Sunday, March 30, 2014

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

A Slight Miscalculation (A Half Moon House Short Story)A Slight Miscalculation by Deb Marlowe -- Regency Romance short story

William Hampton, Viscount Worthe, received a letter informing him of a mistake in his calculations on the orbit of Uranus. Worthe is furious and heads to London, a place he avoids at all costs, to either call this J.M. Tillney out or thank him; Worth isn't sure yet which. When he discovers J.M. Tillney is a woman, he's even more furious. He heads over to Half Moon House, a sort of club where Jane is at the moment. Upon arrival, he's hit by an arrow, literally, and hits his head. He awakens to Andromeda, the constellation, perfectly formed by a smattering of freckles on the face of a beautiful young woman. He is surprised to discover that Andromeda is none other than J.M. Tilley herself. Jane Tillney volunteers at Half Moon House, a place which helps at risk women to better themselves. Worthe helps them with a tricky problem which pleases Jane. Jane is only helping temporarily. Soon she will finish her Season and choose a husband. She plans to find someone who will share her interest in mathematics, science and helping the unfortunate. Worthe would rather hide away in the country studying the predictable patterns of stars and planets. This mere slip of a girl has enchanted him like no other. Can he be the one she wants?

There's not much substance to this story. It's a love story based on love at first sight. The hero and heroine share the same interests and I can see them being partners but I don't get a sense of love. I can see how they would fall in love based on physical attraction and mutual interests, but the story is too short to fully develop the relationship. Deb Marlow usually writes Regency Historicals (bodice rippers) and despite promises this story is "sweet," it still contains some sensuality. She even worked in the word "manhood" (not referring to masculinity) and the word "heat." Those are key words that tell me I'm not interested in reading more of her books. I didn't place this book on the kisses only shelf for the reason of sensuality. Georgette Heyer probably wouldn't approve.

I liked Jane. She's intelligent and level-headed. She seems like someone I would want to be friends with. The story is very short so she isn't really a fleshed out character. Worthe is a nice change from the rakish heroes I usually enjoy. He's married to his scientific and mathematical pursuits and is unsure if he can let someone else in his cozy little bubble. He's a better developed character than Jane.

If the author had taken the time to develop the characters and their relationship without the physical sensations, it would have been a much better story.

Road to RuinRoad to Ruin by Margaret Evans Porter -- Regency Romance

The dust jacket description is not correct...

Miss Nerissa Newby was brought up by her sea captain father to be broad minded and intellectual. Her attitude has caused a lot of gossip among the villagers. Her fiance adds fuel to the fire by removing the washmaid Lucy and her son Samuel, who are at the heart of the gossip. Nerissa decides to leave her fiance and Olney behind forever. She will journey to

Dominic Blythe, Baron Blythe is at a party at the home of Lady Titus, a newly married former one-time amour and her much older husband, a friend of his late father's. Dominic is joined by his cousins Justin Blythe and Damon Lovell, Lord Elston, and Justin's brother Ramses, Viscount Cavender. When Ram believes Lady Titus, his mistress, is flirting with his cousin Dominic, Ram is humiliated. He is a mean and vengeful man and take his wrath out on his cousin by insinuating to Lord Titus that Lady Titus and Dominic are past AND present lovers. An Angry Lord Titus challenges Dominic to a duel without stating his reason. Dominic fears for his life, but comes away without a scratch. Unfortunately, his pistol did not shoot straight and the bullet hit the older man's thigh. The surgeon is incompetent and unable to help. Terrified for his friend's life, Dominic brings the old man home where he finally expires. Lord Titus managed to live long enough to forgive Dominic, but the coroner's verdict is ruled as willful murder and Dominic must flee London in order to save his life. He has to leave behind his home, his friends and his cozy little mistress. On the road to Ireland, he encounters one difficulty after another. At the inn where he hopes to hire a carriage, they have only one old vehicle left and a young lady traveling incognita has previous claim. Nerissa invited Dominic to share her carriage to the next inn. Upon arriving there, they encounter a Bow Street Runner and Nerissa must trust Dominic if she wants to save his life. Posing as a newlywed couple, Nerissa and "Nick" begin an adventure that will take them unexpected places and last for the rest of their lives.

I had mixed feelings about this book. I so liked Nick and Nerissa's cameo in Jubilee Year that I just had to read their story. I liked the plot for the most part. Because I already knew the outcome from Jubilee Year, it didn't grab me the way it would have if I had read the books in order. I actively disliked a lot of the hero's behavior. He assumed something about Nerissa and based his actions towards her on that assumption. So many of the misunderstandings in the plot could have been resolved if they had talked to each other! Of course Nick could not have outright asked Nerissa about what he assumed, but later, after they grew closer, he should have asked tactfully. This lack of understanding and support shows they never really get to know each other very well. They each have secrets they're keeping. I really couldn't forgive Nick for his assumption and his actions. He does stop before going to far which shows her respects Nerissa but but he does TRY to seduce her and that just did not sit well with me. I also found it weird that he is friends with his late father's mistress. Also, his mistress is mentioned by name several times in the beginning and she's important to him but then he doesn't give her a second thought. don't like seeing the hero's exploits or knowing too much about them. Also, Ellen isn't your usual opera dancer or actress or lightskirt so I wondered about her and worried about her. There's also an ick factor involved in the fact that his former one time lover is now sleeping with his father's friend AND his cousin. It seems rather incestuous to me. He is not as bad as his cousin Ram, though, and he does realize his mistake and apologize. That makes me like him a bit more.

The other characters in this book are interesting and likeable, aside from Ram. Ram is a "douchebag" to quote the modern Bennet sisters. He's not quite as bad as Wickham or even Willoughby because he has a conscience and he does have honorable intentions towards young Lady Miranda Perevell. I didn't really like Damon either. His cynicism was unappealing. He needed to meet his match and learn a lesson in love!

I loved Nerissa. She's strong, intelligent, broad minded, quick thinking and wants nothing to do with the usual tonnish activities. She's exactly the type of person I would like to be friends with. She is a bit modern for that period though. I liked that she had a backstory that explained her behavior and she wasn't randomly modern. I think she should have gone to Cousin William's for she and Miranda would have been good friends and she could have warned Miranda against Ram. The Duke is so kind and I loved meeting him because I liked him a lot in Jubilee Year. I also liked sensitive young Justin. His character was very different than in Jubilee Year, but I see how he changed over the three years because of his experiences. I don't feel so bad about what happened at the end of Jubilee Year because seeing him with that friend shows they weren't that close to begin with.

This best part of this book is the author's research. It shows in her depiction of Cumberland. I knew a bit about it from Regina Scott's Love Inspired novels, but this book shows an entirely different Cumberland. I loved the people and the customs shown in this book. It seemed very nice and Nick was happy there. Sometimes though, the author stepped out of the story to relate bits of history and current events that weren't entirely necessary for the story.

I don't really know what to rate this story. I liked it but I didn't always like the hero's behavior. I will be generous and give it three stars.

What I've Read This Weekend

What I've Read This Weekend . . .

