Friday, November 29, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Emerald Green (Ruby Red Trilogy 3) by Kerstin Gier -- Young Adult Fantasy

Gwyneth is suffering from a broken heart. Gideon claims he led her on as part of the grand scheme of the Order. Gwyneth's best friend Lesley assures Gwyneth her heart is stronger than glass, it's like marzipan and can recover from this blow. They focus on trying to find out what the mysterious thing Gwyneth's grandfather left her is and how to find it. Gwyneth's perfect cousin Charlotte smells something in the air and tries her hardest to find out what Gwyneth is up to. Meanwhile Gideon tries to be friends with Gwynny but she won't let him. Gideon needs for Gwyneth to trust him for he has evidence that the Count's motives for closing the Circle of Blood aren't for the good of mankind. They must find out the truth together or someone will die. The plot takes a long time to start. There's way too much teen angst in the beginning and misunderstandings. The story doesn't really pick up until 3/4 of the way through the novel. I had a lot of the puzzles figured out right away and had a good idea about what the Count was up to. I thought at least Lesley would have figured out the Philosopher's Stone since they seem to have seen the Harry Potter movies. When the plot does pick up, it's let down rather quickly. There are some tense moments that are concluded in a completely bizarre manner. The ending of it all surprising me a LOT and I didn't really like it. The answer to their problems was too simple and silly and doesn't make a lot of sense given the real world setting. The conclusion is rushed and there's not much there to wrap things up. I was surprised the action of all three novels takes place over only three weeks! That seems a very short amount of time for this type of story. The epilogue was cute and I liked how it explained a character. I found characterization lacking in this novel. Gwen is only strong with Lesley's help and Gideon broods a lot. They don't really have a lot to build a relationship on. Gideon is a lot older and more sophisticated than Gwyneth who acts like a typical young teen. There's a little bit of revelation about Charlotte which is interesting but that scene is too long and pointless. The set up for it made it seem like it would be something important. I had hoped for more back story on the Count. He has a history but not much of a back story. There's only one big thing revealed about him that's a big secret and it seems like it came out of nowhere. Xemerius delivers the comic relief as does Gwyneth's younger siblings. I love Xemerius and his witty insults. We discover more about Lucy and Paul in this book too but again, I would like more back story about how they fell in love and how they felt when they left everyone and everything behind. I did enjoy this conclusion though. I stayed up past my cut off time to finish it. I had to know how everything turned out. The suspense and the surprises kept me reading but I would have liked less angst in the beginning and more story or one more novel to conclude everything. It seems like the author ran out of space to finish her story.

Sweet Tilly (Drifters and Dreamers 2) by Carolyn Brown -- Historical Romance

Sheriff Rayford Sloan is new to Hearldton, Oklahoma. It's 1917 and Hearldton is an oil boom town. Ford specializes in cleaning up boom towns removing any and all things that make it unsafe for families to live in town. He's specifically after one Matilda Jane Anderson, a suspected bootlegger. If he can take her down, the small timers will crumble. He's determined to catch her in the act of smuggling moonshine, auction off her car and farm and then drift on out of town. He doesn't count on Tilly getting under his skin or being so beautiful. He's alternately arguing with her or blushing like a school boy whenever he's around her. Tilly is not about to get caught. She knows everything her Grandma Katy taught her about making and selling moonshine. She doesn't need the money but she takes pride in her craft and enjoys the challenge. She's not about to let some two bit sheriff get to her. She intends to lead him a merry chase around the county. Tilly does not expect to be so tempted by this ornery man. Her beloved cousin Clara and her old friends are urging her to quit before she gets caught. Should she give up everything she's worked for all these years and give in to temptation and settle down or should she keep on being an independent spinster doing her own thing? I really wanted to like this novel. I liked the idea of Tilly being an outspoken spinster. She is aware that she's unconventional and full of piss and vinegar and she doesn't care.She's very modern for her day and that's the problem I have with the story. She's a little too out there. If she actually said half the things she says in the novel, she would probably not be one of the most respected citizens. She actually declares she'd like to have children but not a husband! I couldn't tell the story was set in 1917. It sounded a bit too modern and the characters weren't firmly rooted in any time or place. The romance took way too long to get to the point. They fall in love quickly but take forever to realize they are in love. The misunderstanding/crucial moment part comes too late and the rest is rushed. The book needed a better editor. There were a lot of typos and some repetition that bothered me. I believe this is considered a Christian novel. It's not preachy at all. The characters are God-loving church-going folks and one of the characters is a preacher. There's no praying except for sermons in church. There is some bad language "Hell's Belles" and other unsuitable language for a lady. There is some sexual attraction between the hero and heroine. Readers who like sizzling but clean romances will like this one. There are a couple of strong kisses and a love scene at the end. The love scene isn't graphic and fades to black after kissing and wrapping up the plot. I felt the book was OK but not great. It took me awhile to feel motivated to finish it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What I Read This Weekend Special Edition

What I Read This Weekend Special Edition: Victorian Mysteries by Emily Brightwell

Mrs. Jeffries Plays the Cook

Lady Cannonberry has guessed at the extra activities of Gerald Witherspoon's servants and needs their help. Her friend Minerva has a habit of taking things. She always puts them back but she recently got caught in the act by an unscrupulous businessman and he's been bullying her and blackmailing her into keeping his silence.Minerva is miserable and Lady Cannonberry thinks the servants at Upper Edmonton Gardens can help Minerva. Then the beloved pet dog of a Mr. Spears is cruelly murdered and Spears blamed his most hated neighbor, William Barrett. When Barrett ends up dead, there's really no question about who did him in ... except there is and the very woman Lady Cannonberry is trying to protect ends up a suspect. Mrs. Goodge is forced to sit this one out while she visits a sick relative. The other servants pitch in to take on the duties of the cook but none of them are qualified for the job. Will the Inspector be able to solve the mystery on an upset or empty stomach? Mrs. Jeffries will make sure of it. This mystery opened with the grand opportunity to explain kleptomania and hysteria in Victorian women and it didn't. Minerva's kleptomania is isolated outside of space and time which is unfortunate. Then there's the disgusting and cruel murder of a defenseless animal which I could not stomach at all. Still, I wanted to know "who dunnit" so I kept reading. I guessed one little mystery and had my suspect pegged. I was wrong about the murderer but not entirely on the wrong track. It was rather obvious from the clues. This story is OK. It's darker than some of the others and not the best of the bunch. I liked the personal relationship stuff that comes out slowly and getting to know the characters better. 

Mrs. Jeffries at the Missing Alibi
One dark, foggy night, a man claiming to be Inspector Witherspoon is given entrance to an office building and the man he was supposed to meet turns up dead. Inspector Nivens is given the job and even Constable Barnes doubts his ability to solve the case. Inspector Witherspoon doesn't have a good alibi but his loyal servants are positive their good employer could not have done such a thing so they set out to discreetly solve the mystery with help from Luty Belle, Hatchet and Lady Cannonberry. I figured out this mystery right away. It was SO obvious. I was surprised no one could figure out what the notes meant. I didn't know where it was from but I understood what it meant, who was next on the hit list and when the clue dropped as to why, I knew right away. To be fair, this is a novel and the clues are fairly heavy handed. In real life I don't know if someone would have picked up on them right away but I may have tossed off the idea without any real evidence. Mrs. Jeffries and staff nearly missed this one entirely. There's more back stories about the servants in this novel than in any of the previous books. I really liked that and knowing more about the characters and where they came from, especially Betsy. This story has some really dark elements to it even among the servants. While Wiggins provides a lot of comic relief, he also has a sad story. It seems like the mysteries are getting darker as they go along. 

