Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Jane Austen Festival Day 2

The Jane Austen Festival Day 2

A Very Public Private Breakfast

On Sunday morning I attended a talk on Georgian breakfasts like the public breakfast Jane Austen once attended in Sydney Gardens. <!
Apparently, before Queen Anne (she preceded the Georges in the early 1700s) people ate beef and ale for breakfast. Queen Anne preferred toast and tea. The English apparently invented toast at this time. In the Georgian and Regency eras, breakfast was eaten by the ladies in their rooms and the gentlemen in the breakfast parlor. Before a big trip or for a special occasion everyone gathered to eat a big breakfast. It was very carb loaded: French rolls with butter if the butter “hadn’t gone off” (spoiled), cakes : seed cake, fruit cake, beetroot chocolate cake, pound cake and of course tea and toast. Marmalade wasn’t eaten yet. That came later. She quoted from a letter written by Mrs. Austen while visiting wealthy relatives. Mrs. Austen seemed impressed by the quantity of food served though she herself only took tea and toast.
Then we went downstairs to the dining room. We had first course rolls and butter, English muffins and butter and Jane Austen blend black tea. Then we had seed cake and raisin, walnut cake like a coffee cake.I love cake for breakfast and I don't like mornings so I would be happy attending a Georgian breakfast! The food was delicious and I liked the Jane Austen tea blend. 

Pride and Prejudice Readathon

In the afternoon, I attended a Pride and Prejudice Readathon at the public library. The even was kicked off by Adrian Lukis  aka Mr. Wickham and Caroline Langshrie who read the opening chapters of Pride and Prejudice. Other festival volunteers read other chapters. It was fun to hear the novel read out loud as the Austens would have done in the evenings.

An Evening With Mr. Wickham

Adrian Lukis and Caroline Lanshrie read Jane Austen’s most famous dialogues between the heroes and heroines. They ended with Persuasion the last novel and most romantic. They were very good, especially as Emma and Knightly and Anne and Wentworth. Again it was lovely to hear Jane Austen's words spoken aloud. The stories really come to life when stop to really listen.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Jane Austen Festival: Day 1

The Jane Austen Festival: Day 1

Dear readers (if there are any), I recently returned from the Jane Austen festival in Bath, England where I had a wonderful time immersing myself in Regency culture. I plan to share my experience with you in a series of blog posts. Yes, there will be pictures! If you recognize yourself in my photos, give me an e-mail telling me your name. (aupoohbear [at] hotmail [dot] com)

Friday September 13th 
This evening there was a pre-festival gathering. Since this was my first time attending the festival, I decided to make it to the gathering despite extreme jet lag. I met many wonderful Janeites from around the world, including a long-time online friend from Austria and her very own Mr. Darcy (or more like Henry Tilney because he likes to tease). Some people attended in costume and I loved seeing the clothing up close and hearing about who made their own costumes. It was pouring rain this evening and everyone crossed their fingers for better weather for the morning. I retired early, feeling as if I could star in Pride, Prejudice and Zombies.

Saturday September 14
The day dawned bright and sunny and only a little chilly. It was the perfect weather for a promenade! About 600 people in Regency dress gathered to walk through the streets of Bath to the Parade Gardens in the city center. The variety of costumes were amazing! There were not just ladies, but gentlemen, children and even a few babies in period correct dress! The wide variety of styles was incredible to see. Some of the dresses were exquisite while others resembled more closely costumes. I especially liked seeing how everyone accessorized their outfit to make it unique. No two outfits were exactly the same. At the lovely Parade Gardens some young ladies demonstrated the country dances Jane Austen would have learned as a girl. They dated back centuries before Jane Austen's lifetime. They looked fun and energetic- just the thing for youthful energy. The ladies flirted with the military men and tried to secure a partner for the ball - very much like Lydia Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. I saw the site of the Lower Assembly Rooms where Catherine Morland first met Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey. It was amazing to immerse myself in the world of Jane Austen's novels for the morning. In the afternoon, there was a Regency Market at Guildhall with vendors selling bonnets, ribbons, trim, jewelry and even a talented lady cutting silhouettes. The young ladies danced again. Downstairs there was a Pride and Prejudice play – a comedy with two actors in one act. They played Mr. and Mrs. Bennet retelling the story and reenacting certain key events like… Mr. Darcy in his wet shirt! Mr. B had a Mr. D puppet and Mrs. B sprayed the puppet with water. It was very funny and everyone laughed. I think everyone got the joke. 