Magic Below StairsMagic Below Stairs by Caroline Stevermer -- Middle Grades Historical Fantasy

11 year old boy in a cruel, abusive situation discovers he has a magical helper who can be be free by being given clothes, goes to work for a magician and discovers he has magical powers. is this Harry Potter? No but it could be the Victorian version minus Hogwarts. Young Frederick Lincoln lives in an orphanage where the Master locks naughty children away in a damp, dark prison cell to punish them. Frederick enjoys helping out in the kitchen where he learns any number of useful things. He's quiet and good at what he does, but one night, while cleaning up a mess the Master made, Frederick falls asleep with his task half finished. When he wakes, his task is completed. Frederick dreamed he heard a voice singing "peas and beans." Frederick continues to dream of the voice of a funny, little man. Then Lord Schofield sends a servant out to the orphanage with a suit of livery. Whichever boy fits the livery will go to work at Schofield House. The suit miraculously fits Frederick though the previous occupant was a much larger boy. When Lord Scofield wants to conduct an experiment on Frederick, the boy is terrified. The experiment yields surprising results in the form of a brownie named Billy Bly. Billy Bly has been keeping an eye on Frederick, making sure the boy is all right. When Billy Bly is banished from the house, Frederick is lonely, despite making a new friend, a chatty maid called Bess. Frederick is chosen to go with the household to one of their country homes. Lady Schofield requires rest and quiet for her "condition." The house was cursed but a team of 11 wizards broke the curse, but Frederick, with Billy Bly's warning, isn't sure the curse is gone. Lord Schofield is arrogant and certain he can handle any problems that come his way but Frederick isn't so sure. With Billy Bly banished again, how can Frederick help save his employer?

This is a cute story set in the world of Sorcery and Cecilia. It follows the events of The Grand Tour and comes before The Mislaid Magician. I wanted to know more about Thomas and Katie and their married life. Katie only makes a few brief cameos in the story. It's surprising to see her hair neatly pinned up and wearing gloves. She's grown into a poised woman. Thomas is a bit difficult to like. He's hot tempered, arrogant and rude to everyone except Kate. Kate is so sweet and gentle and Thomas is sweet with her too. Frederick is a young boy plucked from the Harry Potter mold. He lacks Harry's sense of adventure and attitude problem. Sadly, that makes him rather a boring character. He spends the entire book worrying about everything. I think he's rather realistic given the situation he is in and how he has been treated in the past, but I like characters with spunk. That is why I enjoyed Bess. She's fearless and cheeky, yet she knows her place. She's a loyal friend and I really liked her. I also loved Billy Bly. He was cute and a good friend to Frederick. I grew up with stories about the Norwegian Nissen and Billy Bly is the same creature under a different name. He supposedly could cause a lot of mischief but we don't see any evidence of that. I felt rather bad for him during his encounters with Thomas and for being bound the way he is. I kept wanting to throw him a sock. ;)

The plot kept me hooked. Obviously, I knew how it would end since I read The Mislaid Magician, but I had to know HOW it got there. It was a very tense plot but there was enough humor to defuse the situation.

If you're an adult and read all the Kate and Cecy books already, then you'll like this little adventure. Kids who aren't ready yet for Harry Potter will be able to read this as a stand alone adventure.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What I've Read This Week Part II

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

Celia GarthCelia Garth by Gwen Bristow -- Historical Romance

1) The jacket flap gives away the plot. Don't read the whole thing!
2) This is a story about war. There are horrific acts of violence that appear as part of the plot. You can't skip it because the whole plot depends on it. The war action is told rather than shown, but it's told in enough gruesome detail to be a textbook, similar to An Infamous Army.

Plot summary without spoilers

Celia Garth is young, pretty and bored to death working as an apprentice seamstress in Charleston, South Carolina during the Revolutionary War. Ceila is always looking to the future. Her present is not satisfying enough for her. She longs to sew a real dress and become a well known seamstress instead of going back to the country as a poor relation. When her friend Captain Jimmy Rand tells her of an older lady who wants a dress that really fits but has exacting standards, Celia jumps at the chance. Vivian Lacy is not a sweet little old lady. She's small but when she stands she appears nine feet tall. She's tough, she's had to be because she's buried four husbands and two children, and she's particular about what she wears. Dealing with Vivian isn't easy, but she takes a liking to Celia and vice versa. Celia experiences the joys of her first love affair and the excitement of being engaged. Then the British arrive in Charleston harbor and the war becomes all to frighteningly close to home for Celia. Celia remains true to the "rebel" (American) cause in her heart though she must fight the odds to do it.

Review without spoilers

This story is a sweeping saga of a young woman's journey to adulthood. It's hard to say what I thought of the plot without revealing spoilers, so I will begin with the writing.

This author had a real knack for describing the place setting in such beautiful detail that I felt like I was there. I could feel the oppressive heat and see the cypress trees and the church steeple. She also excelled in creating likeable, believable characters that come to life and stay with you after the book is done. The reader will feel every emotion the characters are feelings and feel for them as they experience joy and sorrow. Gwen Bristow also excelled at research. I knew a little bit about the Revolutionary War in the South and I plan to look it up and see if she got her facts right. I learned a lot about South Carolina history and I feel bad for South Carolina for getting destroyed during two wars. The history is also the downfall of the book. There's a bit too much telling and relating of events that can be found in history books. The history is better when it's told from the point-of-view of a character and what happened to them. The story truly shines when it's about the characters and what happens directly to them. I was mostly interested in Celia and what would happen to her rather than what happened to South Carolina because that I already knew! I also didn't like the unapologetic view of slavery. They're all kind to their "negro servants" without mentioning those negro servants are enslaved. The "servants" love their white owners like family. They grew up together and are family. Excuses, excuses, excuses. I found it particularly distasteful when a small scale farmer intends to turn their estate into a full working plantation. That means slave labor. I don't care how KIND the characters are, they're still owning other human beings and that I can not stand. Though the characters will be long dead by the Civil War, it makes me sad to think their family will be on the wrong side of history.

The plot is engaging once the Siege of Charleston starts. Thought I knew about the Francis Marion, Banastre Tarleton and a bit about the history, I had a hard time putting the book down because I wanted to know what would happen to the characters. The unspeakable tragedy of this story really made me upset. I couldn't believe that anyone could be so cruel but I know it happened and I know the Union did something similar during the Civil War. It's heartbreaking to see it happen to the characters. I loved the anecdotes about Francis Marion and how Luke was a part of that story. Tarleton makes a good villain, but it sounds like some of his deeds may have been misrepresented and turned into tall tales later on. Including the characters into real life events made the history more interesting anyway. The very end of the book was odd. The romance was rushed but at first it worked within the plot but then it was kind of glossed over and summarized. The last scene feels out of place. I wanted something more after that.

Now, here be minor spoilers, read at your own risk!

At first I did not like Celia. There was too much emphasis on her looks. She seemed like a silly teenager to me. She grows up a lot out of necessity. By the time she experiences tragedy, I already liked her. She is tough and resilient, a symbol of South Carolina. I like the way she fiercely believes in her Cause, no matter what and how she is not interested in compromise but learns the value of it. Vivian is a great lady. She could be a grande dame like Lady Katherine DeBurgh, but she has a good heart and a kind soul. She's had a difficult life and found happiness wherever she can. Like Celia, I don't know how she survived all that she did, but Celia learns, like Vivian, to go on in the face of unspeakable tragedy. I liked Herbert Lacy and wished he had been in the story more. Jimmy's family also seemed nice and could have been better developed so when tragedy strikes, it hurts more than it does. Celia's cousin Roy is smarmy but a typical man of his day. His spoiled, empty-headed wife Sophie is pretty awful. According to my research, the docile, empty-headed female ideal came out later, in the nineteenth century but it works for the story. I couldn't believe the wishy-washy loyalties of some of the people in Charleston. I wished for a family tree/ character list to keep them all straight. I couldn't always remember who was who.