Mrs. Jeffries Stands Corrected
Haydon Dapeers is murdered in the storeroom is his new pup, The Gilded Lily. It seems Haydon Dapeers was hated by everyone he ever met, including his brother, his wife, his sister-in-law and anyone he owes money to. Everyone who was in attendance at the opening/birthday party is a suspect and there are other suspects as well. Inspector Witherspoon decides to trust his "inner voice" on this one and solve the case without confiding in Mrs. Jeffries. The staff is stumped. How can they solve the case if the Inspector won't give them any information? Their sources turn up a little bit of gossip but nothing that will crack the case. If Inspector Witherspoon arrests the wrong person he'll back in the records room and the servants will be busy polishing floors and silver for the rest of their days. This mystery is slightly less dark than the previous two. The list of suspects is a mile long and the final reveal is a bit surprising. There are some really good subtle clues in this mystery that I didn't pick up on. I would have investigated along different lines and never solved the mystery. This isn't the most thrilling mystery but I did stay awake late reading it.

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Regency Morning by Elizabeth Law -- Regency Romance

Laurie St. John is used to looking after her two younger sisters: the beautiful Dora and the dreamy Clarisse. When her Papa dies, leaving her cousin Tarquin to inherit, Laurie is none too happy about losing her home. Tarquin has been in America for several years and has no intentions of turning his young cousins out of their home. He doesn't need it for he has a home of his own and a considerable fortune. He decides to take the girls off to London for a Season where his mother will take charge of Laurie and Dora's presentations and Clarisse can get in some sightseeing. Clarisse wants nothing to do with London - she wants to become a nun. Laurie isn't happy about bowing to someone else's whims. In London, Aunt Marie is languid and cares little for her orphaned nieces. Laurie is determined that Dora shall marry Tarquin so at least one of them can stay in their home. When Laurie is accosted rudely in the park by a man wearing a ruby ring, she unwittingly stumbles into an old scandal of her aunt's. She's temporarily distracted by the social whirl and the flirtations of Tarquin's brother Simon and Simon's friend David. When her family is threatened, Laurie feels it's up to her to save the day. She little counts on Tarquin's high-handed, serious manner and especially not the way her heart beats when she's around him. This is a really silly and stupid book. I usually love the old Walker Regencies but I know why I skipped this one. There are some historical inaccuracies to begin with and the outcome of the plot doesn't make sense. I didn't like any of the characters except Clarisse because she at least is funny. Laurie makes some really stupid decisions. I would have probably made some of the same ones at that age but not when it came to something dangerous. I should have been able to relate to her but I found her annoying and dull. Dora is boring and so is Tarquin. Tarquin seems like a nice man, he just doesn't have much personality. He could use more of a sense of humor. The mystery interested me but ends up complicated, confusing and is resolved too quickly. The villains in the story get off too easily.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What I've Read This Week Special Edition: Victorian Mysteries

What I've Read This Week Special Edition: Victorian Mysteries by Emily Brightwell

Mrs. Jeffries Questions the Answer

Chief Inspector Barrows is having dinner at the home of a friend when he learns of a robbery and murder in the neighborhood. He takes one look at the crime scene and determines it wasn't the work of a professional thief but a case of cold blooded murder made to look like a burglary. Nevertheless, he's forced to put Inspector Nivens on the case because Scotland Yard is facing criticism for not solving the Jack the Ripper murder case. The Chief Inspector also puts Inspector Witherspoon on the job too. The victim, Hannah Cameron, wasn't well liked but she didn't deserve to be murdered. There are no chief suspects in this case; There's the husband, a poor businessman always in need of money; the half-brother, also in need of money; the friend who has her sights set on marrying Mr. Cameron; the governess, a poor relation and Dr. Reese, a kind man who has his practice in the East End. Any one of them could be the killer and Mrs. Jeffries, Betsy, Smythe, Wiggins, Mrs. Goodge, Luty Belle Crookshank and Hatchet won't rest until they solve the mystery. This case is extra difficult because Mrs. Goodge has an elderly relative staying with them preventing her from getting gossip from her sources. Also, Mrs. Jeffries and staff must be very careful investigating because Inspector Nivens is suspicious.The reader is a given clues in the opening scene as we witness the murder. This scene kept me so interested I couldn't put the book down. I couldn't figure out who did it or why. There's a big twist I sort of suspected but was surprised to discover. It didn't really make a lot of sense. This story is low on action though. There's a lot of talking - talking to discover clues and talking to share information. There's a little bit of personal content with the staff especially Smythe who has a secret, and Betsy who seems to be competing with Smythe for some reason. Wiggins adds some comic relief but mostly this story is about the mystery.This one isn't the best of the series but I enjoy the light, fluffy nature of them. 

Mrs. Jeffries Takes Stock
A shady American businessman Jake Randall is found floating in the Thames with a bullet wound in his chest. Inspector Nivens is supposed to take the next murder case but he's prevented from doing so because he had business dealings with the victim. Inspector Witherspoon (and staff) is back on the job. Naturally, one of the men who invested in a Colorado silver mine must be the murderer, but which one? Inspector Witherspoon thinks if he can find the gun, he can find the suspect. The servants realize the case is more complicated and set out to probe their sources for more information. Their search takes some of them on a journey to their pasts which brings up unhappy memories. The mystery follows the usual pattern. I guessed who did it pretty easily. It seemed fairly obvious to me, not glaringly so, but if Mrs. Jeffries had been a fly on the wall during Inspector Witherspoon's investigation, she could have told him. Of course she wouldn't dream of accusing someone without proof but the character's actions seemed to give them away in my mind. There are some really cute moments with Fred, the mongrel dog and Wiggins the young footman. I always love a charming dog. There's nothing really outstanding or memorable about this story and it didn't really grab me and suck me in. I was able to put it down and return to it later.

