Saturday, September 7, 2013

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.

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