who loves Persuasion, Horatio Hornblower, Master and Commander (i.e. British Naval stories). The main character, Simon, a young lieutenant in Her Majesty's Navy is at home on the sea but awkward on land. He doesn't poses a title or fortune, only one sickly sister Victoria. He dreads an upcoming ball but it happy his best friend Harry will be there by his side. At the ball, a surprise, an old friend, a bully and a duel manage to change Simon's destiny The big reveal wasn't such a surprise for me. I did wonder at the beginning. I liked this story a lot. It was much better than a certain series I enjoyed in the beginning. There are many great period details and lots of action and adventure. This is one of my favorite stories.

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Magickal Management by Karen Healey has the same basic premise as The Colonel's Daughter. However, this one has the extra added element of magic. How fun if Mrs. Beeton's simple book could actually be a guide to household magic? How would Mrs. Beeton handle a crisis of a villain intending to impose his will on an innocent? The young heroine, a ladies' maid is the only one with the knowledge to uncover a villain, but because of her sex, she isn't allowed to study magic at university like the young gentlemen in the story. They must combine knowledge and will to save the fair maiden. This is my favorite story in the collection. It has sweet romance (more than one), magic, a really nasty villain and lots of excitement. I only wish there had been more space to fully explain the magical theory behind the action. This one is great for fans of Sorcery and Cecilia and other Jane Austen + magic style stories.

The Language of Flowers by Caroline Stevermer is a departure from her usual historical fantasy. It's a straight historical story about a young lady who admires her fearless, beautiful and much-admired older sister. The heroine, Olivia, uncovers some secrets that lead to surprising truths. Though this story is largely predictable, I liked it. The message at the end is very realistic and it came as a surprise. It departs from the usual storyline in these sorts of novels. If you like the Regency Romances published by Signet and Zebra, you'll probably like this short story. It's nothing like her novels though so her usual fans may not like it.

The Dancing Master by Genevieve Valentine features a heroine who is awkward and a bit peevish. She has no interest in her upcoming Season and is convinced she'll never be a success. She's certain she's doomed to failure despite the dancing master her parents have hired. Even her governess is a better dancer. Leah is mortified when her mother invites her cousin William to stay. She knows how that story ends and wants no part of it. The ending of the story may confuse you. I'm not certain why what happened was such a betrayal or why it happened the way it did. I'm confused about Leah's feelings. I think she's confused so the ending comes across as awkward. I liked William and wish the story was about him.

The Garden of England by Sandra McDonald tells the story of The Secret Garden from the point-of-view of an Indian maidservant. I absolutely love this idea. It makes MUCH more sense, realistically, than the actual novel and shows the reader what English society in India was like and how the English viewed Indians. I felt sorry for Ashna but I liked her curiosity and sense of adventure. What happens after she arrives at Misslethwaite Manner is exciting and the ending is all that I could have wished. It also takes Ashna out of the original story so there's no complications in rewriting the plot. This is a great rewrite and one of the best written stories in this anthology.

Resurrection by Tiffany Trent reveals the difficulties of life on the streets in Victorian London. Life for a female was even more difficult, so the main character chooses to live life as a boy. While running mysterious errands, his job takes him to the home of a noted surgeon. Jonathan meets Dr. Grace's spirited daughter who also dares to defy convention in different ways. The period details in this story are excellent. I guessed at what the mysterious packages were, that much was obvious. There's not much explanation as to Dr. Grace's motive or why the thugs tried to kill Jonathan. The ending is really unrealistic. The villain just capitulates with no good excuse and gives in to bullying. It has a happy ending but an unconventional one. I really liked Willie but she's very unrealistic for her social class at that time. I would have liked to know more about her, her thoughts and feelings and how she turned into a rebel instead of repetitive passages about delivering packages and running from thugs.

Outside the Absolute by Seth Cadin features a gender-bending main character. It's a bit confusing when the pronoun changes from she to he and back again. It took me awhile to figure it out and we don't know whether Sam was born Samantha or Sam until the very end. There's a group of young, bohemian artists living and working together who plan an exhibition of their work, which would not be allowed in any official art exhibition. It's similar to Les Miserables in that the young people want to overturn society. There's a romance that's unconventional even by today's standards. I was so confused and lost in this story, I consider it the weakest of them all.