Mrs. Jeffries on the Trail
A flower seller named Annie Shields is found dead in Hyde Park on an especially foggy night when not many were about. Inspector Witherspoon hopes it's a case of burglary, but even though Annie's opal ring is missing, her wedding ring remains. Poor Inspector Witherspoon is back on the job. This time though, he's not too upset at being assigned the case for some of his investments took a hit and he feels he could use the money. To save a few pennies, he institutes a household management scheme. The servants aren't too happy about it but Mrs. Jeffries assures them all will be well in time. She and Mrs. Goodge cook up a plan to return the household to normal. The servants turn this case into a battle of the sexes after an argument about radical politics. The women, including Luty Crookshank, believe women to be the equal of men. Whoever solves the mystery first will prove their smarts. A wealthy person is kicking up a dust demanding Inspector Witherspoon solve the murder. It seems as if Annie meant something special to this person. The servants are easily able to obtain information since the deceased was one of their own class. Betsy, especially, has a larger role in this story and some of her dark past is revealed. Before the murder is solved, a child must be located and placed in safety and wealthy family secrets revealed. There were any number of people who have a motive. Mrs. Jeffries takes advantage of a new source and finds an unexpected ally. Will she figure out which one actually did it before it's too late? I really liked this mystery. It's firmly rooted specifically in late Victorian England. There is a nice discussion of politics and current events in addition to the period details about working class women on the streets. Of course the flower seller in Covent Garden made me think of Eliza Doolittle, but this story is much more gritty and realistic than the fairy tale musical. The mystery is interesting because there are so many suspects. Their stories are revealed slowly and the reader is never certain whether it was one of them or someone else entirely. There's some good action in the novel and not so much talking as in some of the others. I did figure out who it was. I guessed at first but then I knew for sure at the end when a certain clue was revealed. I couldn't have guessed how since that person had an alibi. I stayed up really late speed reading until I finished the mystery. It seems like it's really improbable and not very historically accurate though. This is one of the better mysteries. I do intend to read as many as I can since they're a pleasant diversion.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

In this sequel to The Dark Unwinding, Katharine Tulman is trying to put her life and home back together after the events of 18 months ago. She learns that dangerous men are after her beloved Uncle Tully, she knows she must protect him at all costs. Both the English and the French want Uncle Tully's brilliant engineering mind to create an underwater bomb which can blow apart even iron clad ships. The two countries are currently allies fighting the Russians in the Crimea and need all the help they can get. Katharine refuses to allow Uncle Tully to be a part of such evil. Katharine, her maid/friend Mary, her solicitor and Uncle Tully move across the Channel to Grandmother Marianna's home in France. Katharine has an alterior movtive for going to Paris - she wants to find her beloved, Lane. She's been told he's dead but in her heat she refuses to believe it. Katharine finds herself thrust right into the very English Society she has hoped to avoid. Life in France is more difficult than she expected. Katharine faces great challenges including a recalcitrant housekeeper with a mad husband, the biggest gossip in England living next door, a mysterious man keeping watch outside the house and the handsome and persistent Frenchman Henri Marchand always trying to be gallant. Katharine soon finds herself thrust in the middle of political intrigue and old scandals. This is a thrilling, fast-paced novel. I couldn't put it down and read far far too late into the night to finish it. My heart was pounding the entire time. Nothing is what it seems in this novel and there are many many secrets that come to light. The mystery plot sucked me in. I really couldn't have predicted much of anything that happened in this novel or what Katharine would do to solve her problems. The opening scene contains some graphic violence I didn't much like and there's more at the end that I felt was OK. This book is more historical fiction than the first novel. It deals with real English and French history in the mid-19th century. I didn't know much about Napoleon III in the 1850s. I learned something new. The story also deals with scientific advances of the mid-19th century and the history of electricity. I didn't really understand or care so much about the science. There's a little dash of romance but hopeless romantics beware- only a dash. The ending was a bit rushed. There are some random moments and then a lot of discussion but at least it plays out in the plot and isn't summarized at the end. I disliked Katharine's reflection at the very end and I wish YA publishers would allow authors to write without lessons. There's little character development in this story. It's more plot-driven than character driven. Katharine is an admirable character. She's grown up a lot since she first appeared in the pages of A Dark Unwinding. She knows what she wants and has little time for fools. She's very human. She makes mistakes and admits to them. She admits she's afraid and doesn't know what she's doing but she acts like she's in control and takes charge. I love Uncle Tully and I think we could all learn a lot from him and I don't mean specifically engineering. I really liked when he appeared on the scene and I think the author created a very realistic portrayal of someone with special needs. As always, Mary provides the more lighthearted moments as does a new character who caused me to nearly chuckle out loud. The very minor characters exhibit more development than the major ones and we discover a lot about Mary's ever-expanding circle of acquaintance. This story does not work as a stand-alone. I had a hard time remembering who some of the characters were who had been in A Dark Unwinding. I figured it out from the plot but it was hard at first. If you read the first book and wonder what happens next, then you will want to read this one. 

An Intimate Arrangement by Nancy Lawrence -- Regency Romance

Two elderly brothers are fighting over the same piece of property each doing something with it to spite the other. Cecil Madison has given the estate to his great-niece but his brother, Arthur, claims to have sold it. The solicitor suspects Cecil of lying for he's never done a kind thing in his life. Miss Marianna Madison is thrilled to have a home no matter how derelict. She and her little brother Robin and their old nurse Blessing had been living in a two-room tenant cottage. Their new home needs work but Marianna is certain she can teach village girls foreign languages, music and art. It's not ideal but it's a start. Perhaps they'll even take in borders since they're close to Newmarket. Then Major Ulrick Beauleigh shows up informing everyone that he has purchased the estate and nothing will stand in his way of claiming it. Marianna refuses to give up easily and stands her ground. The two have no choice but to share the house until the solicitor works out the paperwork to determine the rightful owner. Marianna considers Major Beauleigh a proud, stubborn man and he feels the same way about Marianna because she refuses all his offers of help. He can't just let her family starve. She's the only one in the house who seems to hate him and he can't figure out why. Her beautiful cousin Isabelle certainly doesn't seem to hate him. All Ulrick wants is peace and quiet to be left alone to recover from his war wounds. He may discover that alone equals a loneliness he's never felt before. Despite the really unrealistic premise, this story is actually quite cute. Marianna is very naive and innocent. She has no idea how gossip spreads and stories grow. Beauleigh does though but he seems to be able to handle it. Despite Marianna's youthful naivety, she's actually an admirable character. She's strong-willed and determined. She acts much older at times because she's the head of her family. At first I didn't care for the hero but he improves upon acquaintance to become one of the most amiable heroes I have encountered.  He has a reason for wanting the estate and when it was revealed, my heart went out to him. Young Robin provides some comedy and lighthearted moments. The plot kept me interested enough but it takes too long to come to the point. I really liked the story though and would recommend it to sweet Regency fans. There's a tiny bit of sensuality (looking) in the beginning and a cad appears towards the end but nothing more. It's perfectly clean and sweet for a book written in 2001. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Movie Review: Persuasion

Movie Review

Persuasion (1995)

starring: Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds


I enjoyed this movie a lot the first time I saw it and now I've been to Bath, I wanted to see it again. NineteenTeen's Young Bluestockings club gave me the perfect excuse. Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel and one of my favorite novels of all time. I have it memorized and I'm super picky so I watched with the intent of nitpicking. Below are my thoughts both good and bad.

This is a splendid adaptation of Jane Austen's final novel. It covers the basic story with much of Jane Austen's dialogue plus a superb ending that I wish was in the book. Perhaps Miss Austen died before she could write it?