I loved the love story. I knew right away what was going to happen so I wasn't surprised at what happened, I was just surprised at HOW it happened. Jimmy is a nice enough character but he's just a boy and doesn't appear much in the novel. I loved Bible-quoting Luke. Luke is a real man's man. He's rugged, stubborn, determined to drive his mother crazy. He's sassy, like Celia and there's an instant attraction there. I love his relationship with his horse, Jerry and the way he always knows which Bible verse to quote. Often times, he skirts the edge of being sassy which adds some humor to the story. Celia thinks he's a flirt and I think he's more of a tease, but I loved him anyway. I especially like how Vivian is developed in relation to Luke and his father. It shows a different side of her that allows Celia to realize Vivian is human and has a weakness. The romance is a bit rushed. It's rushed partly do to the necessity of war time but then it kind of fizzled as the war got in the way. I wanted more of Celia and Luke together. I liked their witty dialogue and was partly in love with Luke myself, so any time he was on page, I was happy. 

I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would. Aside from the length and violence, this book would be a good young adult read. Fifty years ago romance novels consisted of kisses only so this novel is clean in that respect. There are scenes with husband and wife in bed but just lying in bed together holding each other. A character gives birth but it's not described. All of the graphic content is reserved for the war.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week  . . .

His Impassioned Proposal (Bridgethorpe Brides, #1)His Impassioned Proposal by Aileen Fish -- Regency Romance novella

Stephen Lumley has returned from the wars scarred in body and scarred in spirit. He arrives at Bridgethorpe to see his family only to learn that his parents perished in a devastating fire the day before. He had hoped to marry the beautiful Jane Marwick, his childhood friend and neighbor, but now has has nothing to offer. His depression makes him drink too much and when Jane finds him having a pity party for one in his uncle's study, she is not amused. Jane tries to make Stephen be sensible and see how much he means to her, but he's too far in his cups and ends up offending Jane. Jane is devastated. She realizes she may have made Stephen into a hero of her imagination. She has held on to his memory for too long and rejected all other suitors. She now resigns herself to finding any husband that will suit. Stephen, realizing his mistake (with the help of his cousins), knows he has an uphill battle to win Jane's heart. Something is holding her back and he's determined to overcome whatever it is and be the husband of her dreams. It may be an uphill battle, but he knows she's the one for him.

This novella introduces characters that will appear later in the series. I liked the Lumley family very much, especially the silly, spunky Hannah. They're all such a loving family and rally around Stephen, yet they're comfortable enough with each other to tell it like it is. Stephen needs to hear that. He's a wounded soul who needs to get back to as normal a life as possible. He's an admirable man and I liked him. I just didn't love him. Jane is sensible and kind. She has scruples and I admire them. I would probably feel the same way and fear the same things in her situation. She seems like a nice girl, but there's no chemistry between she and Stephen. They knew each other as children but there's really nothing that suggests they're in love or why. The story is just too short to build a relationship naturally. Months go by without any plot and suddenly Stephen is his old self trying to woo Jane. I liked the inclusion of the politics of the time but it felt a bit out of place in such a short book. I think the story deserved more than it was given. It is similar to a Carla Kelly plot and could have made a nice full length novel. I liked it well enough but not enough to want to read David's story or any more about the Lumleys. 

The English Witch (Trevelyan Family, #2)The English Witch by Loretta Chase -- Regency Romance

Alexandra Ashmore is known as "The English Witch" all over Albania where her intense green eyes bewitch every man around. Alexandra's archeologist Papa barely notices. He wants her to marry the son of a his man of business, a wealthy wool merchant. Alexandra finds Randolph Burnham extremely boring. She writes an impassioned plea to her godmother, Lady Bertram, back in London for help. Lady Bertram dispatches her wayward nephew Basil Trevelyan to rescue Alexandra. Basil has spent three wretched years in India paying his debts and making a profit. He travels to Greece where he receives his Aunt Clem's letter. When he arrives in Albania to discover that Alexandra has been kidnapped by one of her would-be Albanian suitors. Basil dashes in to rescue the lady, only to be bewitched himself! There's nothing to do but fake an engagement in order to persuade Alexandra's Papa to allow her to return to London instead of hurrying her off to Yorkshire to be married. In London, Alexandra is the guest of Lady Bertram and her friend Lady Maria Deverell. Basil plays least in sight trying to return to his libertine ways. Enter William Farrington, Marquess of Arden, a long time friend of Basil's and Bail's equal in debauchery. Will takes one look at Alexandra and knows he has to posses her. His "aged parent" is after him to marry so there's nothing to it but to woo and win Alexandra. Then Alexandra is invited to a house party at Lord Hartleigh's, along with Will, his sister Jess and of course, Basil. Also in attendance are a number of unmarried young ladies falling prey to Basil's flirtatious charm. Why should that annoy Alexandra so much? Why can't she seem to succumb to Will's charm? Further complications ensue when her father arrives determined to marry her off to Randolph no matter what. Alexandra may have to sacrifice her dreams of love in order to save her family from scandal.

This book starts off really strong. The Albanian setting is very unique. The description is excellent. It sounds as if the author did her research, but she could have written any old thing and it would have sounded right. The dialogue between the heroine and hero is witty. The second section of the novel copies the plot of Isabella more or less. The third section is a comedy of errors worthy of Shakespeare. I liked the first and third sections the best. They were more unique and amusing than the middle part. The middle part sort of drags on a bit too long. The way Alexandra's problems are solved is predictable, but funny. There are a few surprises along the way though. My biggest complaint is that the romance is quick off the ground with a true connection but then the witty dialogue gives way to kissing and longing. We're told how the characters feel and how they can be comfortable with each other and why they're good for each other but most of the showing from the middle forward is in the form of physical attraction.

I loved the characters in this novel. I disliked Basil in Isabella but he feels some remorse for what he did and in this story, he gets a taste of his own medicine. It's vastly amusing to watch Basil be out-raked by his friend. His jealously is very telling of his feelings for Isabella; feelings which take a long time to acknowledge. He tries to go back to his old ways but finds he can't which is very telling. He discovers that he wants to be with someone with whom he can argue and have lively conversation. This says a lot about his character and how he has changed. Alexandra is intelligent and level headed. She's confident and manipulative in her own way. Yet, she doesn't see why all these men fall in love with her. She turns into a watering pot in the middle of the story and doesn't stop. I disliked that about her but I did admire her independence in wanting to solve her problems on her own. The chemistry between the hero and heroine sizzles. There are a few scenes with rather more intense kissing than I would have liked. The heroine nearly allows herself to be seduced. I thought she was going to give in and that would have solved her problems, sort of.

The secondary characters are very good also. Will takes the place of the rake character. He's just like Basil used to be. I didn't like him much but he does make Alexandra's internal dialogue a bit funny as she contemplates his courtship techniques. His sister Jess sounds like a great character. She's very level headed. I didn't quite understand why the gentleman with the title goes by his name when Basil is known as Trev. The best characters are Maria and Aunt Clem. I loved Maria in Isabella and here she has an even greater role. She rouses herself from her chaise lounge to attend her daughter's house party. She's still languid and finds anything too fatiguing but yet behind her facade, she's a skilled manipulator. I knew exactly what she and Aunt Clem/Lady Bertram were up to. It should have been obvious to at least Isabella, but it wasn't. They're very funny in a sly, subtle sort of way. I think they'll set their sights on matchmaking for Will and Jess now. It was great to catch up with Isabella and Hartleigh and their family. Little Lucy is now 10 and just as chatty as ever. She's a great gossip and will be a matchmaker when she grows up. Uncle Henry also appears in this novel, as skilled as ever at manipulating business affairs as well as personal affairs. I love the Deverell-Latham-Trevelyan family and want more of them!