Steeped in Debt to the Chimney Pots by Steve Berman takes place in winter 1884 in London where a sprite and a young man conspire to rob the Folk and humans alike for their own gain. Apparently the characters were introduced in a previous story which left me confused about what was happening. I don't like stories about supernatural beings. I can't really describe this story because I just didn't know what was happening. I put it down and went to sleep instead.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Museum Exhibit: Artist, Rebel, Dandy: Men of Fashion

Artist, Rebel, Dandy: Men of Fashion

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Rhode Island School of Design’s exhibit Artist, Rebel, Dandy: Men of Fashion . This exhibit celebrates men (and some women) who love clothes, love to dress well and have forged their own path to create new, avant garde styles; from the notorious Bea Brummell of Georgian England to late Twentieth Century men and women, this exhibit has it all.
Being a lover of the Regency era, I especially enjoyed seeing the Prince Regent’s banyan from his younger days.

and a great coat made by Weston, tailor to the aristocrats. 

There were also cutaway coats and silk knee breeches belonging to prominent Rhode Islanders of the period. I’ve seen photographs, movies, reenactor costumes and women’s clothes but for some reason, the museums I’ve been to lacked men’s clothes. It was amazing to put an actual 3D image in my mind of the clothes I’ve only read about. 

I’m vastly impressed with how much Georgette Heyer got right in her novels. She was the best at setting the scene and creating memorable characters. Many of her admirers have used her settings and introduced real people into the plot. A scroll featuring the noted dandies of the day helped put faces to the names I’ve read about. I only wish Mr. Darcy and Henry Tilney had been featured.

Also from the Regency era, the exhibit features many Cruikshank cartoons. For those who may not know, Robert and George Cruikshank were printmakers in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century London. Their colorful, witty cartoons lampooned the excesses of society. These cartoons were similar to today’s political cartoons and celebrity gossip blogs. I’ve seen a few cartoons online and some at the Morgan Library’s Jane Austen exhibit. The RISD exhibit had many on loan from the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University.

There was:
Young Gentlemen: Dress of the Year 1798

Lacing in Style

A Dandy Fainting
A Dandy Fainting
George Cruikshank
A Dandy Fainting or An Exquisite in Fits

The Commercial Dandy and his Sleeping Partners

A New Irish Jaunting Car (lampooning the dandy fad for riding early bicycles)

And my personal favorites
A Hen Pecked Dandy

A Hen Pecked Dandy
Dandies were known for their tightly laced corsets, just as women had been. Here, the woman in the cartoon declares that she will be be adopting a more masculine style since the gentleman has co-opted a feminine style of dressing.

Many of the cartoons displayed a fear of reversal of sex roles with effeminate young men wearing corsets and fainting just as women were expected to do.

D___d Angelic
A dandy (the Beau himself perhaps?) looking through his quizzing glass at a beautiful woman.

See more and read about Regency dandies at Jane Austen's World and at BookTryst

At first dandies were a figure of fun until Oscar Wilde and his set made dandyism a a way of life and a culture of it’s own.

For Downton Abbey fans, there were several early 1900s shirts laid out with collars just as Lord Grantham’s valet would have done. There was also a Brooks Brothers coat c. 1917 that I can see Matthew Crawley buying on a trip to New York to visit Mary’s family.

These great men have influenced styles of dress into the 20th century and present day. The exhibit featured movie costumes as well: Fred Astaire’s suit from the movie Top Hat

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
Photo copyright: SNAP / Rex Features

Diane Keaton’s suit from Annie Hall

Diane Keaton Annie Hall
Diane Keaton in Annie Hall

There was so much to see in this exhibit that I didn’t have time to look at everything in detail.

You can read about it in the Boston Globe 
See photos at  at Radio Boston and Art Tattler

Read more about Dandyism at

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What I've Read This Week Part I

What I've Read This Week Part I . . .