Amanda Root is an incredible actress. Her facial expressions and body language eloquently demonstrate exactly what Anne is feeling at all times, since we lack a narrator. She starts off a little plain with a severe hair style and acting very timid. She's ignored by her father and eldest sister and put upon by her youngest sister to act as an unpaid companion and nursemaid. When the young people visit Lyme, Anne begins to bloom and Amanda Root becomes prettier. Anne's hairstyle changes when she returns to her family and she's more forceful about doing what she wants to do. 

c. 1995 Sony Pictures Entertainment

Ciarán Hinds is a great Captain Wentworth. He's strong and handsome and portrays Wentworth as a self-confident, forceful man which he is after being in the Navy for so long. He's used to commanding ships of men but he can flirt and charm the young ladies. I especially love his agitation and regret on the way home from Lyme. I also adore his final line of dialogue which isn't in the book but the extra scene really adds to the story. It demonstrates how Captain Wentworth will no longer be persuaded to leave behind the woman he loves and just how beastly Anne's family is to her. He has great subtle chemistry with Amanda Root so their romance blossoms slowly the way it's supposed to. They dance delicately around each other until the conclusion. This Captain Wentworth is one to swoon over.

The other actors are OK. I liked the Musgrove parents and Charles. They were just like I pictured them and very energetic and fun. The Musgrove girls are kind of blah. Neither of them has much personality. The acting is fine but they aren't given a lot to do. The actress who plays Louisa did a credible job playing the spoiled, headstrong young beauty. I also liked Admiral and Mrs. Croft. They have good chemistry with each other and with the other actors. They really seem like a comfortable married couple. I especially like how the character of Sophy was developed. She rocks and I want to be her! 

Other things I loved:
c. 1995 Sony Pictures Entertainment
  • All the little details that make the scenes and set the story firmly in 19th century England. The world in this movie is not the bright, clean, glittering world of Emma but it's not the dreary world of Joel Wright's Pride and Prejudice. It's somewhere in between. Mary's house is a bit shabby and falling apart, the Musgroves house is old fashioned but cozy and the Elliot's homes are cold and impersonal. The period details seem right to me. I felt like I was seeing an accurate portrayal of Regency England
  • The costumes are beautiful! Each character is dressed appropriately for their situation.
  • The music is very pretty.
  • It was actually filmed in Bath! I tried to photograph most of the filming locations but it was hard due to all the people in town and the rainy weather. I focused more on places mentioned in the books instead.
  • The kiss scene! Normally I yell "There's no kissing in Jane Austen!" But this kiss is so sweet and I love how it conveys how oblivious Anne and Frederick are to everything going on around them.

Nitpicking things:
  • There were some minor changes to the story - some dialogue was given to other characters.
  • The biggest change of all which I did not like was that in the book, Sir Walter and Elizabeth act as if they've never heard of Frederick Wentworth and Mary has never met him. In the movie they are well aware of who he is and what he means to Anne. They openly discuss Anne's "disappointment." I didn't like the change because in the book it really makes me feel for Anne that she's considered so insignificant that not only did her father chase away her true love, he doesn't seem to remember! That always gets me when I read the book. The addition of the final dialogue between Sir Walter and Frederick makes up for it though.
  • Mary's boys are supposed to be toddlers and thus the scene where the younger boy hangs on Anne's neck and Frederick pulls him off is eliminated. It's one of my favorite moments in the book.
  • The younger Musgrove brother was cut out so there's no reason for the Musgroves to be so eager to entertain Captain Wentworth. It was a minor part of the plot but the catalyst for bringing Captain Wentworth and Louisa together.
  • Henrietta's understanding with her cousin is glossed over.
  • Some of the names of the minor characters have been changed.
  • Frederick approaches Anne about the lease of Kellynch when he assumes she's to marry her cousin.
  • Mr. Elliot is broke and the whole subplot about his dastardly behavior towards Mrs. Smith is cut out. 
  • The Crofts show up too soon and Anne runs across the Pump Room to greet them. Not done. Not in polite society and I don't see Anne as a runner.
  • BIG nitpick and I mean nitpick: They mention Sir Walter's house is in Camden Crescent but you can see the Abbey right outside the window! Camden Crescent is about a 20 minute walk uphill from the Abbey not right next door. I do understand that they had to find suitable filming locations and needed to set the scene so I forgive the mistake but why mention Camden Crescent at all then? 

Overall though, this is an excellent movie well worth watching again and again!

Visit the website for Sir Walter Elliot's House (a B&B in Bath) to see the rooms where the movie was filmed.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Lady in Green by Barbara Metzger -- Regency Romance

Annalise Avery is grateful for her recovery from brain fever. Though she has a long way to go before she's healthy, she is eager to begin planning her wedding to her neighbor Barbaby Coombes. When she overhears her stepfather Sir Vernon and Barnaby discussing how they plan to use HER fortune (on themselves, naturally, and on women), Annalise is furious. How dare Barney plan to set up a mistress with her money? Annalise declares she'll marry for love or not at all. Sir Vernon has other plans far more dastardly and Annalise has no choice but to run away. Accompanied by her old nanny, Henny and Henny's husband Rob, a former highwayman, Annalise heads off to London to stay with her estranged Aunt Rosalind. Aunt Ros is off to Vienna with her "friend" Lord Eliphinstone and the house has been rented by one Lord Gardiner. Ross Montclaire, Sixth Earl of Gardnier aka "Lord En Garde" has had it with his mother's meddling in his life. He wants nothing to do with the simpering debutantes his mother throws his way or with his mother's scolding about how he lives his life. Renting Lord Eliphineston'e house is the perfect solution. There he can set up his paramores and enjoy himself without his mother interfering. He hasn't counted on the strange scruples of his housekeeper, the hideous hag Mrs. Annie Lee! Outraged at Gard's rakish ways, Annalise tries to drive him away with one trick after another. During the day she rides heavily veiled in the park wearing her green riding habit. All the men want to make her an improper proposal but Gard decides to offer his innocent (for now) protection. Will Annalise succumb to Lord En Garde's charms? Will Gard finally lose his heart at last? Not if Annalise's uncle has his way...

I really disliked this book. Annalise declares she's learned more about debauchery in one week than in all of her 21 years. That comment summarizes the book nicely. The plot hinges on Gard's amorous exploits and the author is not shy about making her hero a womanizer to the nth degree. He's not content with one woman the way most heroes are, he must have a woman in his bed every night. He claims to be fastidious but he isn't really all that choosy, as long as she seems clean, isn't an innocent or well-born young lady. Married women, actresses, widows, random females, they all parade in and out of the house. I admit that "Annie's" attempts to scare off the women are funny. The methods she uses are clever and cause a lot of gossip among the ton. My favorite part of Barbara Metzger's novels is usually the dog, but he only appears at the beginning and at the end briefly. The hero and heroine don't have any good basis for a long-term relationship. He is fundamentally a nice person aside from his womanizing and I can see why she would be attracted to him. He doesn't really know her though at all and she lies to him throughout the book. It took me a few days to finish this book and only then because I almost never leave a book unfinished and because I paid for this one. (75 cents but still...). I would not recommend it.

Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster -- Young Adult Historical Fiction/Classic

This classic novel, first published in 1912, has long been a favorite of tween girls. It tells the story of Jerusha Abbott, an orphan living in a foundling home. She's 16, two years past the age when most orphans are turned out into the world. She's bright and well-educated and much to her surprise, one of the trustees feels she shows promise as an author and plans to pay for her to go to college. The conditions being: 1. She doesn't know his name; 2. She writes a letter once a month on her educational progress without expecting a reply back and 3. She do credit to the orphanage and make her sponsor proud. The novel consists of Jerusha aka Judy's letters from college. She's very observant and relates her joy and excitement about finally leaving the orphanage and going out into the world. She's very naive about the things other girls know (popular culture) but she works hard and enjoys having friends for the first time. She grows from an eager child into an accommplished young woman sure of her place in the world over the four years. She learns a lot about life and love and what it will take to make her truly happy. In the tradition of Anne of Green Gables and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, this book is charming. I know I read it at least once as a child but all I could remember was the basic plot outline and the ending, which I didn't like. I think I liked the book even MORE now I am an adult. I liked reading about Jerusha's coming of age. She is a fun character and I think she would be a good friend. She would definitely get along with Anne Shirley! I especially liked how she insisted on making her own way in the world and considered Daddy Long-Legs as a temporary benefactor. She refused to be controlled by anyone and learned to make up her own mind about what she wants. The story is charmingly illustrated with sketches by Jerusha/Judy. She's not a very good artist but she knows it and is able to poke fun at her own drawings. These sketches added to the sweet charm of the novel. The ending came as a shock to my younger self but this time I figured it out right away and was surprised Jerusha didn't. I really liked this story and I recommend it to those who love Anne, Rebecca, Pollyanna and other girls' books of the period. I hope to explore the author's other books too. This edition is illustrated with scenes from the 1914 play. 

Dear Enemy 
by Jean Webster-- Young Adult Historical Fiction/Classic

In this sequel to Daddy Long-Legs, Judy Abbott is happily married to Jervis Pendleton and following him wherever he goes on business. He has taken over as chief trustee of the John Grier Home and Judy wants her friend Sallie McBride to take over as superintendent. At first Sallie rejects the idea, being a frivolous socialite, but when her wealthy politician suitor laughs at the idea of Sallie taking care of 100 orphans, she decides to take on the challenge. She's appalled at the conditions in which her dear friend grew up and sets about trying to reform the institution from the inside out. First, her orphans need love and care; then good food and exercise; then be taught how to handle the real world for their futures; next new clothes and finally, a new building system. It's a huge task and Sallie feels overwhelmed and threatens to leave as soon as a new suitable superintendent can be found. She butts heads with a wealthy trustee and makes an enemy in the orphanage doctor, Robin MacRae, whom Sallie nicknames Sandy. "Sandy" is a dour Scotsman who wants to help the orphans but clashes with Sallie at every turn. Sally writes lengthy letters to Judy on the progress of her reforms and shorter messages to her enemy, Dr. MacRae. I found this book less charming than Daddy Long-Legs. It's written for an older audience and one particularly acquainted with the psychology of the 1910s. Some of the anecdotes about the orphans are amusing and others will break your heart. There's a lot of discussion about eugenics, hereditary traits and "weeding out" those undesirables such as the feeble minded. Though Sallie takes a slightly different attitude and loves her orphans, the theories and practices of the early 20th century seem shocking and cruel by today's standards. Some of her kinder methods are very similar to the methods Anne Shirley intends to use with her students in Anne of Avonlea. The love story plot develops very slowly and only comes together in the end in a very rushed and random way. It seems obvious to those who know and love Anne and Gilbert and Lizzie and Darcy but it's not obvious enough for my tastes. This book, like Daddy Long-Legs contains cute drawings by Sallie (Jean Webster) of the orphans and her adventures in the John Grier home. I liked catching up with Judy and Jervis but they have become very two-dimensional and aren't really a part of this story. This book is a mixed bag for me. If you can understand and accept the attitudes of the period in which it was written, you might enjoy the story.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Becoming Mary Mehan by Jennifer Armstrong -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

In The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan, the Civil War is off to a bloody start but Mary Mehan is hardly affected by it. Her family left Ireland during the potato famine and though she's lived her whole life in Swampoodle, the Irish slum of Washington City, she has yet to be touched by war. The Irish community is divided. Mary's father, already out of work, descries the war, believing that if the slaves are freed, they will take the Irish jobs for less money. Mary's charming roguish brother sometimes works building the new Capitol dome. When Mary meets a male nurse, Mr. Walt [Whitman] he encourages her to go in the hospitals and help out, but Mary can not. She is grateful that her brother can not be drafted because he's an alien. Then Michael Mehan does the unthinkable, he enlists in an Irish brigade and marches off to war. Mary's father goes out of his mind and thinks only of going home to Ireland. Mary wonders how her brother could have left her alone to support herself and is certain that she has only to say come and he will return. She dreams of her brother and plans of their return. She can't think about the unthinkable. Mary must decide whether she's Irish or American and where her duty lies.

This book is divided into books and each book is divided into chapters. The prose is similar to poetry and the story is told in a stream of consciousness manner. Mary's dreams and real life are interwoven. The story jumps between Mary's head and Michael's head. I didn't like the way the story was told and had a hard time following it. This novel is very depressing and I had a hard time getting through it.

In Mary Mehan Awake, the war is over. Mary's friend Mr. Walt, the nurse/poet convinced her to nurse the wounded soldiers. Mary spent two years listening to dreams, holding hands, bathing wounds and watching bloody men die. She's cut off her senses and refuses to feel anything at all. Mr. Walt believes she needs a rest and arranges for her to go work as a domestic in the country. In her new job Mary discovers a loving, eccentric couple. Mr. Dorsett is a naturalist who can't bear to shoot birds in order to study them so he runs after them with his camera hoping to catch them in their natural habitat. Mary learns a bit about photography to help her new employer. Inside the house she helps in the kitchen and is treated as a friend by Mrs. Dorsett. The Dorsetts also have a chauffeur/handyman, Henry, a minister's son who lost his hearing and his dreams in the war. Henry and Mary are the only two who understand the horrors of war. Through silent communication they become friends and unexpectedly, Mary begins to feel again. 

This book is better than the first. It's told in beautiful prose. There are many metaphors likening the natural world to what Mary is experiencing or will experience. I really liked them and thought it helped the story along without getting too wordy. Mary's slow transformation back to the human word is handled so delicately and beautifully. She's very emotionally fragile and she's never really had the opportunity to decide what she wants out of life. This story is her spring awakening. I liked her relationship with Henry as it slowly develops. They're good for each other and encourage each other. The ending is a little abrupt and we're told what happens through the words of other characters. I wish there had been a bit more development of the plot there but otherwise the story works for me. It's a quiet emotional read. I recommend these two books more for adults than teens.  

The Pursuit of Lucy Banning (Avenue of Dreams 1) by Olivia Newport -- Historical Fiction

Lucy Banning is beautiful, from one of the best families in Chicago and engaged to a perfectly suitable wealthy young man. Her fiance, Daniel, is a childhood friend of her brothers and she should be thrilled that she is to marry him. However, Lucy wants more out of life than just being a society wife. She is secretly enrolled in a class at the University of Chicago and spends her free time volunteering at an orphanage and working on the women's committee for the upcoming World's Fair. Her brother Leo is somewhat sympathetic if only to be rebellious and her eccentric Aunt Violet is fully supportive but Lucy feels the need to keep her activities a secret from her fiance. When she meets her brother's friend Will, an architect, she discovers a man who is kind and caring in a way her fiance is not. She finds Will a good friend. She feels increasing pressure from her parents and fiance to settle down and give up her "hobbies" but her heart doesn't want to listen.