Though this book is a sequel to Isabella, it can be read on it's own. I think Georgette Heyer would approve of the characters and most of the plot. She wouldn't like the intense kissing scenes, though, from what I've read about Loretta Chase's newer books, this is pretty tame.

Monday, March 17, 2014

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Jubilee Year by Margaret Evans Porter -- Regency Romance

Justin Blythe has spent the last few years in Russia as the honored guest of Princess Natalia Levaskov. He loves her two young sons and was a good friend to her late husband, but now it's time to return home to England. His brother has died unexpectedly and now Justin is the new Viscount Gavender. All his brother left is an empty title. The estate is heavily mortgaged and inhabited by a tenant with a lengthy lease. Lady Miranda Perevel, ward of the Duke of Solway, is in London to find a husband. Her first Season was tainted with scandal owing to rumors about her mentally unstable mother. Miranda doesn't know or care to know the particulars. All she knows is that her father is dead and her mother is as good as. She loves the Duke and Duchess but longs for a home of her own. She's determined to find a comfortable husband. She doesn't need to marry someone wealthy, for she has 50 thousand of her own, but she wants to be content. Her aunt, the Duchess, wishes Miranda to wed her best friend Damon, Lord Elston. Damon is decidedly NOT the marrying kind. Damon invites his cousin Justin to Miranda's ball and the young man is smitten with the beautiful young woman. They could be comfortable together but he has nothing to offer. He plans to enter the diplomatic corps and hopes his political star is on the rise. Miranda is also interested in politics. The pair seem to be getting on well when Miranda learns that Justin may be a fortune hunter. Her aunt directs her attention to the younger, unmarried heir to the Duke of Devonshire. While he's a charming companion, he is not Justin. How can Miranda marry someone who doesn't love her? Justin is determined to prove to Mira that he loves her and sets out to woo her. He understands that marriage entails a partnership and endeavors to break down some of Mira's barriers and help her come to terms with her feelings towards her mother. Then his past threatens to catch up to him and a shakeup in the government may curtail his political dreams. Can he convince Mira to wed him after all?

This story started off well enough. I liked that the misunderstanding happened early on so the hero actually sets out to woo the heroine. The dialogue is ordinary but shows two people who are of like minds coming together. I especially love how Justin shows Mira that she doesn't have to be alone and how to deal with her family problems. However, Mira and Justin are not on page together very often and when they are, the action is told rather than shown. This is the biggest failing of the first half of the book. If the plot ended with the proposal, it would have been a pleasant story, but then another misunderstanding happens. A lot of the problem could have been solved by communication. Justin isn't around to talk to and he doesn't know Mira very well and doesn't know what she's feeling and thinking at that time. That causes another misunderstanding and a riff between two cousins. As a consequence, the story ends up being rather sad. I liked the first half of the book better than the second. The ending is very rushed and I wish there was less pointless plot in the middle and more good plot at the end. The romance is clean aside from mention of a character supposedly having been the mistress of another character and what someone should think about that.

The period details are excellent. The story is set in 1810, the King's Jubilee year. There is a lot of good detail that shows the author did her research. The downside is that there's too much about politics. A very long section involving a diplomat from Persia goes on too long and contains too much unnecessary dialogue. It could have been summarized easily. I didn't really understand or care about all the political maneuverings. There are too many names tossed around without a good explanation as to who they are and what's happening. That's just too much detail and could also have been mentioned in passing in a letter from Justin to Mira or just in passing.

I really liked Mira. I think I can relate to her though we don't have experiences in common. She's practical but more vulnerable than she lets on. She's intelligent and not afraid to show it. She turns into a watering pot at times though and that I didn't like. I liked Justin. He is a nice man and perfect for Mira, but they don't know each other very well. Their loving families make a nice change from the usual angst filled family relationships. Damon is a colossal jerk or a colossal idiot. I'm not certain which. He's charming and handsome and obviously loves Mira so I'll go with idiot. I would have done something different with him. I expected him to meet his match but apparently he gets his own book for that. There are a lot of secondary characters in this book and events that happened in a previous book which I have not read. This story doesn't entirely stand alone because of it but it made me curious enough to want to read the first book

Mrs. Jeffries Defends Her Own by Emily Brightwell -- Victorian Mystery

Ronald Dearman, manager of Sutcliffe Manufacturing is murdered in his office. Inspector Witherspoon is NOT on the job! He is busy with a fraud case so Inspector Nivens is on the case. When a suspect overhears Nivens complaining about Witherspoon getting help on his cases, the woman has a choice to make: either allow Nivens to do his investigation and risk being taken up for murder or beg help from someone she hasn't seen in years. Mrs. Jeffries is astonished to see her late husband's sister Fiona Jeffries Sutcliff at Upper Edmonton Gardens. When Fiona married Sutcliffe, it broke David's heart. He hated to see his sister become a greedy social climber and the siblings became estranged. Even so, Mrs. Jeffries knows they have to see justice done. This case will be extra difficult without the Inspector but hopefully Constable Barnes can help. Also, Smythe and Betsy are on their way to Canada so they're short handed. The investigation seems to be going nowhere. Mr. Dearman was not a "dear man" and no one seems to be mourning his death. The clues lead straight to Fiona but did she do it? How can Mrs. Jeffries send her sister-in-law to the gallows? She worries a lot over the right thing to do. 

The mystery part of the novel got very repetitive as the characters repeated their findings over and over. Since the Inspector was not on the job, it lacked Mrs. Jeffries probing him for more details. I didn't figure out the identity of the murderer or even the motive. I was completely wrong. I did guess one piece of a puzzle that seemed rather obvious but it turned out not to have any bearing on the murder case at all. It was irrelevant though it served as a red herring. I thought for sure I was right. It seemed obvious in the opening scene who the murderer had to be so the big reveal was a surprise. The motive seemed a little weak to be plausible. What I really liked about this story was the absence of Smythe and Betsy. They've gotten boring. Their story is done. I loved seeing Phyllis blossom and become a part of the family. She's becoming a very likeable character. Luty and Hatchet were not used much in this story. I didn't miss them too much but the story then lacks the humor they bring. I also liked the police bits and seeing something different from the usual investigation.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Isabella (Trevelyan Family, #1)Isabella by Loretta Chase -- Regency Romance

Edward Trevelyan, Earl of Hartleigh faced down the French and nearly died as a spy for Wellington, yet nothing has made him more fearful than arriving home to his ward's governess tearfully confessing she has lost little Lucy! Hartleigh is terrified he has failed his late friend. He promised he would look after Lucy and now she's lost in the middle of an unfamiliar and dangerous city. How could this have happened? Isabella Latham is in Town to chaperone her younger cousins' first Season. She's a spinster at 26 and was penniless since her father's death but now has a decent fortune. As she's about to leave her dressmaker, she comes across a small child sleeping in the corner. When the little girl awakes, she cries for her Mama, and Isabella's motherly instincts are aroused. Isabella is about to return little Lucy home when Hartleigh finally finds them. Hartleigh is so worried about Lucy, he is quite rude to the woman he assumes is a shopkeeper. He admires the way she handles Lucy and immediately realizes his mistake. He calls to apologize, but as Isabella's Mama points out later, timing is the enemy. His disreputable cousin Basil has already set his sights on Isabella or at least her fortune. Isabella is discommoded by the man with the cat's eyes. She fears being caught in his trap but is also a little bit curious about what it would be like to be with such a man. At least he makes no pretenses about courting her fortune, unlike her other suitors. Lord Hartleigh decides he needs to find a Mama for Lucy. He tries to court the young ladies his aunt has picked out for him but none of them attract his attention as much as Isabella. He enjoys the time spent conversing with her and is attracted to her. Isabella's aunt is annoyed at Hartleigh's attentions to Isabella. He's way too good for Isabella and should marry her empty headed daughter Veronica instead. As Basil becomes increasingly desperate, he spins gossip in such a way that will damage not only Isabella's reputation but ruin the chances of her younger cousins. She's confused about which one to pick for Lord Harleigh doesn't seem to love her any more than his cousin does. Though she loves him, she can not marry him if he does not love her. Finally, old scandals come to light as the two gentlemen try to win Isabella's hand.