The Wooing of Miss Masters by Susan Carroll -- Regency Romance

Simon, the Duke of Raeburn has decided at 37 to take a wife. He has asked his sister to assemble the finest young ladies in the area at a ball where he will choose a wife from among them. Augusta deplores her brother's manner of finding a wife. She wants him to marry for love the way she did. Miss Audra Leigh Masters wants nothing to do with any eligible gentlemen, Dukes or otherwise. She wants to be left alone to read. With her mother currently living in Italy with husband #5, Audra has charge of her younger half sister Cecily. Cecily, just done with finishing school, longs for parties and beaux and a London Season. She's bored to death in the country so when the ball is announced, she dreams of attending, but not being invited, she can only dream. When Audra chases Cecily's spoiled dog into Raeburn's woods, he thinks she's just another unmarried miss setting out to catch a Duke. Audra, not cowed by the Duke's ferocious scowl and gruff demeanor quickly sets him straight and runs off. Simon has finally found the one woman who doesn't bore him and she wants nothing do with him. Simon, however, is a man who will not be deterred, especially once his sister learns of the encounter. This is a typical sweet Regency romance. It's cute but not great. The hero and heroine are difficult to like. Simon is a good hero once you get to know him but he is a bully with people he doesn't know. He's a true alpha hero and I am not sure I really love him. I'm not certain that he and Audra are well matched either. I adored Audra. She's SO me! Bluestocking, animal-loving spinster who would rather be left alone to read than go to balls - check, check, check. I think she's a bit prickly though given her family situation and has closed herself off to the idea of love. She expresses some very valid concerns. Her personality and feelings about marriage make her a rather unconventional heroine. She's anti-social so she isn't exactly someone you want to root for but I loved her. I found Cecily annoying until the end. Who names their dog Frou-Frou? That is not someone I want to be friends with. The plot has some amusing moments that made me chuckle but nothing laugh out loud funny. The ending is rather unconventional for a period romance novel. I kind of like it because it's more realistic and makes sense for the story, yet they fell in love so fast it kind of doesn't make sense. This book is not one for the keeper shelf but worth a read

Summerset Abbey: A Bloom in Winter by T.J. Brown -- Historical Fiction/romance

January 1914 -Prudence tries to make the best of her situation and forget Sebastian while Victoria and Rowena find their true passions, friendship, romance, excitement and adventure. At first this novel is typical pre-WWI fiction with the same old poor little rich girl story. A far more interesting story would be the maid turned secretary. The second half of this novel is better than the first. I couldn't put it down. I finally began to like Rowena though she still lets others dictate her life for her. She made a decision I didn't approve of for the time period and I think Lady Mary Crawley would be quite jealous of Rowena. Prudence still doesn't appeal to me. She's trying hard to accept life as it is but she isn't doing much to change her situation. Victoria is the best of the three women. Her character is the most fleshed out and her situation interesting and exciting. She is the only one who experiences any growth. Even though I suspected something was going to happen when she met Martha and Mary, it didn't quite happen the way I expected. It's quite interesting and different from other novels. I love learning the history of the period.  Of the gentlemen, only Kit is given any real personality. He's charming and amusing but not given much depth. The author tells the story in a very detached manner. She tells instead of shows. The descriptions of the clothes are fabulous and the descriptions of the estate are very nice, but everything else is told to us: "Prudence felt..." Victoria did this, etc. I would have liked a bit more emotional involvement. For those who love Downton Abbey and loved the first pre-war season, this book will help fill the longing for more. There is a love scene but nothing is described at all. The content is clean enough for young adult and adults who prefer their romances clean.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Margaret Powell's Cookery Book : 500 Upstairs Recipes from Everyone's Favorite Downstairs Kitchen Maid and Cook by Margaret Powell -- Cookbook

This book is part memoir and part cookbook. Margaret Powell, early Twentieth Century kitchen maid turned cook gives advice on shopping, choosing and preparing foods and creating meals. Her advice is from a different time when the world moved a bit more slowly and superstores hadn't replaced mom and pop shops. Her recipes are also from a different time and place when meals were a statement and people didn't worry about calories and fat content. (Margaret advocates using cream in your recipes). Most of the recipes are too unusual or labor intensive for today's cooks but some of the desserts look do-able and edible. The book includes the recipe for Apple Charlotte that Downton Abbey fans may remember from Season 1. This book is useful in understanding the way of life of the very wealthy one hundred years ago. It provides a good background to the popular shows Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey. It really helped me understand the cooks on the shows and their way of thinking and what the upstairs family is eating in any given episode. Fans of period shows and movies should take a look.