Charlotte Farrow is new in service at the Banning Household. She arrived with a few forged references and a big big secret. She's determined to survive this job no matter how snobby the butler. When Samuel Banning notices things missing from his study, Charlotte fears she'll take the blame and then what will happen to her? She carefully guards her secret until Miss Lucy discovers just what Charlotte is hiding. Can Charlotte trust Lucy to help her?

This book is supposed to be Inspirational but it can be enjoyed by anyone of any denomination or lack thereof. There's frequent references to church going and a very brief quote from the minister's sermon. There is also a reference to a character's grandmother's Bible. There's no real message or preaching in this book that I could tell. Whatever message there is, it's too subtle to notice at 1:30 am bleary eyed and unable to put the book down.

I think I should hate Lucy because she's such a do-gooder but I can't really. She's very sweet and kind. She's stubborn and tries hard to be independent at a time when women had very few rights. This story unglamorizes (is that a word?) the aristocratic world of the Gilded Age. Lucy and Charlotte both face adversity. This book also shows that wealthy men also faced expectations and sometimes could not hold up under the pressures of society. I really liked that the story provided a realistic window into Gilded Age Chicago.

The characters seem well-rounded and interesting. I was very interested in Charlotte's story, having guessed her secret right away. Her story never fully comes to a close so the reader has to read the sequel to find out what happens to her. The plot is really good until halfway through when it turns melodramatic. A character becomes a creepy stalker and I could have done without that. Yet, by the time I finished the book I the whole point of the plot and why it had to be so. It makes the story very different from the typical Gilded Age/Edwardian girl in a cage plot. It's different even from Downton Abbey though Lucy and Lady Sybil are very much alike. The ending is a bit random and rushed. I would have liked another chapter or two to further develop the story but as I was reading at 1 am, I was glad the book wasn't longer!

The period details are amazing. The author did an incredible amount of research to create a portrait of late 19th century Chicago. I loved learning who the neighbors were, the architecture of the houses, what routes Lucy traveled along and the planning of the World's Fair. I learned a lot about a location I don't know much about.

I recommend this book to Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs fans who don't like soap opera plots. (ahem Downton Abbey Season 3). 

Monday, November 11, 2013

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently . . .

The Years Before Anne : The Early Career of Lucy Maud Montgomery Author of "Anne of Green Gables" by Francis W.P. Bolger -- Biography

This biography of the celebrated Lucy Maud Montgomery was originally published on Prince Edward Island in 1974. In 1991 it was issued in paperback by Nimbus Publishing. This book covers the early childhood and young adult years of the author of Anne of Green Gables up to the publishing of the first Anne book. It quotes heavily from Maud's autobiography The Alpine Path. It also contains previously unreleased material including essays, letters and family photographs. I picked up this book for the primary source material. I own The Alpine Path and have read extensively about Maud and her life including her journals. This book contained some new to me material. I was interested in the personal letters between Maud and her cousin Penzie. They're typical teenage girl letters from a lonely girl to her best friend back home. They give insight into the nature of Maud's mind at that time and how she developed her writing. Also of interest to me were the essays Maud wrote in her teens and early on in her career. It's interesting to see how her writing developed and how she drew on local sources for ideas and then took off with her imagination to create the stories we all know and love. I'm sure most, if not all, this material is included in other volumes about Maud's life. If you come across this book, it's worth a perusal.

Servants' Hall: A Real Life Upstairs, Downstairs Romance by Margaret Powell-- memoir

Margaret Powell relates more incidents from her time in service. When the son of one of her employers runs off with a maid it causes a big to-do both upstairs and down. The master and upper servants are furious at this breaching of class distinctions while Margaret and the younger servants think it's a fairy take come true. Margaret would have jumped at the chance to become a real lady but Rose stubbornly clings to her working class roots, parroting her mother's evangelical religious beliefs and her father's hatred of the ruling class. Margaret and another friend from service, Mary, continue to visit Rose and try to remain friends through the turbulent marriage though never fully feeling comfortable with the situation. Meanwhile Margaret and Mary go out in search of their princes. They kiss a lot of men who turn out to be frogs rather than princes but it doesn't stop them from hoping. Margaret sees service as a means to an end rather than a permanent situation.

I found this memoir more engaging than the first one because it had a central plot rather than a disjointed set of remembrances. I especially liked the upstairs/downstairs conflicts and learning about how people viewed those distinctions and the possibility of moving up in the world. Rose's story is heartbreaking and anything but a fairy tale. I felt sorry for her and I also had sympathy for her husband because Rose was just SO annoyingly stubborn.

For those who like Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs and wonder what life in service was really like, this book is for you. It's not necessary to have read any of Margaret Powell's other books to enjoy this one. 

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

An Early Engagement by Barbara Metzger -- Regency Romance

Lady Emilyann Arcott and Viscount Stokley were engaged on Emilyann's christening day, shortly after the death of her Mama. The Duke waished to protect his precious only daughter, an heiress, from his scoundrel brother. Stokley's Papa From then on, Emilyann became Stokley's to cherish and treasure. From climbing trees to fishing and other unladylike pursuits, Emilyann followed her beloved "Smokey" anywhere. Before Emilyann is old enough to come out, her Papa unexpectedly dies leaving her a fortune and in the care of her ne'er do well uncle, his Puritanical wife and her idiotish son Bobo. When Emilyann's uncle threatens to marry her to Bobo, Emilyann knows she needs to escape but where and how? Smoky is off fighting the French with Wellington and who knows when or if he'll return. As luck would have it, Emilyann learns from Smokey's younger brother Geoffrey that Stokley is in London at that very moment. Emilyann runs off to her Smokey who promises to help. Emilyann adds the condition that after Stokley returns from the wars they can get a quiet annulment. Stokley agrees with the condition that Emilyann not spend her fortune on his run down estate. Never one to listen, Emilyann does exactly as she pleases. Emilyann, Geoffrey and his silly sister Nadine head off to London to take the ton by storm. When news of his wife's social success reaches Stokley in Brussels, he dashes off to London to take control of his family. Instead of the parcel of unruly children he expects to find, he discovers his wife is a lively, confident, caring, beautiful woman and he wants nothing to do with any annulments! Emilyann is a bit unsure of her husband so Stokley sets out to woo her. A series of unusual accidents makes Stokley reluctant to leave his bride's side. Alas, Napoleon is on the run and it's back to war for the young Earl. Will he ever win his bride? Will Emilyann ever get to cherish her hero as he has cherished her all these years? Not if Emilyann's uncle has anything to say about it. This story is vastly different from the usual marriage of convenience plot. Most of the book is dedicated to exposition. The exposition is cute and funny at times but goes on too long. The subplot involving Emilyann's uncle and his family is far more entertaining. For all he's a villain, her uncle is a comic villain. His wife, Ingrid, and stepson Bobo provide a lot of the humor in the story. Stokley's aunt and sister also contribute to the comedic aspects of the plot. Since the exposition is long, the story feels really long and doesn't have much time to develop the relationship. Emilyann is very young, spoiled and headstrong. She grows up nicely and becomes an appealing character towards the end. Stokley is hardly in the story at all except as a minor character looking back on their childhood games and then in the last third of the novel. When Stokley appears, he's busy lusting after his bride instead of actually trying to woo her he tries to seduce her. The two are NOT the same thing. I didn't really like him much but there wasn't a lot of opportunity to get to know him. I preferred his brother Geoff. This isn't my favorite Barbara Metzger novel. It's cute and sometimes funny but the lack of relationship between the h/h turned me off. That and Pug, the dog, doesn't play a major role in the story and only appears or is mentioned in a few scenes. Lady Cheyne (My Lady Innkeeper) is mentioned in one scene but doesn't appear on page.