This is Loretta Chase's first published book and as such, it's a good one. The plot kept me interested to find out how the HEA would come about. I tried to stop at the halfway point but at the point, something happened and I couldn't put it down. The romance plot could use a bit more courtship but I liked it. There are a lot of misunderstandings and I felt like yelling at Isabella "Just talk to him even though it's not proper!" Isabella's time spent with Hartleigh goes by very quickly and is mostly his thoughts about her. I would have liked more dialogue and interaction showing how compatible they are. I do get a sense of why he loves her but not so much why she loves him. The scandal is predictable and I wondered about it early on. I would think there would be legal hurdles to jump if such a thing happened. It wouldn't be so neat and tidy. I also didn't like the end of Maria's plot. At first I did but then the other person does something that was typical of gentleman at the time but I didn't like it at all.

I liked the characters in this book a lot. I especially liked Isabella's Mama, Maria. She acts like the quiet beta heroes in Georgette Heyer. Isabella is sensible and had a good head for business. She doesn't allow Basil to fool her as to his intentions. She thinks she can control him. Basil is a nasty man. He convinces himself that his lies are the truth and will stop at almost nothing to get money and to thwart his cousin. He's entirely despicable and untrustworthy. However, Basil seems to learn a lesson at the end. Little Lucy is cute. She sounds and acts more like 4 or 5 than 7 though. She's used enough to forward the plot and add some humor but not so much as to be annoying. Hartleigh is an honorable gentleman. As far as the reader knows, he's pretty much a saint. He's a war hero, a devoted friend and trying to be a loving guardian. He's not entirely perfect. He acts like Mr. Darcy at first but he realizes his mistakes some of the time. The characters are driven by lust at times and there is some kissing not on the lips. The door closes on a married couple but the per-marital kissing is much more intense. This book is far more clean than Loretta Chase's current books. (She is now writing Regency Historicals). 

Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther -- Historical Fiction Stories

This volume of short stories provides snapshots of the daily life of an ordinary Englishwoman with an ordinary family. She's enjoying her 40s more than her 30s because she feels "suspended between summer and winter, savouring the best of them both." She has an ordinary husband with whom she can share a look every now and again when something significant happens. She also has three ordinary children: Vin, away at Eton most of the year; Judy, age 11 and Toby. There's also Nannie, a cook and a housekeeper. The Minivers time is spent between London and their summer home in Kent. Mrs. Miniver prefers Starlings. It feels more like home to her. There the children spend lazy summer and early fall days fishing, collecting rocks and doing what children do. In London there are dinner parties to be gotten up, shopping, the children's school, holidays and birthdays. There are also visits to see relatives in Scotland and a quick trip to France. War is on the horizon but not a part of daily life just yet. Mrs. Miniver is relieved to know this time they're fighting against an idea and not a nation as they were in her childhood. Everything is as it should be, just as Mrs. Miniver likes it.

I couldn't really relate to Mrs. Miniver (whose first name is finally revealed in the final story). I'm not a wife or a mother and though I like my routine, I like to learn new things and see new places. I could relate to the children a bit better because I remember my own summer days spent at my grandparents' very fondly. I also wanted dolls at an age when most girls have given them up, like Judy. This is a pleasant little volume of stories. There's nothing really remarkable about it. I kept falling asleep and having to reread passages. There's a professor character who uses impossible language and a trip to the zoo featuring animals I didn't recognize. Sometimes the writing is beautiful like the quote above. Unfortunately, occasionally the author uses the "n word" to describe black people and it's very jarring and took me out of the calmness of the story. I know it must have been acceptable back then but it's still shocking to read. The book sails along very peacefully and using that word ruined the image I had in my head of a sweet middle-aged housewife. The last story, written in letter form, appealed to me the most. The war is just beginning and we get a hint of how it will affect the family. I'd like to know more about the evacuees at Starling. Wikipedia notes there are other stories published in later volumes but I read the original first edition without those war stories and the library doesn't seem to have any of the later stories.

Monday, March 10, 2014

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Marisa's ChoiceMarisa's Choice by Kadee McDonald -- Regency Romance/Young Adult Regency Romance

***I received a promotional copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review. This review reflects my own honest opinion. ***

Marisa Landon is not interested in a London Season or the wealthy Viscount her step-father wants her to marry. She is not so secretly in love with her best friend's older brother, neighbor William Wycliffe. She's loved him since she was 14 but he has always seen her as a little sister. Marisa realizes she must have her Season and attract the attention of other gentlemen to make Will jealous. Before she arrives in London, her mother has an accident and can not travel. Marisa heads off to London with her best friend Lyvia Wycliffe and her family, which puts Marisa is close proximity with Will. Lyvia is an instant hit with the gentlemen but has eyes only for a penniless Lieutenant. It's up to Marisa to keep her friend from doing something rash. Will's best friend, Jamie, Lord Rockwell takes an interest in Marisa. Marisa enjoys his company but he's not Will. She has reason to fear for Lord Rockwell's life and is often seen in company with him, sharing details of what she knows. The young Viscount, Lord Allendale, also takes an interest in Marisa, but he's more interested in plants than people. Will Wycliffe is home from the wars and at loose ends. His little sister's best friend Marisa seems to have grown up while he was away. He's confused by his feelings for her. He knows he SHOULD feel honorably bound to protect her, yet, he's jealous of the would-be suitors who surround her even his own best friend. Should he do the right thing and allow Marisa to enjoy her Season and accept an offer from someone with more money and a higher social position or should he act on his strange new feelings?

This is a pleasant, predictable sort of Regency romance. It's not my favorite plot but it's not my least favorite. The first quarter of the story was a bit slow but it picked up with a mystery in the second half and I couldn't put it down until I was done. The writing style is decent. It's a bit modern but not too modern. I caught a few phrases and words that sounded too modern but not many. The main thing I really found jarring was the gentlemen asking Marisa to call them by their first names, which just was not done. (Think of the Austen heroes; they are usually associated with their surnames: Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, Captain Wentworth). The author has done some research and puts in just enough period detail to set the scene but not too much as so to overwhelming. She explains a lot of the basics of Regency Society and etiquette. There isn't really any period language to contend with so the writing is accessible for all readers. The romance doesn't really develop very well, in my opinion, largely due to the underdevelopment of Will. The ending is a bit rushed. There are a few other romances happening in the background of the story. The central romance gets lost within the other plots that would be better off in their own separate books. I predicted a subplot right away and found it a bit too convenient and obvious. I also didn't think it was entirely historically accurate but it works OK for the story. I felt left hanging at the end though and needed to know how that was going to turn out.