In the evening there was a Regency fashion show back at Guildhall. Act One took us on a journey back through time through the decades of readers with their Pride and Prejudice books. Then they had people in different Regency style outfits and some vignettes reflecting Pride and Prejudice like Lydia flirting with the officers, Mr. Darcy in his wet shirt, Mrs. Bennet in her nightgown and cap weeping over Lydia’s running off with Wickham. It ended with a wedding dress which apparently is tradition for runway fashion shows. The dress was inspired by the character of Elizabeth Bennet. It’s not historical but not entirely modern. It’s a blend. For my first ever runway show, it was quite enjoyable. If there had been such a thing in Regency times, I'm sure all the ladies and dandies would have loved seeing the latest fashions modeled on the catwalk!

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Yes reader I have succumbed to the lure of this YouTube series based on Pride and Prejudice. In case you don't know, The Lizzie Bennet diaries is an update of Pride and Prejudice. Lizzie Bennet is a modern, American woman who is finishing graduate school in communications. She decides to keep a video diary as her thesis project. She shares her often negative opinion about her mother's overt attempts at finding rich husbands for her three daughters. Lizzie is closer to her father who largely ignores domestic drama. Her oldest sister Jane is a sweetheart. She works at a going-nowhere job in the fashion industry just because she loves fashion. Youngest sister Lydia is a party girl. To Lydia, life is one big party and responsibility is for nerds like Lizzie. (Mary and Kitty appear as other characters). Lizzie's "bestie" Charlotte helps edit the videos and appears on camera to balance out Lizzie's often negative comments. When medical student Bing Lee moves to the neighborhood, Mrs. Bennet throws Jane at him. At first Lizzie doesn't like Bing or trust his sister Caroline, but as Jane's friendship with Bing develops, Lizzie may have to revise her first impression. Then Lizzie meets Bing's friend Will Darcy at a wedding where Will stands in the corner fake texting the whole time. He earns Lizzie's censure and negative opinion for his rude behavior. She prefers George Wickham, a swim coach she met at a bar. He's not very bright but he's cute and fun. A chance encounter with old school mate Ricky Collins earns a proposal that will change everyone's lives forever.The moral of the story is that first impressions aren't always correct. This point is emphasized many times while pride and prejudice are not.

The story sticks pretty close to the novel plot point by plot point with some extra added drama. It gets really sad in the middle (or "emo" as Lydia says). Watch Lydia's diaries in between Lizzie's as the drama unfolds. Lyida's point-of-view offers more depth to her character than in the novel. Because she's the youngest of three and not 5, her position in the family affects her more than it does book Lydia. She's also older and more aware of consequences than book Lydia. I don't think what happens to her is the social equivalent of what happens to Lydia in the book though. Dare I say it but I kind of liked Lydia better than Lizzie in this version?! Lydia is better developed. Lizzie is tart-tongued and really rude and overly dramatic at times. Her reaction to Ricky's proposal was downright rude and her reaction to Charlotte's decision was way more hysterical than it merited. Save the hysterics for book Charlotte. Lizzie finally grows and matures but I was tired of her by that time. I liked what happened with Lydia and made me rethink my own relationship with my little sister and how she may have felt about me growing up.

I was eager to see how the love stories played out though and I was a bit surprised but happy with the resolution to Jane's story. It's perfect for a modern story. I didn't think the Lizzie-Darcy romance ever really got off the ground. They spend less time together than in the original novel and she doesn't really get to know him in the same way. Darcy's character isn't as well developed. The story sticks too closely to the novel to make sense for this particular retelling. I would have liked a bit more development there. Don't get me wrong, I still loved the ending, but it needed a few more episodes. Darcy doesn't really change but he does realize first impressions can be wrong ones. 