The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era by Jessica Fellows and Matthew Sturgis

This book provides background information on the characters appearing in Season 3 of Downton Abbey. There are minor spoilers but no major ones. I wish there had been spoilers because I would have liked more information on something big that happened to the family. It does provide insight into character motivation and historical background. For me, the best part of the book is the full color pages of everyday items from the period that each character would own. It is amazing to see them up close. I only wish I could see everything and examine it in real life.  I also really liked how they explained the historical background behind some of the things that happened in the show. Things that seem improbable are actually based on true events! The hardcover book has amazing full color photos on every other page.

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Millie's Fling by Jill Mansell -- Contemporary Romance

When Millie saves the life of the famous author Orla Hart, Orla decides to repay Millie by making Millie the heroine of her new novel. Thanks to a bad review, Orla is determined to show the world she can write something different and real. Millie thinks her life is boring and no one will ever want to read about her life. Then she finds a lost wallet. Millie thought it would be funny to play a prank on the wallet's owner, until she found out his wife died six months ago. She feels horrible about her prank and can't bring herself to tell Orla. Millie attempts to make amends and discovers that Hugh Emerson is young, attractive, funny, nice and determined never ever to fall in love again. Of course Millie can't help falling in love. She's determined not to love a man who can't love her back. She keeps busy working as a singing/roller skating singing gorilla gram for the object of her best friend's teenage dreams. When Hester discovers Lucas is back in town, all her old feelings return. She's lonely with her boyfriend Nat, a chef, away in Scotland and is determined to find out if Lucas, a notorious womanizer, returns her feelings. Orla eats up Hester's story but wants more spice in Millie's life and attempts to play matchmaker though her own marriage is shaky. To make matters worse for Millie, her mother is back in Cornwall living with Millie's dad and his new wife. Millie's mom, social climbing, man-chasing, intellectual snob is an embarrassment to her daughter but just doesn't care. Hugh finds Millie interesting but he's determined not to risk his heart again and besides, he could never betray his late wife. It seems as if Orla's story won't have the fairy tale ending she wants. Like all of Jill Mansell's books, this story is funny, sweet and a bit sad at times. I really enjoyed the plot and even though it's a "chick lit" novel and I knew how it would end, getting there was fun. There are a lot of funny moments and some really sweet ones. There are a few cringe-worthy moments but I thought they were done for laughs and played out OK. I liked Millie because she's an average woman. She's ordinary looking, not super talented at anything and struggles to find her way. Aside from two embarrassing moments in the beginning, she's respectful of Hugh's feelings. I liked Hugh too but he wasn't super developed. He's a grieving widower which Jill Mansell has done before. I like his sense of humor and the fact that even though he's super gorgeous, he's a nice guy who falls for the nice girl. Their romance develops at a good pace. They become friends and get to know each other and understand each other. I did not like the secondary characters at all. Orla resembles Jane Austen's Emma in that she's a busybody and a matchmaker, but she's entirely unappealing. I found her very annoying. Orla isn't half as bed as Adele, Millie's mom or even Hester, Millie's best friend who is super irritating. I thought I had Lucas all figured out but I was mostly wrong about him. He does have some redeeming features and a story about him might be interesting. The only secondary characters I liked were Nat and Millie's dad. They're both patient, loving and kind. My major beef with this story, aside from rehashed character types, is the married couples. Without spoiling too much, it seems like the author has a low opinion of marriage. I would have liked to see less stereotypical characters in this novel and better developed relationships among the married couples. I enjoyed this novel the best of the Jill Mansell books I have read so far. I would give it 3 3/4 stars (out of 5) and recommend it to fans of "chick lit."

The Moffats  by Eleanor Estes -- Children's Classic
The Moffats are a family of six (Mother and four children) living in a suburban Connecticut neighborhood in the 1930s. Jane, the second to youngest, can hardly remember a time when they didn't live in the little yellow house. Mother struggles to make ends meet but the children are content. They have their ups and downs but they're a close knit family. When the landlord puts a for sale sign on their home, life as they know it will never be the same for the Moffats. There's not much to say about this book. I enjoyed it as a child and read the entire series. I liked it this time around. It's a quick read, very simple and gentle. The story is told from Jane's point-of-view and presents a child's eye view of the world. It's sweet and funny in some places. It's not quite as charming as The Melendy Family series but in the same style.