The characters in this book are pretty good. I really liked Marisa. She's young but she's sensible. She is reading a book by "A Lady" about two sisters who have very different outlooks on life and that describes Marisa and her best friend Lyvia. Marisa is an Elinor. She's practical and sensible and willing to act grown up in order to get what she wants. Marisa loves to read and discuss politics but she's not a bluestocking. Lyvia is spoiled and bratty. She's a typical teenager and not at all ready to be let out in public. She could learn a lot from Marisa. Marisa stays steady throughout the whole novel. She's not perfect; she's outspoken and stubborn at times, but I liked that about her. Her reaction to the events towards the end was very realistic. She knew what she wanted and when she didn't get it, she wasn't about to settle. I wasn't crazy about Will. He admits he doesn't have a lot to offer. He's home from the wars and at loose ends. He needs to grow up a bit before he can be the hero of a romance. He's a flat character. I don't know why Marisa loves him. I can see her having a school girl crush on him, but not why she continues to love him. There are some sweet moments when I can see why she would feel attraction, but it's not enough for me. She asks him a question, which he never gets a chance to answer, and that would have made him a much more appealing character. She spends more time talking to Lord Rockwell than she does with Will. As a result, Lord Rockwell is a better character and I liked him immensely.

This story is good for newcomers to the genre and young adult readers. It serves as a good introduction for those who can't/don't want all the period details and language of Georgette Heyer and just want a simple love story. For this experienced reader, as a historian, I need those details and the language. I need to learn something new in an entertaining manner. My romantic nature needs to be pleased by a sigh and awww at the romance. This book doesn't quite fit the bill. It's not bad, it's very nice in fact, it just didn't wow me.

If you liked The Season by Sarah MacLean, you will like this one. 

A Gentleman of LeisureA Gentleman of Leisure by P.G. Wodehouse -- Historical Fiction/Romance

Jimmy Pitt, a gentleman of leisure, strolls into his club one night as the members were discussing the latest popular play on Broadway, Love, The Cracksman. The actor, Mifflin, claims it takes brains and science to be an expert cracksman but Jimmy feels otherwise. He's largely distracted by thoughts of the beautiful girl he saw on the ship to New York. He was traveling Second Class for a lark and she was traveling First so they never spoke. He felt a connection to her though and now he's in love. Before he knows it, Jimmy has entered into a bet where he will successfully break into a house or owe the 12 men dinner. Later that night, upon returning to his rooms, Jimmy catches a would-be thief, Spike Mullins and somehow lets Spike think Jimmy is a master burglar. Jimmy convinces Spike to break into a house on the Upper West Side and allow Jimmy to tag along as supervisor. Jimmy thinks it will be easy but he didn't count on Spike being a bumbling fool or the dogs that look ready to tear him to pieces. He also didn't expect the house to be the home of the corrupt Chief of Police and his beautiful daughter, the one woman Jimmy has been searching for! Mr. McEachern comes from English upper middle class stock but was disinherited by his wealthy uncle. He moved to New York where he changed his name and became a cop. He married and had a daughter. Since his wife's death in their daughter's early childhood, Mr. McEachern has only had thoughts of his daughter. His goal is to amass as much wealth as possible, take her to Europe and marry her off to a prince. Molly loves her father and wants to please him so she agrees to the plan. A year and some months later, a dejected Jimmy has been wandering the world searching for Molly. He doesn't know her name or remember where she lives. Now he has arrived in England and feels the need to be off again. Circumstances intervene in the form of an impecunious young Lord who borrows money from Jimmy. Spennie, Lord Dreever, invites Jimmy to Dreever Castle along with another acquaintance of his. Just before leaving London, Jimmy runs into Spike again and knowing that Spike is the key to finding Molly, brings Spike along as his valet. At Dreever Castle, Spennie's wealthy uncle (from trade) rules with an iron fist. He has plans to marry his nephew off to an heiress. Spennie can not stand up to his uncle. Spike has his eye on Spennie's aunt Julia's diamond necklace and Jimmy tried to keep his pal on the straight and narrow. His life is complicated trying to solve a mystery and keep out of trouble. Things are not always what they seem and he seems to have stumbled into a tangle of relationships that may prevent a happily ever after ending for himself and his new friend.

This story starts off really slow and complicated. Jimmy doesn't appear until page 10 and doesn't meet the heroine for a few more chapters. They don't officially meet until the middle of the book. The story picks up from there and I couldn't put it down. I really wanted to know how Jimmy was going to get out of one scrape when he fell into another and I couldn't stop until I found out how he untangled the knots. Wodehouse borrowed a lot from his earlier book, Piccadilly Jim which makes this story feel less fresh. He also relies on a lot of coincidences to move his plot forward which makes it all rather hard to believe. It's also difficult to believe that the characters would just give in. It's all resolved too quickly and neatly. The romance is very rushed. There's more kissing than in the other two Wodehouse books I read but the development of the romance isn't as good. It relies on love at first sight and a deep connection between two people who have barely spoken. The story seems more like a fantasy than something that could have actually happened. I also wanted more of life at an English country home. They talk a lot about amateur theatricals and how bad rehearsals were but we don't get to see any of it. There's a tiny bit of racist language that appears in the novel. There's also some commentary on marriage and how a character needs a wife to comfort him and how another character needs a somewhat masterful husband who can match her intelligence and spirit. Such descriptions are common for the 1920s but not very appealing.

The characters are largely flat. The most colorful character is Spike and he seems right out of a bad black and white detective movie. He speaks in the most ridiculous accent and is nearly unintelligible. Apparently this is called a Bowery accent. I've heard it in movies but didn't think anyone actually spoke like that. It makes his dialogue difficult to read. He provides a lot of comic relief and in spite of being a thief, is a likeable character. Jimmy is a colorless version of Piccadilly Jim. He's more or less a saint, aside from the one incident. I don't know why the heroine loves him. He's quiet and listens to her so apparently she feels a connection but she's very innocent and I don't think she knows many men besides her father. She's hardly in the novel at all and spends more time with another character than the hero. When she is with Jimmy, they're mostly silent. Spennie is more a boy than a man, which he readily admits. I didn't like him very much because he was so naive and so weak. I kept wishing he would stand up for himself with his uncle or take up Jimmy's suggestion of getting a job. The conclusion to his story is predictable but I liked it. It makes him a more interesting character. Mr. McEachern is a nasty sort of man. He thinks he wants what's best for his daughter but he doesn't do it in a honorable or kind fashion. She adores him and lives to please him, but he doesn't give her the same unfailing love and support in return. He and Sir Thomas are quite the nasty villains though they don't think they are.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

What I've Read Recently Part II

What I've Read Recently Part II . . .

I am Rembrandt's DaughterI am Rembrandt's Daughter by Lynn Cullen -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Cornelia van Rijn is the daughter of the once famous painter Rembrandt van Rijn and his maid. Cornelia feels shame and anger towards her father for not marrying her mother, making her life miserable and leaving Cornelia to be labeled illegitimate. Shunned by society and mostly ignored by her father, Cornelia longs for love and acceptance. She has only her older brother Titus to love though she's a bit jealous of her father's obvious love for Titus. She also worries about how her family is going to survive now that her father's paintings are no longer sought after. Cornelia keenly feels the grinding poverty that her brother blithely ignores and her father can't seem to accept. Titus' solution is to marry his wealthy cousin, leaving Cornelia alone to deal with her father's temper. There's only Neel, her father's last remaining pupil keeping them from begging. Neel tries to befriend Cornelia but she turns her nose up at the serious young man. She prefers Carel, the handsome son of a local wealthy merchant family. He doesn't seem to mind her shabbiness and they share a love of painting and a tragic past. Cornelia reminisces about the days when her mother was alive and a man with a yellow mustache frequently walked by and winked at her and gave her presents. If she can marry Carel when she comes of age in two years, she'll have everything she's always dreamed of. Yet, there are some things she can't help worrying about even still and when tragedy visits her family, she realizes how much she's truly loved.