The acting is excellent. I especially enjoyed Mary Kate Wiles as Lydia. She's lively and funny but shows a lot of talent portraying Lydia's depth. Her interpretation of Jane is spot-on and so funny. My other favorite is Craig Frank as Fitz Williams, Darcy's friend. He's so charming and funny. I really liked his portrayal of the character. A close third is Briana Cuoco as Mary. She's a good foil for Lydia and I liked how well she did "emo" young adult. She's the perfect modern Mary. Her facial expressions really added to the character. Daniel Vincent Gordh's Darcy is a bit too stiff and formal to be believable in the modern age. He really does sound like the robot Lizzie thinks he is. Everyone else did an excellent job though and there really aren't any poor actors in the series.

This retelling is worth watching even for dedicated purists. It's well done and shows why Jane Austen is as popular as ever. I loved the costume theater reenactments of what was happening in Lizzie's life. I also liked the little asides they tossed in for those who have read the novels and seen the movies. Be sure to watch Lizzie's Q&A's for more inside jokes.
Be sure to check out Pemberley Digital's website and the site for Collins and Collins to continue the fun. I'm going to try to watch Sandition if I can.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Off to England

Off to England...

I'm off to England for the Jane Austen festival in Bath! I'll be sure to blog all about it when I return.
Yours, Queen Pooh Bear

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Among the Janeites : A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom by Deborah Yaffe -- Non-Fiction

In this slim volume, Deborah Yaffe muses on what Jane Austen means to the many Janeites, herself included. The book begins with Deborah Yaffe's own personal journey to writing this book, from her childhood spent sneaking classic novels onto the playground at recess and a visit to Chawton as a teen to the tarot card that told her to write this book. She also discusses her first foray into period costuming in preparation for the JASNA AGM in 2011. The final chapter in the first section tells of Sandy Lerner's journey from wealthy book collector to founder of the Chawton House Library. The second section is about writers and how they connect to Jane Austen. There's Linda Berdoll, author of steamy Pride and Prejudice sequels and Pamela Aidan, who used Jane Austen to escape an abusive marriage and found her own Mr. Darcy in the process. Then there are those with outlandish theories such as the one where Mrs. Austen and Mrs. Bennet are suffering from borderline personality disorder, or the theory that Mr. Darcy has autism and that's why he finds social situations difficult. The most outrageous idea germinates from a man who believes there are "shadow stories" behind the novels revealing a secret world of vice that no one has been clever enough to figure out until now. The third section details the founding of the Jane Austen Society of North America and the explosion of Austenania in the 1990s and early 2000s. Deborah Yaffe also discusses the Austen listservs, blogs and the Republic of Pemberley. If you follow or post on any of those, you may be interested in reading about their founders and the history of those sites. Yaffe examines the divide between academics who look for scholarly discussion and the fans who love dressing up in costume, sipping tea and discussing which Austen hero they would like to marry. Yaffe muses on the days before it was cool to like Jane Austen and the small, cozy community Janeites once were. She's a little wistful, wishing for the simpler time but acknowledges that dancing can be as much fun as scholarly discussion. I personally like both. I studied literature as an undergraduate, library and information studies and history as a graduate student so I can certainly hold my own in an academic discussion, but I also love tea parties and period costumes. I do understand how she feels though, having been part of fandoms from the beginning before the explosion of popularity made a once close-knit community into something too large to fathom. I liked reading the stories behind some of my favorite fan-fiction and blogs. I enjoyed reading about the different things Jane Austen means to different people. Most importantly, states Yaffe, Jane Austen serves as a reflection of ourselves. This book is a short, easy read for those who love Jane Austen and her world. I appreciate the lengths Ms. Yaffe went through for her research to make this book entertaining and fun when it could be dense and dull. 