Monday, August 5, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Carousel of Hearts by Mary Jo Putney -- Regency Romance

Antonia Thornton is furious when her domineering aunt brings in a companion for her. After all, Antonia is a Baroness in her own right and surely doesn't need a companion. Judith Winslow should be used to feeling unwanted. A poor relation, she married for convenience and was soon widowed. She longs for love and adventure but has yet to find a way. When Tony discovers Judith is not a dragon, she takes the young widow in and the pair soon become good friends. Judith owes Tony her loyalty yet isn't afraid to speak her mind. When Tony's handsome cousin, Adam Yorke arrives home from years in the East Indies, Judith's heart is touched at his kindness and devotion. Tony is thrilled to have her cousin back again but a bit annoyed because he left without saying goodbye. She had always assumed they would marry, but it seems that he sees her only as a sister so she must love him as a brother. When Simon, Lord Launceston pays a visit to Adam, both ladies are struck by the young man's godlike looks. Simon is equally captivated by Antonia's beauty and spirit. As Shakespeare once said, the course of true love never did run smooth. A shocking event changes the lives of the four people forever. Before the novel is finished, they will have gone round the carousel of love many times. This is a nice, light read. The basic idea is a tried and true plot line but the execution is rather different. The middle of the book is a bit dark. The pacing is a bit slow. There's a lot of descriptive details about steam engines and astronomy which are very boring. The ending is a bit rushed. There's some sensual romance (kissing, touching, feelings) but nothing super graphic and no love scenes. Actually, there's about the same amount or just slightly more sensuality than in her teen novels. I liked the characters a lot. Judith and Tony resemble the Dashwood sisters. I felt sympathy for Judith but she was also a bit of a doormat and too noble. She's supposed to be intelligent and a bluestocking but she's overshadowed by Tony and most of her development occurs in passing. I would have liked more character development for her. The passionate, fiery Tony was more to my liking. The young men are decent heroes. I liked Simon better because he's scholarly. Adam is obviously bright and a good businessman, but if he were as good a judge of character as everyone claims he was, he wouldn't have had half the romantic problems. He's a bit of a mystery only revealing his true self at the end. His back story would have been more interesting if it had been played out rather than dropped in on the end. I liked this story for it's originality. It's predictable but a good read for fans of traditional style Regencies.

Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze by Elizabeth Enright -- children's classic

In this final volume of the Melendy quartet the older children are off to boarding school leaving Randy and Oliver behind. The younger children are bored without their lively family until a mysterious note arrives in the mail leaving clues to a scavenger hunt. The hunt not only promises a great reward but brings the sister and brother closer together. This story is not quite as good as the previous three. I figured out who sent the notes and what the outcome would be right away, but I still had fun trying to figure out the clues. I enjoyed seeing more of the neighbors and friends who dropped out of the previous stories. As with the other books, the illustrations are by the author. They don't really add to the story very much except for the frontispiece depicting The Four Story Mistake. I was sad to see this series end. I think this one should have had a preface and an epilogue with the children grown up and remembering when. This series is a must-read for fans of classic children's novels or those who liked the contemporary Penderiwcks series. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Summerset Abbey by T.J. Brown -- Historical Fiction