This is a dark, rather sad story. The story is framed by events taking place in 1670 but the rest of the story goes back to 1667 and then back and forth between Cornelia's childhood and young adulthood. This made for a rather confusing story to start with. Once I got used to the time shifts, I didn't have problems following the story. I found Cornelia's flashbacks very bleak and disturbing. Her present life isn't any better or worse. Her childhood fears are confusing and her mother's lack of caring is also never really explained. Some of the childhood scenes set the stage for what comes at the end but I don't like seeing all the flashbacks was necessary. The Romeo and Juliet/love triangle plot is a bit silly. I liked one boy over the other at first but then I had the same thoughts as Cornelia about Carel. There's too much description about the city, poverty and the plague. It makes for some gruesome visuals. The descriptions add to the story but I didn't like them. Do not read this story before bed. This book is very much a young adult coming of age novel. It wasn't well written enough for me to fully engage in the story and not be annoyed with the teenage characters. I didn't like the plot all that much. There's a dramatic twist to the story at the end that I saw coming. It's obvious to anyone except Cornelia. The big reveal causes the actions at the end of the story. I wish there was more at the end of the book and less of the build up. I think the story would have been better without the romance threads and just stuck to Cornelia and her wanting to belong. There's a great line at the end that sums up Rembrandt's feelings for Cornelia and I would rather leave it at that than add all the drama. I can easily see the internal struggle Cornelia goes through. She has a love/hate relationship with her father. There's no official portrait of her so I can imagine how she must have felt watching her father paint, maybe longing for some of his attention and not getting it. The author added a lot of "what ifs?" to the story that I felt were a bit cliched and unnecessary.

The characters are complex. Cornelia is growing up in a tumultuous household. She doesn't belong anywhere, or so she thinks, and she longs to belong to someone. She thinks money will buy happiness but maybe it won't. That's the lesson she has to figure out. She has to decide who she loves and whether she can accept who she is. Titus is the complete opposite of Cornelia. He's always lively and happy but he hasn't had the same experiences Cornelia has. He's the much favored only surviving son of Rembrandt's beloved first wife Saskia. Saskia's family had money. Titus is also male so he can earn a living. He doesn't think too much about what will happen to Cornelia. For all his faults though, I liked him. Neel is a nice boy but shy and series. Cornelia, being a teenage girl with hormones, doesn't appreciate him. He needed a bit more developing to make him human. None of the other characters were fully likeable. Rembrandt is portrayed as a tortured genius with a gift from God that no one understands. He drinks too much, he yells too much and treats his only surviving daughter like a slave. His paintings are dark and moody, but his technique was brilliant and paved the way for later painters though in his day he was under appreciated. Carel has his faults too. I won't name them in this review because that would spoil the story. He's a typical rich kid. He is his uncle all over again. Magdalena is a spoiled brat and I wanted to slap her. She annoyed me every time she was on the page, yet I did feel sorry for her at the end of the book.

This book succeeded in making me want to learn more about Rembrandt and look up his paintings.

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently . . .

Waltz With a Stranger by Martha Lou Thomas -- Regency Romance

Miss Quintilla loves to dance but no one in London will dance with a cripple. When a dashing stranger intrudes on her solitary dance in a library, she falls instantly in love. Warrick Dhever, Baron Eyesley is known as "The Ice Baron" to the ton. He has recently returned from America to take his title and wrest control of his family fortune away from his greedy step-family. His step-sister is forever throwing her relatives his way. He wants nothing to do with anyone from that family and even rejects her advances. He'd like someone more like that little sprite in the library he danced with if he were to marry, which he isn't. He doesn't believe in love or happiness. Yet, he'd so anything to discover who she is and make her happy. Quintilla is not just lame, she's an on-the-shelf bluestocking who champions the cause of Dr. Edward Jenner, the inventor of the smallpox vaccination. The good doctor is not in favor in London at the moment and he enjoys the company of Quintilla's lively family. Quintilla's aunt decides the best thing for her is to marry a wealthy widower in a marriage of convenience. They set about trying to find the right gentlemen when at last Warrick finds Quintilla. Masquerading as an ordinary gentleman, he enjoys Quintilla's witty banter and spending time with her family. He's determined to bring her to the notice of Society and find her the perfect husband. His step-sister has other ideas and Quintilla doubts that a handsome gentleman would ever love a cripple. Will she ever find happiness?

This book started off really strong.
The first half of the plot is great. Quintilla and Warrick get to know each other very well and he thaws his icy exterior to reveal a man of warmth and intelligence. He's has Whig leanings so his conversations with Quintilla show the reader what the social issues were in 1811 without being tedious. He learns from Quintilla and even grows up a bit. I love love love the emphasis on rare books and archives! Then in the middle the plot starts to derail. The misunderstanding just didn't make a lot of sense at that time. If that was to be the misunderstanding, it should have come earlier. By that time they were such good friends I doubt that the misunderstanding could have occurred. It was also a really stupid misunderstanding that could have been cleared up with communication. Then when it is cleared up the book shows promise but the plot goes off the track again towards the end. Quintilla's personality changes, a villain enters the story and exits the story. I didn't like those changes. The end is rushed and doesn't do justice to the relationship.

I loved Quintilla and how she didn't feel bad for herself for having a lame leg. She makes the most of it and doesn't let Society's censure get her down. She's well educated in science and a bit musical. She's witty and charming. Her cousin Kitty is so silly but she made me laugh. She's in need of town bronze but she's charming the way she is. I hope there is another book about her. Warrick is at first, a handsome, intelligent, witty hero. I especially love the dialogue between he and Quintilla. It's funny and it sparkles. The widdowers are also very funny, yet unintentionally on their parts.

I think this story would have been better as a novella. With fewer pages there would have been less room for misunderstandings and less talk about smallpox and vaccination. There was too much of that for my liking. I love that the author did her research and it shows but she was too enthusiastic on the subject.

Sensuality level: mild

What I Read Last Week Part II

What I Read Last Week Part II . . .

Mrs. Jeffries Forges AheadMrs. Jeffries Forges Ahead by Emily Brightwell -- Victorian Mystery

Lady Cannonberry is invited to attend a party at the home of someone she doesn't know very well but thinks could be a good friend. Arlette Montrose Banfield is married to a wealthy businessman of an old family but she's also the daughter of artists and a good businesswoman. She and Ruth seem to have much in common, which is why it comes as a huge shock when Arlette drops dead at her party. The doctor claims no young woman drops dead of natural causes and all signs lead to cyanide poisoning. Knowing her Inspector's methods well, Lady Cannonberry tries to keep the crime scene from being destroyed without much luck. Lewis Banfield's Aunt Geraldine doesn't wish to have the family's honor so polluted by something like a police investigation and some of the evidence disappears. Then Inspector Witherspoon is on the case. Mrs. Jeffries and the servants are on the hunt too. What to do about the new maid Phyllis? Can they keep her in the dark and if not, will she tell the Inspector what they're up to? The staff forges ahead with the investigation and at the same time Inspector Witherspoon and Constable Barnes conduct their own investigation to find out who wanted Arlette dead. They butt heads with the aristocratic Mrs. Banfield the elder and her two catty friends. None of them liked Arlette very much. They considered the younger woman beneath them for being an artist's model and businesswoman. A lady had no business being involved in her husband's business affairs and a lady never works and especially not as a model! Will the wrong person hang because the evidence is weak? Will the Inspector solve the mystery or will a clever killer get away?