A Heart on His Sleeve by Marian Devon -- Regency Romance

Miss Emeline Sedley despairs of being stuck in the dower house on her cousin, Lord Blakley's estate. If it weren't for Blakley's selfish mother and her feud with Emmy's Grandmama, Emmy would be making her come out in London. Her mean cousin refuses to allow her to live in the manor or meet his gentlemen friends. Her only companion is her best friend Andrea Prior who is staying with Emmy while her father tries to recover his finances in France. St. Valentine's Day is fast approaching and Emmy has discovered all manor of old folk ways to find her husband. Her prayers seem to be answered when her cousin's friends come for a hunt. As much as Blake tries to keep the gentlemen away from the ladies, he is unsuccessful. He's busy having a tryst with a village woman and trying to keep his old nemesis,  the radical Zach Cannon from turning the farmers against their landlord. Andrea is glad not to have to socialize with the cold and trying man who tormented her throughout childhood, but when she finds herself alone with her, he can't keep his lips off hers. Andrea's traitorous body responds to the rake's kisses but she knows he's not sincere. She would be better off going to her father in France and teaching English to French children than staying in England where she's in danger of losing her heart. By St. Valentine's Day, someone will find their ideal mate but will it be Emmy, Andrea, Blake's mother, or Blake's friends? This short novel has some potential but it never quite lives up to it's promise. Emmy is young and silly. I couldn't relate to her desire to find a husband NOW. She does some silly things which I probably would have done in my salad days though. Her judgement is not the best and she never really grows or changes. Andrea is the main character of the story and it's all from her point of view. I wish we had Blake's point of view because it would be a far more interesting story. He seems to be a superficial rake but some scenes reveal there's more to him than meets the eye. He seems to be a man of a lot of depth but it never really comes to the surface because we see him as Andrea sees him. The kissing scenes are ridiculous. There's not much else between Andrea and Blake. They don't really know each other very well and I don't see their attraction to one another beyond physical sensation. The story isn't laugh out loud funny and there are a few moments of humor but nothing really great. This is not Marian Devon's best novel.

Friday, November 8, 2013

What I've Read This Week Part II

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

The Bride Wore Size 12 by Meg Cabot -- Mystery/Women's Fiction

Heather Wells is getting ready for a new school year and for her big wedding to Cooper Cartwright. Finally her luck will change and she'll get a happily ever after. Not so fast, Heather! First, a hard-partying, Middle Eastern prince moves in (thanks to his father's half-million dollar donation) and everyone suddenly wants to be in Fisher Hall! Heather's boss Lisa is sick with the stomach flu, leaving Heather to deal with eager students and unhappy parents. Then, an RA turns up dead in her bed seemingly of natural causes. Heather has a bad feeling about this and it's up to her to protect her students from a killer. To add to her stress, her mother suddenly reappears in her life with no good excuse or even a sincere apology. Heather so does not need more stress in her life and thankfully Cooper is supportive. Will she live to walk down the aisle at the Plaza and finally get her happily ever after? (What do you think?) This is the best mystery of them all. It's less gruesome than the first two and more interesting than the middle two. It kept me reading way way too late at night. There are several huge shockers that I did not see coming at all, including the wedding. The motive seems really bizarre but the criminal is clearly unbalanced and has issues. I also love the relationship between Cooper and Heather. Do guys like Cooper actually exist outside the pages of a novel? They're so sweet and fun together. There aren't any real love scenes between them in this book just some suggestive talk. Cooper's sisters make a guest appearance to provide some comic relief and we get to meet some of his unusual friends. Heather's mom also makes her first official appearance rounding out the new characters. I like the way the personal plot was woven into the story and not left for the very end. It relieved some of the tension of the mystery. My big gripe with this book, as with many of Meg's books, is that it gets preachy. There's discussions about having children and not having children and Heather's views don't really jive with her character. This part of the plot pretty much comes randomly out of nowhere. There's also a lot of talk about relationship issues, Mommy issues and therapy that gets a bit overdone but does fit the plot of the novel. I really enjoyed the book other than those few quibbles and I'm sad to leave Heather behind. 

United We Spy (Gallagher Girls) by Ally Carter -- Young adult fiction

This final installment in the Gallagher series picks up at the start of Cammie's final semester at Gallagher Academy. The seniors are busy planning for their future but all Cammie wants is to be alive. She's left with a lot of questions after her ordeal and finally realizes why The Circle of Cavan is after her. Her mom wants Cammie safe and sound at school but Cammie knows it's up to her to end this thing. Cammie and her friends are children no longer and not knowing who to trust, they must rely on each other. With only a few clues to go on and backup from some loyal friends, they're off hunting down killers and trying to prevent the most deadly and dangerous thing to happen to her country in years. Cammie knows she may die in the process but she won't die without taking down a few bad guys in the process. Many of the plot elements in this book resemble Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows but what happens is original. This book is non-stop, heart-pounding action. I had enough sense to read the book during the DAY so I didn't stay up all night. I couldn't put it down. Just when it seems like it's done, there's more and the story isn't over until the very last page. The story does get violent at times and is rather scary. Yet, it's also very predictable. I had a pretty good guess who they could trust and who they couldn't and I wasn't wrong. I liked this final entry in the series a lot, more than some of the previous books, but I am not sorry to leave the series behind. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Mrs. Jeffries Dusts for Clues by Emily Brightwell -- Historical cozy Mystery

After solving the Slocum murder case, the Inspector's servants gain an underground reputation for being excellent sleuths. Their neighbor, Luty Belle, comes to them with a mystery to solve. She's worried about her friend Mary who hasn't been seen in two months. Mary, a maid, was last seen headed to her new job. When workers building a new underground tunnel discover a body buried in a cellar, Inspector Witherspoon is assigned the case. Mrs. Jeffires feels the body is the missing Mary but local gossip turns up another missing girl: Mary's acquaintance Cassie. Cassie, a shopgirl, is supposed to be lawfully married but the servants have their doubts. If they can find her, they can figure out what happened to Mary. The investigation is tricky because they must deal with recalcitrant upstairs folk who don't want their secrets known. Feeding the information they find to the Inspector is nearly as difficult but with luck and skill, Mrs. Jeffries will help solve the case. I found it really easy to figure out what happened to the two girls and which one had been killed. It was very obvious from the clues and Mrs. Jeffries should have figured it out. It wasn't obvious who the killer was but I figured that too. There were clues Mrs. Jeffries could have picked up on. She solved the murder with one random "ah-ha!" moment that I felt was just too coincidental. The secondary characters are very stereotypical. Luty Belle is supposed to be a Molly Brown type and the employers all fit the stock stories of 19th century upper class people. The story kept me interested and I liked how the lives of working class women and advances in science were worked into the story. If you liked the first book in the series, you'll like the second one.