Mrs. Jeffries On the Ball by Emily Brightwell -- Victorian Mystery

The members of the Hyde Park Literary Circle have nothing in common. A few joined because of a genuine love for literature, but many joined to gossip about the others. They come together along with other guests for ball honoring Queen Victoria's Jubilee. Even Inspector Witherspoon attends the ball with the lovely Lady Cannonberry. When one of the guests falls of the terrace with a knife in her back, Inspector Witherspoon is stuck with the case. His investigation is thwarted by lying suspects out to protect themselves and their loved ones but luckily, the servants are on the job. First, though, they must deal with the Inspector's demanding cousin who is staying for the Jubilee. Once they concoct a plan to get her out of the way, they will be free to go on their way to solve the crime. They uncover despicable secrets about the members of the Literary Society but how can they tell the Inspector what they know? I'm reading this series out of order but I wanted to go back and meet Lady Cannonberry who sounds like an amazing woman. This story touches on the attitudes towards women at the time and how they were ever so slightly changing. I really liked that because it helped create the period setting. Also, the descriptions of the Jubilee celebrations created a picture of late nineteenth century London. This story also deals with mental health issues and treatment of them and attitudes towards. I liked the mystery but there were so many characters to keep track of and it didn't help that sometimes a character was called by a first name and another time they were Mr. or Mrs. or Miss last name. I wasn't totally surprised at the reveal. I guessed the clue that would solve the mystery right away when it was presented. Inspector Jeffries actually managed not to bungle this one. He didn't really need the servants but Mrs. Jeffries figured it out for him in the end. The servants managed to be slightly more interesting than in later books. Their personalities are developing from this point forward. I plan to read more of this series because it's a nice, pleasant diversion.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

What I Read Recently

What I Read Recently  . . .

Marmee and Louisa : The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother by Eve LaPlante -- Biography

Many people are familiar with Marmee, the comforting, understanding mother in the novel Little Women. Not many people are as familiar with Abigail May Alcott, the mother of Louisa May Alcott. Abigail came from several prominent Boston families and was born to a generation that didn't encourage women to take a public role. She chafed against the restrictions placed on her and longed to be educated. After marriage and death took her sisters and eldest brother away, she became close to her surviving brother Samuel Joseph May. Samuel Joseph was an educated, enlightened Unitarian minister who championed anti-slavery and women's rights throughout his long life. He influenced his sister to learn to think and write down her thoughts. When the handsome young peddler turned philosopher A. Bronson Alcott came to visit Samuel Joseph, Abigail became smitten. She thought at last (at 30 years of age) she had found a man who would be her true partner in all things. Together they would teach school, influence young children and change the world. That turned out not to be the case as Bronson was too traditional to allow Abigail a role outside the home, too noble to work at a job that would support his family and too radical for New England in the mid-19th century. While Bronson struggled to teach his philosophy, Abba was left home to care for her children and make a comfortable home the best she could with no resources and failing health. Her second daughter Louisa was her favorite child. Out of the four surviving children Louisa looked and acted the most like her mother. Louisa, energetic, proud and ambitious followed her mother's example of keeping a diary and longed for the day when she would be able to support her family and allow her mother a rest. Louisa and Abba championed anti-slavery and women's rights. They believed women could be equal to men in all things. Success came eventually, but it took a toll on Louisa's physical and emotional health. Both of these amazing women died before they could fully see the results of their efforts to gain women equal rights.

This new biography, by a relative of Abigail May Alcott's pieces together a story largely from forgotten primary sources. After Abigail died, the family burned her diaries and many of her letters. Bronson edited and copied over other papers and so scholars believed there was nothing from Abigail herself. As a librarian and historian, I appreciated all the hard work Eve LaPlante did to locate personal papers of the Mays and Alcotts. She did an amazing job compiling information and adding to the body of knowledge that already exists. The book is easy to read and well-written. The story of Abigail's early years is fascinating. I knew a lot of the rest from reading books about Louisa and visits to Orchard House, but I still learned a lot from reading Abigail's own words. I have always admired Louisa and now I know how she came by passions for writing and social justice. Abigail must have been a saint and I admire her greatly now. The book made me hate Bronson. I think he must have been a narcissist. The story of Abigail and Bronson's marriage is heartbreaking. (Yet I'm glad because it gave Louisa the drive to succeed and gave us Little Women, etc.). There's an extensive bibliography in the back containing lists of primary and secondary sources. I've read many of the secondary sources in my own research and some are a bit outdated but important scholarly works. I highly recommend this book to Louisa May Alcott fans and scholars of nineteenth century women's history. 