This is a mediocre mystery. I figured it out right away. It was perfectly obvious who and how and I thought why was obvious too but the why turned out to be a bit more complicated. There were only three suspects and evidence pointed to all three together or individually. I stuck to my original suspect. The clues were all there pretty early on and incredibly obvious. Much of the plot is taken up with political and philosophical discussion. I found that a bit tedious and out of place. We know Lady Cannonberry is a radical and we know the older generation tend to be old-fashioned and very strict about the "natural order of things." It didn't need to be repeated again and again. The murder of a young woman in the prime of her life disgusted me. That's my second least favorite victim behind mistaken identity or accidental killing. It's really horrible to think that someone would do something like that and feel perfectly justified. Sometimes when the mystery is bland the family life plot keeps me more interested. This time there wasn't much of the personal going on in the story. Smythe and Betsy are awaiting the arrival of their baby and finally stopped bickering. There's only a bit about new new maid and where she fits into things. As usual Luty provides a few laughs but she didn't have much to do in this book. Even Wiggins only had a minimal amount of page time though he has the most luck. Lady Cannonberry is the main character in this novel. The Inspector has as much, if not more, information than his staff. It seems like now he's capable of doing his job with a little bit of help but the staff and his friends all want to solve the mystery before him. I don't like that type of competition. Let the man do his job and then give him a nudge when he needs it. It seems now that Constable Barnes is in on the secret, it's easier to point the Inspector in the right direction, but it's also more boring. Even though this wasn't the best story, it still kept me up too late and awake way too early racing through it to find out if I was right about the killer and how they figured it out. 

Mrs. Jeffries and the Mistletoe Mix-UpMrs. Jeffries and the Mistletoe Mix-Up by Emily Brightwell -- Victorian Mystery

Daniel McCourt, an Asian art collector, has been murdered by one of his own swords. The murder occurred just after a tea party where he planned to show off his most recent acquisition. A fire in the servants hall broke up the party early and no one else was in the house when Mr. McCourt was killed. Who would hate him enough to kill him? Was it his formerly meek wife; his cousin, also an art collector; his other cousin who feels cheated out of his inheritance; his appraiser who may be a fraud; a spurned lover; or a pair of would-be lovers in need of money? Inspector Witherspoon has his hands full with this case and as usual, the Home Office wants it solved by Christmas. All poor Witherspoon wants to do is enjoy the Season now he has a goddaughter and a family to spend it with. In the kitchen at Upper Edmonton Gardens, the staff are delighted with Betsy and Smythe's new baby daughter, Amanda Belle. When they get the news they have a murder, their feelings are torn. They were bored but it's Christmas and they want to spend it with Amanda. Betsy feels motherhood is more important than being on the hunt and she's content to stay home with the baby and let Phyllis do her job.l Phyllis is nervous she won't be able to gather any clues. She fears she's worthless and stupid. It's up to Mrs. Jeffries and the rest of the "family" to boost her spirits.

This story is more vintage Mrs. Jeffries style than the last. The murder happens right on the first page and since the victim was an upper class gentlemen, the servants fear for their jobs and are more willing to gossip with Wiggins and Phyllis than talk to the police. The others tap into their network of informants and Mrs. J had to try to feed the information to the Inspector. There were so many suspects, it was difficult to figure out the mystery. I thought I knew who the murderer was, but I was wrong. The clues aren't very obvious. The ending was exciting. I find it hard to believe anybody would act like that though. The motive was very stupid. What this books lacks is the warmth of the "family." There's a little bit of the family in this book, especially as they welcome Amanda into the family. Yet, there's not as much as in previous books. I'm glad Betsy and Smythe stopped arguing but then again it takes some of the fun out of the book. I liked seeing Phyllis adjust and how they tried to help her. There's a discussion on the moral and ethical definition of murder that takes up too much plot time. I don't need to be preached to. I understand the way people thought back then. It's obvious from the character's actions and dialogue.

The murder is rather grisly. Sensitive readers skip that part and the part where the Inspector views the corpse.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What I Read Last Week

What I Read Last Week . . .

Irish Autumn by

The Adventures of SallyThe Adventures of Sally by P.G. Wodehouse -- Romantic Comedy

Sally Nicholas and her brother Fillmore have been on their own for three years struggling to make ends meet through dead-end jobs on Broadway. Now they have come of age and inherited the money their father left them. Everyone in their boarding house has opinions on how to spend the money. Fillmore intends to get richer quick through some investments while Sally intends to travel to Europe, move to an apartment and maybe open a dress shop. Then, when her fiance's play is a success, they'll finally marry. He's on the verge of greatness and unable to travel with Sally. While visiting the seaside in France, she overhears a conversation between two men. One is hard and unattractive. The other is red haired and looks like he has a temper, but seems kind. Sally is dying to know why the red haired man was fired from his job and is embarrassed and a bit pleased to hear the red haired man praise her beauty. He helps her out of a sticky situation and is mortified to discover she speaks English. Sally quickly takes "Ginger" Kemp under her wing and treats him as she does her brother, with a firm but gentle guiding hand. Ginger introduces her to his cousin, Bruce Carmyle, a wealthy lawyer. Sally thinks Mr. Carmyle is a bit rude and snobbish and wants nothing more to do with him. When she returns home, she discovers everything is in chaos and her fiance's grand plan is about to crumble. Her brother comes up with the perfect solution and Sally has faith that everything will turn out. Just when things are looking up, she has a setback. Then Europe follows Sally to America. To get away, she heads back to England where she still can't escape! Finally she runs back to New York where her problems multiply and she discovers something about herself and her problem she never knew before.

This is another great Wodehouse classic! The characters in this novel are fairly stereotypical. Sally is sooooo unselfish and forgiving and so beautiful every man falls in love with her. The men are basically types: there's the success-driven men; diva leading lady; earnest but bumbling men; moneyed English men and annoying, nosy landlady with yappy dog. It sounds like they would be boring but mixed into the plot, they're delicious. They make the story come alive and add to the screwball aspect of the plot. The one stand out who doesn't get a lot of page time is Gladys. Unlike Sally, she isn't beautiful or ambitious but she knows how to handle her man with skill and charm.

The plot starts off slow with too many characters thrown at the reader to make sense. Once Sally leaves New York for the first time, the plot picks up pace. I couldn't put it down. I HAD to know how things turned out with Sally and whether she found true love and with whom! I absolutely didn't know how it would turn out. I thought perhaps it might be an update of a beloved 19th century classic. I was with Sally through all the drama and romantic entanglements. It sounds melodramatic but it's not. Wodehouse had a light touch and knew exactly how to get a smile from his reader. The prose is witty, funny and sometimes even deserving of a chuckle. The only graphic content in this novel is a boxing scene that goes on too long and a depiction of how the loser looks afterwards. Since the book was written in 1922, there's a couple of very minor somewhat racist line or two and a possible antisemitic scene. The romance is squeaky clean.