Sir Philip Buxton, younger son of an Earl was unconventional to say the least. He believed in living simply and that everybody was equal - very shocking for the Edwardian era. He raised his daughters, Rowena and Victoria to feel the same. They consider Prudence Tate their sister though her mother was their governess. When Sir Philip dies unexpectedly, all three girls lives are turned upside down. Their well-meaning but snobbish uncle whisks the Buxton girls off to his estate Summerset Abbey. He declines to include Prudence, but Victoria knows she can't live without her sister. Who will calm her when she has her breathing spells? Rowena knows it's an injustice not to invite Prudence but the best she can manage is to bring Prudence along as a lady's maid. Prudence, not raised for service, finds herself neither fish nor fowl. The servants think she's uppity and the family thinks she's beneath her. No longer the privileged daughter of the house, she's reduced to wearing cheap, shapeless clothes and doing chores she's only ever had servants for. She begins to long for a family to belong to and searches for answers about her mother's past life. Rowena, lost and confused, nearly succumbs to inertia. Only a young daredevil pilot brings the spark back. Victoria forms friendships of her own and begins to uncover family secrets she hopes will help right a wrong. Though this series may be piggybacking on the fame of Downton Abbey, this novel is entirely different. It focuses mainly on the three girls and their relationships with the Earl and his family and friends. The period details are wonderful. The reader truly gets a sense of what it was like to live in a grand home like Summerset Abbey. There's also information on labor strikes, women's suffrage, technology and transportation woven into the plot. The reader also gets to see what the TV show doesn't truly convey - just how difficult it was to be a woman and especially a woman without means, in the Edwardian era. It's a real eye opener for those who love to romanticize the era. Some of the minor characters are drawn from the same mold as the Downton Abbey characters but mostly they're all original. I felt really bad for the Buxton girls and especially for Prudence. I feel Victoria's frustration with her sister but at the same time I understand how Rowena must feel. She's not a character you instantly love yet that makes her more real. She's hurt and confused and doesn't know what to do next. Victoria is sweet and naive. I liked her better than Rowena because she stands up for what she believes is right. However, her crusades are largely driven by naivety. She's led a sheltered life and doesn't really understand the way their world works. Prudence is the most sympathetic character. She's taken from the only life she's ever known and thrust into an alien world where almost everyone hates her. She doesn't know whom to trust or what her future holds. The writing is fairly simple so the plot moves quickly. It's interesting but doesn't really go anywhere. The big reveal at the conclusion wasn't such a surprise. I had already figured out part of the story and the rest made perfect sense. I disliked the epilogue and was completely shocked by what happened. I can't wait to read the other two books to see what happens. I would recommend this to anyone in their teens or older who loves historical fiction.

Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Raisa has lived her whole life in a small Polish shetl. Her sister was forced to leave for America several years earlier and Raisa stayed behind to live with their foster mother. After a serious illness, Raisa learns that her sister has finally sent for her. Raisa is nervous about moving to a new country but she looks forward to being reunited with Henda. The trip is not what Raisa expected but she makes a few new friends along the way: little Brina; the vivacious Zusa and the beautiful artist Luciana help her arrive safely in New York. Upon arrival, she discovers Henda is missing! She hasn't been seen since the fateful day a letter arrived announcing Raisa's death. Raisa discovers that in New York the streets are not paved with gold and strangers aren't as kind as they are back in the shetl. Raisa finds a friend in the whimsical scholar Gavrel who takes her home to his family. Though she has a loving home again, she longs to find her sister. She also needs to find a job and learn English but her situation leaves her little time or energy. Finally, she lands a job at the most modern factory- The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. She's at work that fateful day when the building catches fire. Did she survive her illness only to be taken by fire? What about her friends? Will her sister ever find out the truth? This is one of many books about the famous Triangle fire. It's slow to start. The first 2/3 of the novel is a typical immigrant experience novel. The details are really good. I felt like I was there with Raisa and experiencing the newness of New York with her. I quibbled with one major fact the author got wrong but she says in the afterward that she had to do it for the sake of the plot. The story sets the stage for the fire by making the reader care about the characters and what happened to them. I liked Raisa and admired her courage. Gavrel is a bit immature and annoying with his constant teasing but he's a true friend. I loved his warm. loving family. I didn't like Zusa much. I found her constant digs really rude for someone who claims to be a friend. I loved Luciana, of course, and wish there was more of her and her crazy Italian family. Once we get to know the characters they are put in the right place at the right time and then the rest of the book is difficult to put down. I needed to know what happened to the characters. I guessed and some of my guesses were correct. The ending had WAY too many coincidences for me. I did like that it touched on something that no other author of this subject has dealt with- PTSD and how it was treated. I wish that part of the book had been longer and less fairy tale like. The author took up most of her word count setting the story. I liked this book and I would recommend it mostly to teen readers. Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix remains my favorite novel about the Triangle Fire, but this one is pretty good.