My Heart is Boundless: Writings of Louisa May Alcott's Mother edited by Eve LaPlante 

This collection of journal entries, letters and recollections from previously undiscovered and unpublished collections reveals the true character of the real life Marmee. Abigail was a headstrong, intelligent, warmhearted woman who had lofty ideals and big dreams but suffered terribly through her husband's inability to support her family. She seems to be the prototype for Jo March. She was a loving mother and devoted sister and wife. Her letters are poignant and beautifully written. Abigail had radical ideas even for today. She was passionate and dedicated to her causes and her personal educational philosophies. Her devotion to Bronson was a bit irritating. She believed in him and his "genius" and was sympathetic to his unwillingness to work at a position that went against his philosophies. She realized too late that he wouldn't support their family and did all she could to work for money. Yet, she was torn between working outside the home and staying with her children, which is something I think many modern mothers can relate to. This collection is short but captures the essence of Abigail's life. I really appreciate the research that went into this collection. I wish there were facsimiles of the original letters though. This book is well worth a read for mothers, Louisa May Alcott fans, those interested in Transcendentalism and women's rights. I loved getting to know the woman who raised one of my favorite authors. It's easy to see how much Louisa loved and admired her mother and this collection will show you why. 

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Mrs. Jeffries Rocks the Boat by Emily Brightwell -- Historical cozy Mystery

Mrs. Jeffries and the gang are back helping the Inspector solve crimes. This time, the Inspector gets called when a woman is found stabbed to death in a locked, private garden. With some help from the belowstairs snoops, it's discovered that the deceased was coming from Australia to visit her sister, yet no one seemed to know she was coming. Servants gossip reveals an entirely different story from what the Inspector is told. How can they relay their information to him without being found out? This mystery wasn't easy to figure out. When Mrs. Jeffries mentioned something, then I began to suspect that not all was what it seemed. I figured that a certain someone had to be the key to unlocking the mystery. If I were the inspector though, I would have gone around asking the residents of the square to identify the body first before trying to figure out who she was. Perhaps he didn't do that because he's clueless or that's not the way it was done? The mystery was interesting and a little darker than some of the others. It would have been better in a longer novel because I found the characters fascinating, though stereotypical, and there was a lot that could have been done with them. There is also a whole lot of talking and relaying conversations in this one and less action. I was happy the Smyth-Betsy plot seemed to work itself out. Their relationship annoyed me a lot. Mrs. Jeffries also annoyed me because she wanted to be the first to solve the mystery and was withholding information from her employer. He was doing OK on his own. Her hints helped speed things along but I think he could have figured it out with the help of a witness or two. There were more period details in this book, which was a plus. This series isn't really for the dedicated historical fiction enthusiast though. I recommend this to cozy mystery fans and people who have superficial knowledge of the Victorian period and like to read fun, light books. 

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink -- Children's Classic/Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Caddie Woodlawn is an 11 year old girl growing up on the Wisconsin frontier in 1864. She's allowed to run free with her brothers closest in age to her. Caddie and her brothers have many adventures and make lots of mischief together much to the dismay of their mother, oldest sister and middle sister (the tattletale). There's school, Indians, plowing, story time and city cousins packed into this little novel. I adored this book when I was a kid. It wasn't at the same level as Anne of Green Gables or Little House on the Prairie but it was similar. The plot is episodic like the Little House books so each chapter can be read aloud to a younger child. Some of the adventures the kids have are a lot of fun to read about but later in the book, the story gets preachy. Rather than letting Caddie grow up and find her own way as Anne and Laura do, the author puts thoughts into Caddie's head about growing up that reflect the values of the period and the expectations placed on women. This was something that I did NOT like. There's also quite a bit of racist language about the Indians that was common in the nineteenth century. The Indians are portrayed as noble savages but the Woodlaws consider Indian John their friend and have a lot of respect for him. Caddie is a great character. She's a spunky, spirited tomboy with a heart of gold. She's a lot of fun and easy to like. Her family is pretty stereotypical. There's the long suffering mother who wishes to make a lady out of Caddie, a prissy older sister, a tattletale little sister and two siblings too young to count. Father exemplifies the pioneer spirit. He's a self-made man and hard working. He's friendly to everyone and kind to the Indians; he's tough when he needs to be but a loyal friend and loving father.  I did not enjoy this novel as much as an adult as I did when I was a kid. I liked that it was based on the author's family history though. This Newbery winner from 1935 is worth a read for fans of Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie. The first half is really good and I enjoyed that. If you liked Jennifer L. Holm's May Amelia then you'll like Caddie. 