The Ghost and Mrs. Jeffries by Emily Brightwell -- Historical cozy Mystery

Mrs. Abigail Hodges returns home to an empty house. Her husband is accompanying a spiritualist medium to the train station and apparently he gave the servants the night off without consulting her. She's a bit nervous to be alone because of the medium's warning, but she tries to shake it off as she readies herself for bed. Before she can fully unbutton her dress she's shot dead. The Inspector is given the case, despite the fact that it appears to have been a burglary. He insists that the case is very simple: trace the stolen jewels and find the murderer. However, Mrs. Jeffries points out that only three trumpery items were stolen and they weren't worth much. Then Constable Barnes discovers a clue that may mean the case isn't so simple after all. Behind the scenes, the servants are on the job; each one doing what they do best to uncover the clues. It seems Mrs. Hodges wasn't well liked by many and it's quite possible someone close to her was the killer. Mrs. Jeffries has an uneasy feeling about this case and it takes every bit of cunning and skill she and her staff possesses, plus some help from friends to solve the murder. This is the best of the mysteries I've read so far. Even though I guessed who the murderer was right away (it was SO obvious), I thought perhaps I may have been on the right track but not have all the facts. It took a lot of sleuthing to uncover all the facts which made the mystery a little harder to conclude. I especially liked that this one involves a lot of specific period history. There's information about women's property laws in America vs. England; how British women were demanding equal rights; spiritualism and seances and graverobbing. All of that really made the story feel more Victorian. Some of the others try too hard to tell the audience when the story takes place and I appreciated the facts being a part of the mystery rather than just placed randomly into the story. This book also contains a lot of humor to lighten a dark mystery and introduces the dog, Fred. I'm a sucker for a cute dog so he adds bonus points in my mind. I'd give this mystery 4/5 stars.

Friday, November 1, 2013

What I've Read This Week Part II

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

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Based on a short story by Emile Zola, this novel set in 1880s Paris is about Maude Pichon, a country girl who dreams of a better life. She has run away from her country village in Brittany to escape her narrow life and domineering father. In Paris, she hopes all her dreams will come true. She discovers that real life in Paris is not so easy. She must live in the grimy Left Bank area and work as a laundress. She discovers an ad for girls needed for undemanding work. Curious, she goes to the agency in question to inquire. There she discovers that ugly girls are needed for rich ladies to hire as their companions in order to enhance their own beauty. Maude is horrified and can't bring herself to accept the job. Soon, she has no choice and becomes a repoussoir, a repellent, an ugly one. Her first client is a countess who desires Maude to be a companion for her daughter Isabelle. There's a catch, Isabelle doesn't know Maude is a hired spy for her mother. Soon Maude finds herself flying high with the aristocrats. Maude lives a double life, moving through bohemian Paris with a young musician named Paul and identifying with the other repoussoirs by day and socializing with aristos at night. Isabelle is difficult to get along with at first, but soon she discovers what Isabelle values most is honesty and intelligence. How can Maude bring herself to tell Isabelle the truth? If Maude is honest with Isabelle, she'll be out of a job. If she's honest with the Countess, she'll be without a friend. At first I identified with Maude and her yearning for life beyond a small town. Then Maude becomes someone entirely unlikeable by the middle of the book. She has to in order to go on her journey of self-discovery. I found this part of the plot heavy-handed and cliched. A lot of the story was typical of young adult novels. Isabelle is another example. Like Maude, she dreams of a different life beyond the narrow confines of her society. Unlike Maude, I really admired Isabelle and her determination to break free from her mother's determined plans. She's a wonderful character and I wish there had been more about her. In addition to the cliched and predictable plot, there's also a lot of symbolism and a strong message. This is a typical young adult novel for young teens but it's made better by the amazing period details. I especially loved the descriptions of Paris: the building of the Eiffel Tower, the bohemian society, the artistic, scientific and cultural advances are all interwoven into the story. The author did an amazing amount of research and skillfully worked her information into the story. I enjoyed the period details more than the actual plot. I liked the idea, but I think it might work better as a story for older teens or adults. I'll have to look for the original Zola story. 

Stolen Magic (Book Three in the Kat, Incorrigible Series) by Stephanie Burgis -- Middle Grades Historical Fantasy

Kat and her family are back in this third and final volume. It's nine months after the events in Bath and change is in the air for the Stephensons. Angeline's wedding day approaches and no one must do anything to offend the Carlyles. Kat is looking forward to her Guardian initiation, which keeps getting delayed as they struggle to find a new Head. Kat tries her hardest to practice her powers but finds a stumbling block in the form of her brother Charles! Newly sober, Charles has decided to take up his role as the head of the family and this means trying to curb Kat's behavior. Well, we'll see about that! When the Stephensons arrive in Devon for the wedding, disaster upon disaster occurs. The Guardians have a secret task for Kat and she must work with her dreaded nemesis to save England.  Angeline faces an uphill battle with her fiance's family. A mysterious Marquise arrives for the wedding and Kat suspects the woman has big secrets that could tie her to the Stephensons in a most shocking way. A distraction for dear Charles arrives in the form of Frederick's beautiful cousin Jane. However, as soon as Kat escapes her brother she encounters a dangerous enemy whose power is greater than her own. When he threatens to kill Kat and hurt the ones she loves, she's ready to attack, but how can she when she isn't fully trained? Can she protect her family and save England without being killed or stripped of her powers?  I had been dying to read this book since the end of Book 2. I stayed up WAY too late reading it. The magical mystery plot kept me turning the pages. I also wondered about the mysterious Marquise though I guessed who she was right away. There's also a non-magical mystery plot that absolutely confounded me and shocked me. It was somewhat predictable in a way but in the context of the story it wasn't so easy to figure out. I found the ending really rushed and the best part was rather skimmed over which disappointed me a LOT. I also found the new secondary characters really two-dimensional. The mysterious villain's plot was interesting but too quickly resolved and a bit too predictable and juvenile. There's also a big moral spelled out at the end. These factors made me love the book a lot less than the previous two. I still loved Kat and her family. I especially liked Angeline in this one. I wished the ending had been fleshed out more. I was really interested in what was about to happen and then... a brief summary. This book, out of the three reads the most like a typical middle grades novel. I liked the first two because they were different and fun. I'm sad to see the series end and I hope Stephanie Burgis has more Regency magic stories planned. I'd love to see Kat as an older teen or maybe Angeline's daughter romping through late Regency Society! It would be fun to see how Angeline handles her new responsibilities.