The Last of the Winter Roses by Jeanne Savery -- Regency Romance

When Lord Winters declares his intention of bestowing 10,000 pounds on the man who gives him a grandson, it causes quite the commotion within the family. His youngest daughter, Lady Ardith, points out the unfairness of it all. One sister was told not to have more children, another needs a break in between constant childbearing, her third sister is too selfish and lastly, Ardith is unmarried. She stalks off to her own home, left her by her great-aunt, but a snowstorm strands her at Rohampton Park, home to St. John, Lord Rohampton, Ardith's childhood friend and suitor. During her first (and only) London Season, St. John embarrassed Ardith and she hasn't spoken to him since. In the five years since then, he hasn't forgotten her, or so he claims. Ardith has a hard time fighting her physical attraction to him and St. John makes it clear that if he weren't a gentleman... He swears his intentions are and have always been honorable but can Ardith believe him? She agrees to a new beginning - as friends and nothing more,
but St. John isn't content with friendship and neither is Lord Winters. Ardith refuses to believe St. John can be interested in her. She isn't as beautiful as her sisters: she's too tall, too dark, too lumpy and too outspoken. She's better off remaining an independent spinster. St. John wonders how he can convince Ardith of his true feelings without frightening her or killing her bullying Papa? This story is a more mature sort of Regency romance. It's not a typical drawing room comedy and it does contain some sensuality so it's more of a bridge between the traditional Regency and the contemporary Regency Historical. The plot is very episodic. It goes on and on without anything happening or the same thing repeating over and over. In real life, it makes sense but as a reader, I found myself bored and put the novel down easily. The story is a bit sad because the heroine has serious self-esteem issues. I really love Lady Ardith and I can relate a lot to her. I think if I were her, I would feel the same way. I wouldn't want to give up my independence either. I fight with my father a lot so I can also relate to her relationship with her Papa. He's not a very nice man, yet he grew on me and by the end, I almost liked him. St. John is a paragon. He's a man and he's attracted to Ardith but he understands her better than anyone else and knows how to deal with her. He also acts as an intermediary between Ardith and her father. I like the way he stands up for Ardith and tried to build her confidence. Another thing I enjoyed about this story is learning about period medical practice and herbal remedies. There's a  really gross but fascinating medical treatment in this story. I liked this book, but I wouldn't place it in my top ten. The plot was too slow and a bit too mature for me. I like lighthearted comedy of manners plots the best.

Monday, September 2, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini -- Historical Fiction

Elizabeth Keckley has worked her way from slave to dressmaker and is working in Washington City (D.C.) for Varina Davis when the secession crisis comes to a head. Elizabeth Keckley hopes the conflict won't interrupt her business but when many of her wealthy patrons leave town, she isn't sure if she'll have enough work. Then Mrs. Lincoln arrives and appoints Elizabeth as her own personal modiste. Business soars and Elizabeth is soon helping newly freed slaves and colored soldiers while becoming the friend and confidante of Mrs. Lincoln. Mrs. Lincoln is not popular in Washington and vilified by the press. Elizabeth knows the truth but only dire circumstances would get her to gossip about her friends. This book is Jennifer Chiaverini's first non-quilt series book (though there is a quilt in it). It tells the story of the remarkable career of Elizabeth Keckley based on her memoir Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. It's largely a fictionalized biography and reads a lot like a history text at times. It's very slow moving and there really isn't any plot. I found myself skimming the Civil War parts because I'm a Civil War scholar and know all that already. I liked the last few chapters the best because they were pure fiction and anything could happen. Lizzie is a sympathetic character. She's barely educated and yet made herself into the most fashionable dressmaker in all of Washington, D.C. during the Lincoln administration. I really admire her talent and generosity. However, she let people take advantage of her because she was so trusting and innocent. Mary Lincoln is a complicated woman. Not having read a full length biography of her, I can only comment on how she is portrayed in this novel and how this portrayal compares to that of Ann Rinaldi's Mary Lincoln in An Unlikely Friendship: A Novel of Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley . Mary isn't well fleshed out. She has mood swings and mental health issues; she confides in Elizabeth and thinks of Elizabeth as a trusted friend. We don't really know her back story or get to know her other than an emotionally fragile, sometimes jealous, sometimes shrewish woman. Ann Rinaldi's book covers her childhood years and gives more explanation for some of Mary's behavior. I didn't like how Jennifer Chiverini took real life dialogue and situations and stuck them into the novel randomly without really fleshing out the scene or explaining character motivation. Since the book is from Elizabeth's point-of-view, it's very limited in what is being related to the reader. Mary seems like she was a good judge of character though and maybe if her husband had listened to her, history would have been a little different. President Lincoln is the best character in the book. He's portrayed as kind, gentle and saintly. I know he wasn't so saintly in real life! I recommend reading this book and watching Daniel Day Lewis's mesmerizing performance as the Sixteenth President in Lincoln. The character of President Lincoln in this novel is very similar to the President Lincoln of the movie. This book is worth a read for those who just won't read biography or who are curious about Elizabeth Keckley and her life. It's not for people looking for a great novel.

Mrs. Jeffries Takes the Stage : A Victorian Mystery by Emily Brightwell -- cozy Victorian mystery

I'm reading this series out of order so apparently Inspector Witherspoon solved a case all on his own last time and the servants and their friends have lost their confidence. In order to gain it back, Mrs. Jeffries sets them about to investigate the mysterious murder of Ogden Hinchley, the most hated theater critic in England (and probably America). Hinchley had any number of people in the theater who wanted to stop him from writing a scathing review, but would they risk everything to murder the man? Inspector Witherspoon (and his servants) will figure it out. This mystery has so many complications that I couldn't figure it out at all. I did pick up on Hinchley's "habit" right away just from the description of his house so I wasn't surprised at some of the revelations. Everyone in the theater is a suspect and anyone outside the theater could have done it too. I think the way the mystery was solved was really far fetched. I did figure there was a clue in the conversation because the author put it there for a reason, but in real life, I don't think anyone really would have figured it out. I liked Inspector Witherspoon a bit more in this novel. He's a little less bumbling and clueless than he was at first. He's still clueless at times, but he does his job the best he can. I liked the servants a bit less because they are a bit selfish. They really want to solve this murder and don't have faith in the Inspector. He probably couldn't have done it without help but even still, they could have let him try for a bit instead of rushing right in. The little side plot about Smythe is intriguing and I'd like to know more about him. There's a little romance brewing between Smythe and Emily, the maid too which is both sweet and annoying because the characters' thoughts are told to the reader without letting the reader understand character motivation for themselves. I like this light mystery series. It's good bedtime reading (except for staying up late to finish) or beach reading.  

Mrs. Jeffries Reveals Her Art : A Victorian Mystery by Emily Brightwell -- cozy Victorian mystery

Mrs. Jeffries and the servants are asked to investigate the disappearance of an artist's model. No one saw the girl arrive at her destination and no one seems to have invited her. Inspector Witherspoon goes to ask questions of the Grant household where the girl was supposed to have been seen last and when he arrives, he discovers that a young man has suddenly dropped dead. The doctor declares murder by cyanide but who could have done it and why? The clues lead the servants on a trail of art forgery and blackmail as they help their employer find the trail to the killer. This story was much easier to figure out than the previous stories. I knew almost right away who did it and why. I knew exactly what the villain was up to and I knew the killer had to be clever and quick so that eliminated a lot of people. I couldn't connect the missing model and the murder though. The concept is hardly original. The plot has more action than some of the other books in the series though, which is good. I like Inspector Witherspoon in this book. He seems less clueless and is getting better at his job after a few years. The characters are still stereotypical though. Luty is supposed to be a Molly Brown type and Nanette is an annoying French maid with a heavy accent. I found her dialogue difficult to read. It would have been enough to say she spoke in a heavy French accent. I got tired of Smythe's jealousy and protectiveness of Betty. She's proven herself multiple times and he's been snotty about her independence. I don't think she should forgive him. I like her a lot. She's clever and kindhearted. Wiggins is a bit of an idiot at times, but he's less clueless too. I had the Grant family all figured out because they were characters I've seen time and again in 19th century set novel. Some of the dialogue/internal monologue sounds too modern. Another nitpick is the constant mention of the Jack the Ripper murders to remind readers of the setting. A few well-placed period details would be better. The series is still fun but this one just wasn't as good. I'll read a few more probably to balance out some heavier reading.